Family folksters

Friday, January 27, 2012 - 04:24
Chugiak’s Hoppers take to the stage in Anchorage
From left, Bruce, Grady, Robin and Caity Hopper perform during their set at the Anchorage Folk Festival on Saturday, Jan. 21 at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium in Anchorage. The Hoppers have become a fixture at the annual festival, which this year included more than 130 musical acts performing at 13 venues in Anchorage and Eagle River.

The Hoppers never miss the Anchorage Folk Festival.

It’s something the Chugiak family of four has been involved with since 23-year-old Caiti Hopper can remember.

“I’ve grown up with the festival,” she said. “It’s a huge highlight.”

Caiti, a music education major at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, flew back from the Golden Heart City two days after the start of a new semester so she wouldn’t miss playing the 23rd annual event with her family band.

“It’s something I look forward to all year,” she said.

While the 10-day festival offered more than 130 performers at 13 venues around Anchorage and Eagle River, it also gave the Hoppers a chance to take the stage together. The Hopper Family Band includes Caiti, her brother, Grady, mother, Robin, and father, Bruce. The foursome played a 15-minute set at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium on Saturday, Jan. 21.

The family has been performing as a band the past five years.

“We’re nothing fancy, but we’re fun,” said Robin, a music teacher at Homestead Elementary.

The Hoppers had the audience at Williamson auditorium in stitches with their medley of “pig” songs, a performance that included several laugh-inducing snorts from the family’s matriarch.

Robin, who’s played the festival for two decades, said family bands are a rarity.

“We sing together,” she said. “And there’s something to be said about biological harmonies, home-grown harmonies.”


‘Folk, bluegrass, swing’

Half of the Hoppers’ music is original. Robin, who writes most of the music and lyrics, described their sound as “folk and bluegrass with some swing music in there.”

All four sing, but Caiti handles lead vocals. Grady, an 18-year-old UAA freshman, plays bass, and Robin and Bruce play guitar.

Bruce’s instrument isn’t a typical one. It’s shaped like a mandolin, he said, but is fretted, which enables him to play guitar chords.

Bruce said his wife assumes the role of bandleader, making sure the rest of the group is in sync on stage.

“She’s always nodding her head or doing something up there,” he said.

Robin said her role on stage is no different than in life.

“I’m forever the mom,” she said.


‘Work well together’

Caiti said she’s never nervous when performing with her parents and brother.

“It’s a really comfortable atmosphere,” she said. “We all work well together.”

Her mom agreed.

“We do, and we all have fun,” Robin said. “That’s what matters.”

Whether it’s playing with family or not, being part of a band is no easy task, Bruce said.

“You have to multi-task because you’re trying to listen to three musical instruments and hear four voices at the same time,” he said.

Grady and Caiti, both Chugiak High graduates, started playing piano at a young age. Caiti was in choir and Grady was part of choir and orchestra in high school.

Bruce, described by Robin as a “shy musician,” first took guitar lessons more than forty years ago.


‘A great festival’

The entire family looks forward to folk festival every year.

“It’s a great festival,” Robin said. “It’s just really nice to have everybody feeling like they belong in the audience.”

Quick sets allow the audience to hear a variety of music every night, Robin said.

“It brings together a lot of different styles,” she said.

The event also gives many acts that don’t have two hours worth of music an opportunity to showcase their sound, Robin said.

“You get more people that are willing to be brave for 15 minutes,” she said.

The event’s free admission gives performers the chance to play in front of full crowds each night, Caiti said.

“The auditorium is packed almost every evening,” she said.

Robin said there’s little pressure when performing at the festival.

“The audience is there because they just love music,” she said. “They’re there to support you.”


Off-stage involvement

The Hoppers’ involvement in the festival didn’t end with their music. Robin teaches workshops, Grady has served as crew chief and operated lights and sound in the past, and Bruce — a structural engineer — built and donated a CD rack to the festival.

Grady and Robin are also emceeing the festival’s final day Sunday, Jan. 29.

“If you’re going to have your 15 minutes on stage, it’s only fair to help out with how people get there,” Robin said.

It’s common for music groups to break up, Robin said, but that won’t happen to The Hopper Family Band.

“It’s just a fun, family band,” she said. “We’re together.”

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