BY DANIEL MORGAN
As a shy sixth grader in Noblesville, Indiana, Melissa Hammans sang too softly to earn a spot in her middle school choir. She was crushed, but with inspiration from several of her favorite artists, she persisted and went on to sing throughout high school and college.
Now, as a professional singer, Hammans has built a career with her voice and is celebrating folk-rock musicians Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, and Carole King — the musicians who influenced her to overcome her childhood reservations — through her production, Back to the Garden.
Following the success of several sold-out performances on the East Coast, the Indiana University graduate is bringing Back to the Garden to the Buskirk-Chumley Theater for two shows, August 1 and 2 at 7 p.m. The production will feature two other vocalists, Shaleah Adkisson and Maddy Wyatt.
Like Hammans, Mitchell, Nyro, and King all faced rejection at some point during their careers. They entered the industry at a time when female musicians weren’t as respected as men, but they challenged gender norms and paved the way for future women in the industry. “I think their music resonates with so many listeners because they’re drawn to their bravery and confessional songwriting,” she says. “At times I’ve been afraid to trust my instincts on something by singing a certain way and taking that artistic leap, but I learned not to silence my own voice by showing exactly who I am.”
Unlike many traditional tribute shows, none of the performers are trying to emulate Mitchell, Nyro, or King exactly. “We’re not imitating them and singing in their style or trying to look or speak like them,” Hammans says. After all, she says, it’s important that they, too, celebrate their individuality as performers.
The show will include audio clips from Mitchell, Nyro, and King, along with songs from throughout the artists’ careers. “We’re not focusing on a particular album from any of them but rather the evolution of their music and the essence of women in that time period.”
Although Hammans, who now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, first performed Back to the Garden as a solo cabaret in New York City six years ago, the show has been able to grow and evolve, thanks in part to a successful Kickstarter campaign which raised more than $15,000. And considering that much of that support came from donors in the Midwest, Hammans feels she owes her fans back home. “It’s always been a hope to bring the show to Indiana, and I’m thrilled to be bringing it to Bloomington.”