Novant Thanksgiving Day Parade 2018

By David

Thanksgiving traditions come in many forms. Many involved friends and family. One for me is to participate in the Thanksgiving Parade in Charlotte. Early in the morning, before dawn, I set out to join in with Drumstrong to walk along with their float. I have done this for about 4 years.

The drummers, and cancer survivors gather at 8:00am at the Drumstrong float downtown Charlotte.

The Novant Thanksgiving Parade is the 4th largest in the nation. There are many entertaining and beautiful entries. As a whole, it looks to be a Parade. In years past, I have walked and drummed because of my love of the drum. I noticed some special things this year. I want to share the experience of marching, up close and intimate.

Driving out of the driveway at 5:45 am, the 36 degree air greeted me with an awakening blast. The 57 miles from home to the parade was easy traveling until I got close to the big city. We had a specified place to park at the end of the parade, and I pulled into the empty lot at 7:22am. Not another car except for Charlotte Police Department on the street beside the lot, directing traffic. I awaited the shuttle to the starting point and the float.

I got to the float, and was one of the first there. The float consisted of two different parts. The main Float was painted yellow with raised places for the kids to sit. It was covered with drums that the walkers would use. The Yellow Monkey figure was visible for several blocks. The Dragon Wagon held a iron dragon that can produce fire or smoke. Today it would be smoke. I tapped a few beats out on my own drum. I carry a djembe that has a collection of friendship bracelets that kids have given me over the years.

In small groups, the drummers walked up. Some old friends and new friends, came and gathered around. Introductions and big hugs abounded. Drumstrong is a group that was started by Scott Swimmer after his son was diagnosed with Cancer The group works to raise funds for Cancer research and to raise awareness about Cancer. It has become a worldwide effort. In May a huge event coordinated with events around the world is held in Weddington, NC.

I will be the first to admit, I got involved because of drumming. I wanted to be part of a drum circle, and found Drumstrong. I am not a Cancer survivor. I have lost loved ones to Cancer, and have been blessed to know Cancer survivors. Michaela DeBruhl is one local survivor, and I drum in her honor much of the time, though I doubt she ever knew that, till now.

A crowd of drummers assembles, and the drumbeat starts to ring out, coordinating with others. An impromptu drum circle develops. I notice a father and two young people standing watching. I introduce myself and learn that one is Jordan Jemsek. I learn she has survived cancer, so I direct them to a place to get shirts and drums. Jordan will ride on the float and play the tambourine. The float fills with children, and you start to realize how many survivor kids there are.

Jordan is well know to Charlotte and New York. As a young child she developed a rare form of leukemia. At age 8 she had a marrow transplant, and beat her cancer. She reminded me of Michaela.

When you are in a huge parade, you begin to see things compartmentalized. I watched as some of the entries filed past, and headed down Tryon street. It was just glimpses of the parade. We get out instructions and soon are pulling off towards the center of the street. Tryon st. is lined 3 deep with spectators. The drum rhythm develops and we begin the just under a mile route.

Walking along beside the float, the distance just flies by. I alternate between the drum and the camera I am carrying. I never give up the photographer role. I find that some of the best experiences I have during the parade is walking up to the kids along the route and letting them hit on my drum.

As I look that the spectators, I am watching for those who are keeping time with the drummers. Some clearly have not ever had the chance to hit on a drum. They tentatively make a soft hit, and the smile spreads across their face. I keep our Float in the corner of my eye, and spend most of the route allowing those on the side of the route to hit the drum. I notice other drummers doing the same.

I shoot some shots of the Drumstrong group, and see the same smiles. It is joyous rukus. Before long we are at the Television spot and are drumming and interacting with a crowd that has Drumstrong egg shaped shakers. Minutes later we are turning off the route and finished.

I want to circle around and do it again. There is something magical in walking in this parade. It is not the fact that we have a float or that we will be on TV.

It is the interactions with others. It is the smiles and joy that is ever present. The group is not the polished drum corps that hit every beat correctly. We are not static and waving, we are alive and interacting and beating the drums for all they are worth. Many have never played drums before.

Jordan Jemsek said this was the first parade she had been in. “It was incredible, like everyone looking at you.Rolling down the street, seeing everyone,  and everyone being so happy.” Keeping a beat was a challenge. “It was more difficult than I imagined, I think I got the hang of it alter a while.” Stella Rodriguez, Jordan best friend said.  “It was amazing, super cool. Jordan’s father visiting from DC area commented before the start that he was anticipating just walking along on the sidewalk, but he was now in a Drumstrong shirt and going to beat a drum. He was brand new to the Drumstrong concept and is hopeful to see events in his area.

I am watching the parade replay on WBTV to see the rest of the parade. What will stay with me will be the smiles along the route.

Pictures available for purchase at

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