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How Hannah got her mojo back

Hannah Cooper found herself and rediscovered music at La Baguette Music Cafe in Ashland’s Railroad District.

Now she’s released her first album, “I’m Right Here,” a collection of sweet poetry, gentle guitar and impressive vocals.

Raised in rural Minnesota, Cooper was intent on making music as a career, but she didn’t get into the composition school of her dreams. So she made her way through the next couple of years by working on a crabbing ship, farming and doing odd jobs, putting her music on hold.

And then in 2012, at the age of 24, Cooper biked across the country, something she’d always dreamed of doing. The experience pushed her to the limits of endurance and was a roller coaster of complete exhaustion and absolute jubilation.

“I wanted to go to Walden Pond, because that whole message to simplify and focus on what you want to do in your life has always been attractive to me,” Cooper recalls. “The trip gave me the confidence that I really could do anything with my life if I put my mind to it.”

A year later, with the grueling 6,000-mile bike trip behind her, Cooper moved to Ashland.

“That first week, I was biking through the Railroad District with my resume, and I rode past La Baguette and there was music blasting out,” Cooper remembers. “I looked in and there were guitars hanging up, and I said, ‘What kind of bakery is this with musical instruments on the wall?’”

The next day, La Baguette’s owner, baker Merrill Smith, hired Cooper, and the stage was set for a musical transformation in her life.

La Baguette bakery is a fusion of music, musicians and good food, a gathering place for the Railroad District neighborhood and those in the know. Often on First Fridays, when the breezes are right, music flows across the valley and you know someone’s playing at La Baguette. Crowds gather to watch singer-songwriters, guitarists, drummers — and everyone dances in the deepening of the evening.

For Cooper, La Baguette gave her security and community. Perhaps most importantly, the musicians and the music they made gave her back her mojo.

“I met Conrad Johnson, a songwriter — he would come into the bakery — and Bill Leonhart, who is this seven-string classical jazz guitarist,” Cooper explained. “Merrill Smith and his daughter Jenika had a band, and I ended up playing mandolin with them.”

Locals gather at La Baguette Music Cafe all the time, and Smith often books musicians for special events. But Wednesdays at 10 a.m. is Bread and Jam, when musicians come by for pickup performances. They’ll bring their own instruments or take a guitar down from the wall, and if Merrill knows their talent, he’ll offer the piano. There’s always a lot going on between the wholesale and retail bakery work, the hot ovens and the music.

“Music brings people together, and it’s a cohesive community — the musicians come in and play or listen and meet each other,” said Smith. “Somebody will say, ‘I need to put together a rhythm section so I can play my horn, do you know anyone?’ So I’m often an impresario, connecting musicians who are seeking each other out.”

And that’s how Cooper got her mojo back. Cooper hooked up with Theresa McCoy, Patti Moran McCoy and Jenika Smith, and the four women started making music together, which led to Cooper’s award-winning album “I’m Right Here.”

“This community, the chain reaction of events, meeting the people at La Baguette led me to release my first project in 2017,” Cooper said. “A whirlwind of all these characters that came into my life by being at the bakery.”

For more information about music at La Baguette Music Cafe or their baked goods, call 541-482-0855 or see LaBaguetteMusicCafe.com.

See HannahCooperSongs.com to learn more about Cooper’s music and to listen to tracks from her debut album.

Cooper, along with Theresa McCoy on drums and Patti Moran McCoy on piano, will play at La Baguette, 340 A St., in Ashland, at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Singer-songwriter Hannah Cooper borrows a guitar and hangs out at La Baguette Music Cafe in Ashland. Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella