ESSEX — On the eve of a February leap year, with the barest sliver of a moon hanging in the chill night sky, HannaH’s Field from Farmington gave an intimate studio performance at The Earth & Fire Art Studio & Gallery in Essex, CT.
The space is located right on Main Street in Essex and serves as a community gathering place for art and artists of all kinds. Visual art, photography, woodworking, ceramics, jewelry are all displayed. Julie Tigner Bonilla, artist and owner, said this is exactly why she created the studio. “I wanted a place for people to be able to teach classes on their art, for artists to show their work, and for community networking to happen.” Her husband Julius Bonilla is a local musician. “We know a lot of local musicians, and we decided to do a music series too!”
The self-proclaimed “Rasta folk modern hippie” band took its audience — surrounded by local art, arranged cozily in chairs, with snacks and drinks, and spilling all around the edges — through a long, adeptly-crafted set that got everybody up on their feet dancing on a number of occasions.
“We are entering a day that doesn’t exist,” band member Chef Bliss exhorted the audience. “Use that time of non-existence! Relax into it.”
It was Rasta folk with a gentle, matriarchal spirit. HannaH’s Field conquered the heart with delicious feel good songs and smart, irrepressible reggae beats.
HannaH Ardenski, songwriter and “Head Mistress,” has been nominated as Best Female Vocalist in the Hartford Advocate for many years and has a voice that she uses to good measure, at times sweetly plaintive and growling. Her acoustic guitar was pedaled to elicit electric tones.
A petite presence in long dreadlocks, t-shirt, mini-skirt and high boots — her overall effect was one of power, some bite, and a lot of ease and generosity. At times she played a small djembe and Melodica.
HannaH was joined by partner and drummer “Chef Bliss” Ardenski on a drum kit composed of djembe, cymbals and bass drum – all played with both hands and sticks. John Pitblado was on electric bass and Aidan Moore on lead guitar. Both contributed great locomotion and voicing to the songs.
Chef Bliss is an engaging, funny, open-spirited performer behind the drums – tall, with smiles and stories, beneath a Rastafarian cap. He is also a chef.
HannaH and Bliss’s duet album “Music Magic Medicine” was accompanied by his own vegetarian and wheat-free cookbook.
Food and its healing properties made its way through the set. “Save one for Ja,” a song fresh from the recording studio, was inspired by a food story about their friend Peter Onofrio at the BlueStar Hemp Farm in Madison. At the end of a CBD tasting event at Farm, Peter had urged the chefs who had created the gourmet CBD-infused pizzas to save one of the last pizzas as an offering. “But we were really, actually very hungry – and the pizza looked so good!” Bliss said. The song elegantly transformed this moment into metaphor and from a lilting reggae tune to an extended rocking instrumental.
“Hugs” got everyone up dancing. After first being instructed to “hug someone new” in the audience, we were lullabied, “this is your brain on hugs!” “Revolutionary Soldier” pointed to the role of the artist, in a phrase inspired by Jamaican friend and collaborator Evan Worldwind.
One of the most interesting songs was “Sacred Cacao,” riffing an ancient “heart-opening” metamorphic drug. “Sacred Cacao I open the door…bring in the chocolate love.” This song started slow, then sped up to a heart-quickening beat, then dropped into a heart-beat rhythm on djembe, as Chef Bliss explained the “do-good” Rasta word-beat association and philosophy; the moment to moment ideal to “do good, do good” is enfolded in the heartbeat rhythm. Bliss repeated the rhythm over and over, then invoked the Rasta manta “I and I” followed by an invocation of many cultural deities — Mother Mary at the top of the list.
HannaH cites musical influences Ani DeFranco, The Grateful Dead, Cat Stevens, and Ben Harper. I especially appreciated her clear-spoken, interesting introductions to songs, both vocally and instrumentally, and the careful arrangement of the songs, which included the reggae-inspired rhythmic change and tempo increase mid-song song.
The studio and its wide glass windows facing the center square on an otherwise cold frosty evening seemed to warm up the whole town. Here were hints of spring and Bonilla seemed to be achieving exactly her purpose — creating art and bringing community together.
Clare Byrne is a dancer-and-choreographer-turned-songwriter who has performed and taught in New York City and environs, Burlington, VT, and around the world. In addition to songwriting via guitar, harmonica and piano, her multi-art projects have included Weekly Rites, an improvisational dance blog, and The Poor Sister Clare’s Traveling Dancing Monk Show, an experiment in gospel dance and gardening in Vermont.