Like werewolves drawn to milky lunar light, they gather next to the sea every 29 days or so: drummers with Rasta dreads, teens with cartons of Miller High Life, chanting Yoruba and Santería worshipers, and twirling fire dancers.
Miami Beach's full moon drum circles have drawn a unique crowd for years whenever the moon is at its brightest. "It's an amazing underground tradition," says Sergio Fagundo, an engineer and regular attendee.
But when the moon waxes to its fullest this Friday, there's a decent chance the drums will be silent. Noise complaints, drug use, and litter have converged to make the circles a public nuisance, police and city officials say.
"The police are acting like the private army of the rich people who live next to the beach and don't like the crowds," Fagundo counters.
There's no consensus on when exactly the full moon parties started, but Fagundo says he's been attending since he was in high school in the early '90s. Attendance waxes and wanes like the moon depending on the weather, but on warm evenings hundreds crowd around drummers and dancers.
There's always been tension between police and the luna lovers. The parties began near 20th Street in South Beach, but started creeping north as new developments moved in, and police cracked down. In recent years, they've settled into a quiet beach near 80th Street.
But whatever détente the drummers had reached with police fractured last month. Fagundo says a dozen officers with K9 units and motorcycles were waiting in a parking lot next to the beach as revelers arrived.
"We were walking up and someone leaving told us, 'Don't bother, they're shutting it down,' " he says.
Miami Beach Police Department spokesman Detective Juan Sanchez referred comment to Hilda Fernandez, an assistant city manager. Fernandez didn't respond to phone and email messages.
But even some circle attendees acknowledge the crowds have lately grown unruly. "A lot of young kids and alcoholics have pushed out the more spiritual regulars," says Rajiv Sankarlall, a drummer.
Sankerlall says the core group plans to work with the city to root out bad seeds and keep the tradition alive.
Fagundo says he'll do whatever it takes to keep the circle drumming. "This is a part of our culture," he says.
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