Tribute concert to Joni Mitchell as part of Dawna Hammers’ musical journey
Mashpee resident Joe Wells plays his trumpet for neighbors
Mashpee resident Joe Wells, 80, performed more than 200 outdoor concerts during the pandemic for neighbors and others
Steve Heaslip, Cape Cod Times
Dawna Hammers believes that music has special power.
“Music is very deeply healing and sacred and people really have no idea of the immense power of good music,” she says. “It can change the vibrations of our world.”
Hammers has done his part to try and change the vibes of the world for the better by getting involved in various forms of music from across the sonic spectrum, whether it’s Native American songs, lounge jazz, or a tribute concert. to Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.
Music fans will get a chance to see the self-proclaimed “medicine woman of music” in person when she performs her “Back to the Garden” tribute show to Joni Mitchell on Sunday at the Cape Cod Cultural Center. “Back to the Garden” has “evolved organically” over the past few years, Hammers says, and she can’t wait to perform it again in front of a live audience.
Why Joni Mitchell?
Hammers is a multi-instrumentalist who considers the piano her main choice, but her Joni Mitchell show began when Hammers was busking in Burlington, Vermont with her guitar, playing Mitchell’s songs on the street.
“She’s just the queen of all songwriters and she’s just phenomenal in every way,” Hammers says of Mitchell. “She’s a real artist. Her voice – if you see the previous videos on YouTube – she was so pure, innocent and spiritual.
Mitchell rose to prominence in the 1960s and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, eight-time Grammy Award winner, and is considered one of the great songwriters of all time, writing the songs ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, ‘Woodstock’ and many more.
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In addition to physically resembling her, Hammers says passers-by have also told her that she also resembles Mitchell.
“People started hearing (the songs) and started saying ‘Oh my God, you sound like her’ and kept cheering me on. So I just kept building the repertoire bit by bit,” says Hammers She also got a boost from her musician friends who urged her to keep building her knowledge of Mitchell’s catalog of songs.
Her first Joni Mitchell tribute show was in 2015 at Radio Bean in Burlington as part of the Discover Jazz Festival, and she has since brought the show to Cape Town where she now lives. She’s performed sold-out shows in Woods Hole and Falmouth, and recently performed outdoors last summer at the Cotuit Center for the Arts.
Typically, Hammers is accompanied by a backing band, but will play most of the cultural center show solo with her piano, along with guitarist Gregg Sullivan sitting on a few songs. Hammers likes to start his performance with Mitchell’s more folksy tunes and will “mix” from there with some of the artist’s more jazzy tunes, like “Blue Motel Room.” Mitchell’s extensive song catalog is another similarity Hammers says the two share, although that might be an understatement on Hammers’ part.
A dilemma and a new path
Originally from Weymouth, Hammers now lives in Falmouth and divides his time between writing and performing music, teaching music and caring for elderly people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
She grew up in a musical household with her father, a saxophonist and clarinetist who played in Cape Town, and her mother who was “Irish and always sang”.
Hammers turned to the piano, in part because her family already had an old one in their basement, and she also loved painting. In the end, she had to choose between the two when it came to college.
“Joni had that dilemma too, but she’s a much better painter than me,” Hammers says. “I chose the music. (The piano) is just a beautiful instrument to write on.
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After two years at Berklee College of Music, she was done with it and in her own band.
“When I went in 1978 and 1979, it was strictly jazz – very intense jazz – and it was 90% male,” she says. “It was a bit daunting and although I was inspired by it and loved my dad’s jazz, I was already a pop songwriter and really didn’t want to learn about all of that tension. I enjoy them, but it just wasn’t my thing.
She became a member of a soft rock trio called Polaris (her mother chose the name) and played lounges across Connecticut and Springfield. The band also performed weekly at the Flying Bridge Restaurant in Falmouth.
Hammers eventually found a way to teach music at Montessori and private schools in Massachusetts and Vermont that didn’t require him to have a teaching license. She also gave music lessons from her home and then online during the pandemic. Recently, she has been involved with daycares in Woods Hole.
“Children are beautiful,” she says. “I love them.”
But the music has no age limit, and Hammers makes sure to get it to whoever needs it.
The healing power of music
Hammers has combined her talents to help people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, providing them with music therapy as an independent caregiver.
“It’s a beautiful thing because these people can’t even talk, but when you start singing they light up and start dancing,” she says.
Before the pandemic, she also sometimes brought her students to nursing homes to perform in front of residents.
Hammers calls the music her own “medicine” and says she is very spiritual and often sings in churches. Besides playing music, Hammers’ father was a pharmacist and her great-grandfather was a minister, so she says she put her line together “like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.”
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Hammers studied with Native American and African American spiritual teachers and recorded his Native American-inspired chanting on his album “Look Into the Fire.” She plans to add Native American and African drumming to the Mitchell show on Sunday. Hammers also produced seven other albums of mostly original music.
“I really love inspiring people and helping them connect with their own hearts and feelings,” Hammers says. “Music has helped me a lot to connect with my feelings and I think I can help people through that.”
Hammers are also due to play this spring at the Main Street Gallery in Falmouth, from 3-5pm on March 13 and April 10.
Tribute to Dawna Hammers’ Joni Mitchell
What: “Return to the Garden”
When: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Or: Cape Cod Cultural Center, 307 Old Main St, South Yarmouth
Reservations and information: https://www.cultural-center.org/events-main