Watch: Scores of drummers play Ringo for charity on Harriet Island

Photos by Steven Cohen for MPR

A clear blue sky arced over Harriet Island in St. Paul yesterday as local musician Mick Sterling’s vision of a “once in a lifetime” drumming session, Let There Be Drums, came to fruition.

Back in May, Sterling talked to The Current about this endeavor. The goal? To have 1,000 drummers play Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” followed by the Beatles’ Abbey Road medley “Golden Slumbers/ Carry That Weight/ The End,” in unison. If successful, the gathering would break the Guinness World Record for most kit drummers performing with a live band.

“[Let There Be Drums] is the most outrageous idea that I’ve ever head,” Sterling said yesterday as he sat at a picnic table after soundcheck. “I’m happy to get it out of my head.”

In addition, the event served as a fundraiser for the 30 Days Foundation, a charity founded by Sterling.

“The 30 Days Foundation is a Twin-Cities-based nonprofit that makes one-time financial grants for families in need of financial assistance,” said Sterling. “It was established in 2011, and has since helped over 30,000 families in the area.” The 30 Days Foundation intends to donate a portion of the funds they raised to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana.

Drummers from all over and all ends of the experience spectrum were invited to join. If you could learn how to play the songs, you could participate. Notable faces who played in the mainstage band included Jimmy Paxson, Stephen Goold, Jay Williams, Charlie Adams, Mike Arturi, Petar Janjic, Billy Thommes, Bobby Vandell, Sandy Gennaro, and Billy Thayer.

Although the turnout was both impressive and enthusiastic, there were no world records broken last night. Sterling was “…stunned that drummers who registered didn’t show up.” But the lack of 1,000 drummers did not dull his enthusiasm in the slightest. Let There Be Drums was “…something that will never happen again.” Sterling said. He believes that should be celebrated, with every single person having their own individual takeaway from the event.

Rob Shanahan, a well-known music photographer and a musician himself, was one of the many drummers. Several photographs from his recent gallery show at McNally Smith were also displayed near and around the main stage. “There’s something about getting all these drummers together playing the same groove,” he said. Originally from Minnesota himself, Shanahan felt the local impact of Let There Be Drums. He hopes that all the drummers involved realize that “you can do whatever you want in the music industry.”

The secret weapon of the evening was Bernard Purdie, also know as “the world’s most-recorded drummer.” Purdie already has a special connection to “Rock Steady,” as it is a song that he recorded with Aretha Franklin herself. The drummers also played a special rendition of “The Purdie Shuffle” in honor of the legend. Purdie was honored to be a part of the event, regardless if it broke a record or not: “We’re going down in history,” he said to the crowd. “No matter how you look at it.”

One of the most impactful moments of the night was during the performance of the Beatles medley. Sterling, who was buzzing his way around the mainstage during most of the show, paused at the very front of the stage for a moment. As the energy from the drummers built and built, Sterling crouched to his knees, rubbing his eyes and clearly overcome by emotion. He quickly composed himself and turned back to the band.