Ex-Rusted Root drummer bringing rhythm, fun to Groundhog Day

GREENSBURG — Warm clothes and protection against the elements are necessary for attending Groundhog Day, but with former Rusted Root drummer Jim Donovan attending this year, guests may also want to bring a drum.

“We’re going to have a big-good time,” said Donovan, who will appear at Gobbler’s Knob early Thursday morning and with his band, Sun King Warriors, from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. tonight in the Celebration Tent in Barclay Square. The band’s performance is sponsored by S&T Bank.

“We play a really interesting mix of original music that has a really strong rhythmic base to it,” he said. “A lot of drums, with more of a rock feel to it. And we do reggae and a couple of covers ... a couple of Rusted Root tunes.”

Rusted Root, a college-favorite band that emerged from Pittsburgh in the 1990s, released its major label debut, “When I Woke,” on Mercury Records in 1994. That album featured the hits “Send Me on My Way” and “Ecstasy.”
Rusted Root toured with the likes of Carlos Santana, The Grateful Dead, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant and Sting before Donovan departed the band in 2005 to spend more time with his family, with whom he resides in Greensburg.

But when he’s not performing, he takes percussion and drums to schools, corporate and university events with an interactive program to show people that everyone can become connected through music, using rhythm, drumming and the voice as vehicles for personal growth, healing and the creation of community.

“I started teaching about 12 years ago, while still in Rusted Root,” he said. “It was something that I was looking for, a new kind of challenge beyond performing. All the time I spent being in front of people, I learned that I could share with people to help in what they do in life.”
Last fall, Donovan presented his program to all schools in the Brookville Area School District, and he even plans on bringing some drums for a mini-presentation on the Gobbler’s Knob stage Thursday morning at Groundhog Day.

“People come up as beginners and learn to create music together,” he said.

About performing and teaching, Donovan said, “I like to have my cake and eat it, too.”

The Sun King Warriors — Donovan on drums, guitar and vocals; Bryan Fazio and Harry Pepper on congas and percussion; Brandon King on keys, vocals and percussion; Kent Tonkin on bass; and Dan Murphy on electric guitar — have been together for about six years, Donovan said, and plans to record in the future.

“I set my system up so I have guys who I love playing with, and we do it whenever it’s fun,” he said. “It’s all friends getting together and having a super-good time. They’re all incredible musicians.

Donovan was voted “Drum Circle Facilitator of the Year” by the readers of Drum! magazine, and he holds a B.A. in music from the University of Pittsburgh, and is pursuing an advanced degree in education leadership at Saint Francis University, where he is also on faculty.

At Saint Francis, Donovan is also involved in research and has developed a training program that teaches occupational therapists, medical professionals, parents and teachers how to use percussion modules as a complementary intervention for autistic and other special needs children.