New Music

Bang on a Can

Julia Wolfe’s Steel Hammer


Robert Black, bass
David Cossin, percussion
Vicky Chow, piano
Arlen Hlusko, cello
Mark Stewart, electric guitar, mountain dulcimer, harmonica
Ken Thomson, clarinets, harmonica

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

David Bloom, music director

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.

“[An] epic explosion and reconstruction of the folk ballad.”
The Boston Globe on Steel Hammer

Immediately following the Watch Party on May 6, ticketholders can join fellow audience members, Steel Hammer director, animator, and editor Jeremy Robins, and Cal Performances Director of Artistic Planning Katy Tucker to share your thoughts on the performance.

       An Illuminations: Fact or Fiction event >

The Cal Performances at Home Spring 2021 season is dedicated to Gail and Dan Rubinfeld, leading supporters of Cal Performances and the well-being of our artists for almost 30 years.

Major support provided by the U.S. Bank Foundation.

Patron Sponsor: Françoise Stone 

Premiere Watch Party

May 6, 2021, 7pm
Available on demand through August 4, 2021

Cal Performances at Home Pricing

The pricing for individual Cal Performances at Home performances is on the honor system and is based on the number of people watching the performance.


  • One person viewing the performance


  • Two people viewing the performance


  • Four or more people viewing the performance


  • Average price you would have paid to see this live*

* “Rock Star” is, well, above and beyond! You’re a true believer, a superhero in our book.


Beyond the Stage

Program Notes

View Program Notes: Web | PDF

Premiere Watch Party

May 6, 2021, 7pm
Available on demand through August 4, 2021
At Home Events

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