PITTSFIELD -- Bring a drum to Berkshire Community College on Saturday, and feel a human heartbeat brought out in rhythms that represent cultures all over the world.
The Berkshire Drum and Dance Fest will return in its fourth year, but this year, youth drum and dance groups from the Berkshires and beyond will star in the show.
The event will benefit Tamarack Hollow Nature and Cultural Center in Windsor, which officially opened in May. The 32-acre outdoor education center and conservation area, run by Aimee Gelinas and her partner Daniel Cohen, needs a physical building for classes and as a meeting place, and a composting toilet.
Unlike past festivals, where many of the performers have been adults, "this year we decided, ‘let's feature the youth,' " Gelinas said, "and give performers college-age and under a template to really show their skills."
Groups like Williams College Kusika Drum & Dance, Youth Alive Step Dance Team and DRUM Corps, Adams Youth Center Inc. and Berkshire Rhythm Keepers teens, Berkshire Pulse Teen Drum mers and Da ncers (led by Gelinas) and the Darrow School Drum and Percussion Ensemble will take the stage -- a chance they don't often get, especially the younger artists.
"We don't really play that many gigs," said Nick Duffin, 16, a drummer and class assistant for Berkshire Pulse. "We may play at a couple of Third Thursday events in Pittsfield, but we don't usually get a chance to play outside a class, like this I don't usually get to see as much of the drumming community because of that."
"Some of these kids have never been on a stage," said Gelinas. "They've never had a chance to be shining."
More than a dozen groups will perform, she said, and the wide expanse of cultural backgrounds -- West African, Haitian, Puerto Rican, Carib bean and more -- will be a great opportunity for the kids to mingle and meet new people in a place where they all have a passion to relate to.
The drum is a constant in all cultures, and though the focus of this year's fest is youth performers, some adult groups will perform, and the finale is intergenerational, where everyone will take part in a Djole rhythm, a traditional festival rhythm from Sierra Leone.
Gelinas said she's looking forward to seeing people of so many different cultures commune around a single theme.
Duffin, who lives in Great Barrington and goes to Mon ument Mountain Re gion al High School, helped out backstage last year and joined in at the end. Hundreds of people attended last year. (Gelinas is shooting for 500 this time). Many have taken at least one drum class, and all, he said, want to be there, want to watch the performers, want to bask in the drumming community and all it represents.
"(Gelinas) says bring your drum because she will take something she teaches in all her classes, then bring everyone who knows it grab a chair and come onstage. You get people that are my age and people who are in the 65 to 70 age group. It's an interesting sight, and it's pretty fun," he said.
And so it can be easy to mix cultures, to meld music and rhythm, because everyone's ancestors drummed and danced.
"The drum is in every single culture on this planet. It's a universal thing. It's the heartbeat that came from all of us that we turned into an institution outside of ourselves," Gelinas said. "There's no age or race or gender barriers. The drum is the unifying piece."
The name "Djembe," a West African drum that is used very often here -- "that drum's name literally means ‘come together in peace,' " she said. "Bring the community together in peace. That's exactly what this event is about."