The Bang on a Can All-Stars and guest vocalists Emily Eagen, Katie Geissinger, Daisy Press perform Julia Wolfe’s mesmerizing evening-length art ballad Steel Hammer as part of the Bang on a Can Summer Festival @ MASS MoCA.
Wolfe’s Steel Hammer is inspired by her love for the legends and music of Appalachia, and culls from both the music and oral traditions of the region. The text is taken from over 200 versions of the John Henry ballad – based on hearsay, recollection, and tall tales – and explores the subject of human vs. machine in this quintessential American legend. Steel Hammer stretches the standard instrumentation of Bang on a Can All-Stars with wooden bones, mountain dulcimer, banjo, and more, to evoke the rich instrumental colors of Appalachia. The New York Times calls it a “wild hybrid” and an “obsessive study of the song’s many versions.”