Blended 328 traveled to Pakistan and Russia from May 22 to June 19 as part of The Humpty Dumpty Institute’s cultural diplomacy program–“Music Matters”.
Under the auspices of U.S. Embassy Islamabad, U.S. Consulate Karachi, and U.S. Consulate Lahore, lead guitarist Gabe Jordan, Thomas Spann on percussion, Seth Rooks on bass and Fran Hart, Kimberly Lassonde and Dallas Brown on vocals electrified Pakistani audiences and engaged local youth. The group’s first stop was the center of Pakistan’s music scene – Karachi, where Blended 328 collaborated with a local Pakistani rock group, The Sketches as well as with legendary Pakistan drummer Gumby. A highlight of Blended’s stay in Karachi was a concert at the Dar-ul-Sukun orphanage for physically and mentally handicapped children.
On Sunday, May 26 the group travelled to Lahore where the band members visited two of Pakistan’s main historic sites, Lahore Fort and Badshahi Mosque. The following day Blended 328 appeared before an audience of six hundred at the University of Central Punjab and was joined on stage by the Pakistani band Overland. A real treat for the group was an appearance on Pakistan’s most watched morning TV show, Gigi. The band members then went to the University of Lahore to perform with student artists and to put on a show for over 700 extremely enthusiastic attendees. Even after that, Blended weren’t ready to stop working and that same evening they performed at the National College of the Arts before a full house of 500.
Because of an airport work stoppage on May 29, Blended had to undertake a difficult and dangerous drive from Lahore to Muzaffarabad, Kashmir. Being one of the first U.S. groups to perform in Kashmir in several years presented security concerns. However, Blended is committed to the importance of public diplomacy; they met the security challenges to ensure that they conveyed the message to Pakistanis that America values its relationship with Pakistan. They stressed that the United States wants to build a foundation of mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s culture. Jalalabad Park greeted Blended and cheered them on. Blended returned to Islamabad on Saturday, June 1 for two more concerts, as well as meetings at universities and institutes. The Pakistani portion of the tour ended on Thursday June 6 when the group departed for Russia.
Upon arrival in Russia the group was joined by additional band members Adam Stewart (fiddle) and Dave Mescon (guitar) in Rostov on Don on June 6. The first Russian concert took place the following evening in Taganrog at The Taganrog House of Culture. The program was a true cultural diplomacy event with the members of Blended meeting with the audience for several hours after the performance to discuss culture, politics, and history. The next day Blended appeared in Rostov at the Bukovski Club. The historic city of Stavropol was the next stop on the Russian tour with a concert for 500 people at The Stavropol Philharmonics. Blended continued its southern Russia tour with concerts, lectures, and master classes in the cities of Krasnodar, Gelendzhik, and Temruk. The band reached Moscow on June 14 to prepare for the central event of its Russia tour, the Usadba Jazz Festival on Saturday June 15. At this festival, with over 75,000 in attendance, Blended proved to be true and polished cultural ambassadors of America. Blended’s success was repeated on July 16 at the Krapiva Festival with an audience of over 20,000 fans. The final concert of the tour was performed in the impressive city of Kursk where the turning point on the Eastern Front during World War II took place. After their inspiriting trip, the band traveled back to the United States on Europe’s top rated airline, Turkish Airlines.