Film Premiere – Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer

Thursday, May 6, 202110:00pm

Cal Performances at Home premieres Steel Hammer, a new film featuring the acclaimed oratorio by Bang on a Can’s co-founder, Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe. Steel Hammer is a meditation on over 200 versions of the “John Henry” folk ballad. The various versions—based on hearsay, recollection, and tall tales—reveal both the evolution of the story, as well as the timeless tale of human versus machine. Wolfe draws upon these extreme variations, fragmenting and weaving the contradictory versions of the ballad that have circulated since the late 1800s into a new whole in order to tell “the story of the story” and to embody the simultaneous diverse paths it has traveled. To tell the tale, the Bang on a Can All-Stars add a slew of instruments—including mountain dulcimer, wooden bones, banjo, harmonicas, and body percussion—to their usual line up as well as a dynamic trio of three female voices.

The video premiere is May 6 at 7pm PT, and 10pm ET. It will be available on demand through August 4.

Bang on a Can All-Stars:
Robert Black, bass
David Cossin, percussion
Vicky Chow, piano
Arlen Hlusko, cello
Mark Stewart, electric guitar, banjo, mountain dulcimer, harmonica
Ken Thomson, clarinets, harmonica


Rebecca L. Hargrove, voice
Sonya Headlam, voice
Molly Netter, voice

David Bloom, music director

The premiere evening, May 6, includes a “watch party” with a live chat, so that viewers can chat with each other and Cal Performances staff during the night of the premiere — starting a little before the show begins and then during the show as well–to share their thoughts and reflections with others watching “live” too.

Immediately following the performance debut on May 6, viewers are invited to join a Post-Watch Party Discussion via Zoom  with the film-maker Jeremy Robins and hosted by Cal Performances Director of Artistic Planning Katy Tucker.

The Cal Performances site also includes Julia’s interview with Jeremy Geffen, a feature from Jonathan Leal in San Francisco Classical Voice, and of course program notes!

More info