Hanna Cooper File photo
CRESWELL – Times were tough for Hannah Cooper when she first moved to Oregon. It was shortly after the financial collapse of 2008 and she needed a job. But nobody was hiring.
”I was crashing with friends in Lincoln City, and I go on Craig's List and see this crab boat job posted, and it said, 'Females welcome,'” Cooper said following a two-set performance at Blue Valley Bistro the night of Friday, Nov. 15.
”Normally, that would be a huge red flag, but I really needed the job, so I went there and after giving me 'the old once-over,' he hired me on the spot.”
Curious, Cooper later asked her new boss why he would hire women for what many would say is a man's job.
”'No. 1, they don't steal my tools,' he said. 'No. 2, they're hard workers, and No. 3, they're pretty to look at.'”
That fun summer job was just one of the many extraordinary life experiences that Cooper sang about while promoting her new CD, ”I'm Right Here.” On the soothing, mesmerizing title track, you can certainly hear why some have likened her to Joni Mitchell – but Cooper shuns the comparison.
”I'd rather not be compared to anybody and just be known for my own music,” said Cooper, who was the Best Folk Song winner at the 2017 American Songwriting Awards for ”The Hickory Tree.”
And her stage act truly is clever and unique. In ”Oh, Those Expectations,” she sings about expecting too much of people, and ”The Last Love Song” is about well-intentioned things you say to your partner that were better left unsaid.
That day when she got the crab boat job, there was one other woman – named Tuula – who also got hired. The two connected instantly and wound up being life partners for the next eight years.
”That job was actually fun,” Cooper said. ”It was a lot of lifting 200-pound pots, so it wasn't easy. We had a blast, though ... I did get seasick all the time, so I had to deal with that.”
A couple of years later, Hannah and Tuula, a journalist, embarked on a cross-country bicycle journey that began in Oregon, dipped south to San Diego, went east across the southern U.S. to Florida, and then finally north to Lynn, Mass., home of Walden Pond. Tuula kept a food-cycle blog during the six-month sojourn, as the pair tried to eat nothing but local food throughout the entire trip.
”Only two people were unfriendly the whole trip,” Cooper said. ”Everybody we met was so kind.”
The trip wasn't without its anxious moments ... like that dreary night in the barn near Big Sur, Calif.
”It was raining, and we went to this barn, not realizing there was a house on the property. There was a fear all night that they would see us and come after us with shotguns,” Cooper said.
”Neither one of us got any sleep that night. We were both cranky the next day and had to work through some things. I just wanted to get away from her ... but you can't get separated out there. There were some tough moments like that.
”So it wasn't all just about the physical challenges,” she said.
The mental demands of the trip did wonders for Cooper's psyche.
”I wanted to challenge myself in a way that was new and different to me,” she said. ”I knew going in it would be difficult, and that we would face daily weather issues and other assorted problems. We only had one flat tire (Tuula's) the whole trip.”
After covering the USA from coast to coast, Cooper was ready to conquer the world.
”It kind of had that feeling,” she said. ”It built chops. I thought, if I can do this, I wonder if I can do that.”
Cooper's father was a theater actor, so she spent plenty of time around performers and has always had an affinity for show tunes, which she incorporates into her act.
She also wove in some choice covers by musical giants – ”Rocket Man” (Elton John), ”Something” (Beatles) and ”Crash Into Me” (Dave Matthews).
The best part of the night, though, was watching an animated Cooper belt out lyrics from her original material, such as ”The Colors You Make” and ”Stay.”
Her music sure is pretty to listen to.
Playing guitar a cure for Havens’ heart
SPRINGFIELD – Cameron Havens plays with all his heart. After undergoing two heart surgeries already and still needing a third at age 30, he’s living a normal, healthy life.
But he’s not taking anything for granted, either.
“In high school, I had heart surgery and my parents bought me a guitar,” Havens said between sets Saturday night, Feb. 16, at the Twisted River Saloon. “I started playing, and after about a year, I became real serious and started playing full-time.”
Havens needed an aortic valve replacement, and says his condition has caused very few limitations in his life. In high school, he swam and played water polo.
Out of the Fort Worth, Texas area, Havens, now 22, said he enjoys the grinding lifestyle of a touring musician.
“You gotta keep the ball in the air as long as you can,” he said, using a sports analogy, “but I love it. It’s exhausting sometimes, although I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.”
Havens said his mom has seven siblings, including an aunt in Portland. That’s how he wound up making a stop in Springfield – he scheduled it on his way to visit her.
“I just bought an RV and I really love traveling,” Havens said. “And I like to spend a lot of my free time with family – I’ve always been family-oriented. I’m really a pretty boring guy.”
Nobody was bored by the show he put on at Twisted River. A nice mix of originals was sprinkled in with a nostalgic selection of covers, including “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Angel from Montgomery,” “Fire and Rain,” “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Fast Car.”
“I grew up listening to vinyl with my grandparents,” Havens said. “My favorite band is the Beatles and I’m also a big fan of Jason Isbell.”
During the second set, he played an Isbell song, “Last of My Kind,” that was undeniably one of the highlights of the show.
“I think Jason Isbell is one of the truly great American songwriters,” Havens said.