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The Dartmouth
February 29, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Anaïs Mitchell and Bonny Light Horseman bring folk sounds and whimsical storytelling to the Hopkins Center

The two-time Grammy-nominated trio prepare to play well-known and brand new songs during the Hop's 2021-2022 season.

Anaïs Mitchell.jpg

Anaïs Mitchell, who created and starred in the early version of the Tony award-winning musical ‘Hadestown’ and is a part of the band Bonny Light Horsemen”

Anaïs Mitchell — along with band partners Josh Kaufman and Eric Johnson, the three of whom make up Bonny Light Horseman — will perform today at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Mitchell will kick off the show playing original songs from her past albums and hit musical, “Hadestown,” and midway through the performance, she will be joined by Kaufman and Johnson, according to Hop program manager Karen Henderson. 

“Anaïs has really blown up since ‘Hadestown,’” said Henderson. “The three of them are just like superpowers in folk.”

The College’s history with Mitchell goes back to 2014 when she workshopped an early version of the now Tony-award-winning musical “Hadestown” through the New York Theater Workshop, which has come to Dartmouth since 1991, according to Henderson. The musical is a retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that won best musical at the Tony Awards in 2019. 

“She’s always been on our radar and has had a pretty decent fan base in this area,” said Henderson. “We kind of jumped on the opportunity to have Anaïs and the band perform. It just made sense.”

Shortly after the workshop, Mitchell performed a solo concert at the Hop, according to Henderson. 

Henderson noted the importance of having Mitchell perform today as it is an opportunity to expose both the Upper Valley community and students to folk music and musical theater. 

We like the idea of people coming to the performance for different reasons,” Henderson said. “Maybe people didn't hear about her before ‘Hadestown,’ and then they’re going to come in and hear about other stuff she does, and they’re going to see her in another environment. It’s these audiences converging.”

Music professor César Alvarez, who knows Mitchell professionally, is bringing in their songwriting class to see the performance. They noted that the pandemic largely prevented students from watching and learning from live music. 

“I’m taking my students because the pandemic has meant that years have gone by and people haven’t been going to live music,” Alvarez said. “I think I’m trying to teach my students about songwriting and collective music-making. And it’s essential to go and see it. Seeing a band on stage, particularly a band like Bonny Light Horsemen, who are people that have been playing music together for years, there’s something that happens between musicians with people sitting together in a room that is unteachable.”

Alvarez saw workshops of “Hadestown” in 2012. They recalled that the music did not feel orchestrated or manufactured even in its early stages. Mitchell’s work instead had a communal and collective quality to it, according to Alvarez.

“I was really blown away when I started listening to her music,” Alvarez said. “I think what’s cool about this is that she’s a touring musician who’s also really built the world and built a life in the theater. And that, to me, is really exciting because when you go and see ‘Hadestown,’ the music is so rich and textured, and it feels like the musicians have been playing together for years and years and years because, in fact, they have.”

Nat Stornelli ’21, who had taken one of Alvarez’s classes during a previous term, said they discovered Mitchell’s music through “Hadestown” last spring. Stornelli explained that their appreciation for Mitchell’s music grew with time, eventually listening to it constantly after the first few weeks.

“I’ve found that it has held me in times when I’ve needed a piece of music, a piece of art, to hold me,” said Stornelli. “It has been a lonely time, so it’s a gift to find music that can meet you at your highs or your lows and say, ‘Here’s some comfort, here’s a reminder that you’re human and that means you’re not alone.’ Her music is just so much about love and connection and how it feels in moments when that gets complicated.”

Brandy Zhang ’22 started listening to Mitchel’s music when a friend sent her the song “Wait for Me” from “Hadestown.” Mitchell’s style of folk wasn’t something that Zhang typically listened to. 

I loved the music so much that I ended up watching the show on Broadway, which was fantastic,” Zhang said. After that, she took a class with Alvarez on emerging musical theater, inspired by her experience.

Mitchell’s Vermont roots are reflected in her music, according to Alvarez, as her songs’ texture and natural imagery are as dynamic as the seasons in the Upper Valley. 

“She doesn’t shy away from the fact that it took time, collaboration, and so many drafts to make her work what it is,” Stornelli said. “It’s not just about raw, spontaneous genius, but also constant reworking and polishing. That humility and skill is nothing to sneeze at.”