American Nomad finds its muse on the road

Matt Sullivan

In 2009, Hassan El-Tayyab packed his things and wandered west, but he didn't have much of a plan. He had worked as a teacher in Massachusetts, where he grew up, but the recession gutted his school's special education program and left him without a job.

"I got in my car and I drove across the country, just trying to see what I could see," he recalled.

That trip proved to be transformative for El-Tayyab, who's working on a memoir about the experience. As he zigzagged across the country, he eventually found himself at Burning Man, the annual arts festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. That sowed the seeds for what would eventually become his rustic roots music band, American Nomad.

"That was a really amazing community, and it really fired up my songwriting process," said El-Tayyab. His travels ultimately led him to California. "I ended up meeting a really great artistic community in the Bay Area, and I just decided to stay out there."

That's where he met fellow wanderer Shiloh Parkerson, who herself had recently relocated to Oakland from Fairbanks. The two met at the home of a mutual friend who was hosting a "song salon," where songwriters could share their work with one another.

Parkerson initially asked El-Tayyab for guitar lessons, but the two soon discovered they had a mutual love for bluegrass and folk music. "There was a real chemistry with the vocal blend, and I said, 'Wow, let's sing together,'" he said.

While the name American Nomad comes in large part from that 2009 road trip, it's also a name with which both Parkerson and El-Tayyab closely identify. "My grandfather used to roam around Mount Sinai," said El-Tayyab, who is half-Bedouin and still has family living in Madaba, Jordan. "Shiloh fit right in because she's also kind of a nomad, traveling, uprooting and experiencing new things."

The travelers are currently winding their way through Parkerson's home state on a tour that will lead them to Anchorage on Saturday. "We've been touring a lot as a duo for financial reasons," El-Tayyab explained, adding that they expect to have guests performing with them for their show at Tap Root. "You can get the word out, build a little base, and the next time you return you bring more people."

You can hear the band in full force -- with banjo, violin, cello, pedal steel and bass -- on the new album "Country Mile," which came out in May. Produced by Grammy-winning folk musician Laurie Lewis, it's a record on which wanderlust is unsurprisingly a recurring theme.

"I look at it, especially with this new record, as an internal and external exploration," said El-Tayyab. "The term 'nomad' to me doesn't stop with your physical reality. It's really an internal thing. How far can you dig within yourself? For inspiration, for your muse, just for your own personal growth -- I think the best songwriters are on a journey of personal growth."

American Nomad

with Eli West

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, July 5

Where: Tap Root Public House

Tickets: $15 at


By Matt Sullivan
Daily News correspondent