This is one musical treat that visitors to the Muscat Festival venues still talk about. The traditional American group Hoppin' John String Band impressed fans and listeners while performing their distinctive music at the festival venues of Al Amerat Park and Naseem Garden.
The US Embassy Muscat, in cooperation with the Muscat Municipality arranged the band's visit for the Muscat Festival. Band members, Sean Condron (Banjo), Thomas Bryan Eaton (guitar) Taylor Bergren Chrisman (bass) and Sarah Alden (fiddle) put up an impressive performance bringing the audiences they performed to, to their feet and inspiring them to sing along.
The singers kept their energy high and connect with the audience throughout. It was evident that for Sean, Thomas, Taylor and Sarah there is no world beyond their music. The band has been performing and teaching music deeply rooted in the ballads, fiddle tunes, and traditions of the Appalachian Mountains of the United States for many years now.
Explaining the band's coming together as a group, Sean says, "We all knew each other and have been playing together in various ways in New York City since 2002. It was in 2009 that we finally came together as group." Going on he adds, "As you can imagine there is a large population of musicians but the music that we played which is traditional American music is very small. So everybody gets to know everybody else very quickly. So we decided to group together."
Each one of them has story to relate as to how music happened to them. Sarah was inspired by her aunt to become a musician. "I grew up in a farm in Ohio. My aunt was a music teacher. I always thought that she was coolest thing. I just wanted to follow in her footsteps. I didn't think it would happen but that is what I turned out be — a performer and teacher just like she is," she explains. Taylor never thought he would ever become a musician.
"I had no special interest in music but as a teenager I discovered how to play the bass. Then I became inspired by jazz. I studied classical music and traditional music. Then there was no looking back and here I am as a musician," he explains. Thomas, says, he has never known anything else in his life other than music. "Music has been the centre of my life. I didn't have a figure who was central to that because neither of my parents were musicians. But they loved music. I kind of took that and ran with it," he smiles. Sean blames his parents for his interest in music.
"My parents got me to learn Irish music. I started off playing tin whistle which is traditional Irish instrument. Since then I have been in love with music," he smiles.
The choice of pursue the genre of music they play has not been natural for each of them. They discovered it along the way and it stayed. Shaun says, "for me it was a conscious and unconscious decision.
Not many play American traditional music like we do. It is not something that is normal in a suburban upbringing. All of us came from different musical backgrounds and later stuck to traditional music." Taylor went through many phases before he decided on traditional music. "I liked rock and roll earlier, but later discovered traditional music and stuck to it," he says. Thomas adds, "most kids start off with rock and roll and decide on something specific later.
That is what I did." Shaun explains that those who you love music start out on listening to rock and rock. "Then you start wondering about the background of music. You go back to the start of history and realise there is so much more music than. Along the way you pick up a special interest and stick to it," he says. Performing in Oman has been a fulfilling experience for the group.
"Performing at the Muscat Festival has been amazing, the crowd has been great. It was such an overwhelming feeling at the festival with so many things happening. We have had some lovely surprises since People have known our music," explains Sarah.
The band was impressed with Omani music too.
"It is interesting. It is coming from different tradition," says Shaun. The group had fun playing for the students of Azzan Bin Qais International School too. Through story and song, the Hoppin' John String Band brought alive the experience of the American labourer, farmer and people from all walks of life for them. "This music is made for bringing people together to sing, dance and to celebrate life," says Sarah.
The US Embassy was happy with the response the group received. Hoppin' John String Band's tour to Oman is offered as part of the US Embassy Public Affairs Section's cultural programming this year, which brings together US and Omani artists and citizens to promote mutual understanding.
The Embassy's high level of participation in the Muscat Festival this year also reflected the growing international importance of the Festival and its place as a major cultural event in Oman. The US Embassy looks forward to supporting future cultural events throughout the Sultanate," said an US Embassy official.