Space, the final frontier for music? Not many humans have been to space, but three of them happen to be in a band together.
Retired astronauts Chris Hadfield, Catherine “Cady” Coleman, and Steve Robinson are members of the folk band Bandella along with Micki Pettit, who is married to an astronaut, and Davis resident Dave Webb.
Bandella is performing July 6 at 8 p.m. at The Palms Playhouse, 13 Main St. in Winters. Tickets are $20 and handling fees, or $12 with student ID.
The Houston band performed for a sold-out crowd at The Palms in 2017, and this will be their first California performance since then.
“It makes quite a different ... performance for the audience, I think, in that the band members have done things that are almost unbelievable, beyond compare,” Hadfield said.
Bandella was conceived in 2003 in a basement bar in Star City, Russia, where Hadfield, Robinson and Coleman all trained with the Russian Space Station in conjunction with NASA.
Hadfield, 59, dubbed “arguably the world’s favorite astronaut” by the Washington Post, is famous for his rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” — a song about an astronaut dying alone in space — while aboard the International Space Station.
He was only 9 when the song was written, the same year that humans took their first steps on the moon and inspired Hadfield to become an astronaut. He’s been around the earth 2,650 times during the 21 years he’s been an astronaut, he said.
Robinson, 63, is a Sacramento native and plays a plethora of stringed instruments for the band, from guitar to banjo to stand-up bass.
“I don’t sing, or at least I shouldn’t sing,” he said. Robinson now chairs the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at his alma mater, UC Davis, where he once played the tuba in the Cal Aggie marching band.
Coleman, 58, is a retired NASA astronaut who brought several flutes with her to the International Space Station. One of them is from Ian Anderson, founder of the rock band Jethro Tull; in 2011, she played a flute duet with Anderson while she was in space.
She also brought with her an Irish flute and penny whistle from the group The Chieftains, and later performed with the Chieftains upon returning to earth.
These astronaut musicians have experienced things that most musicians can only dream of.
“To fly in space is bordering on magic,” Hadfield said. On the ISS, he circled Earth about every 90 minutes. He saw 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets a day. He could effortlessly fly in zero gravity, and Earth passed beneath him at 17,150 mph.
Robinson said that being in space has given him a perspective that “changes everything a little bit.”
However, playing music on Earth is a lot easier than in space. Without gravity, your sinuses never drain, your lungs never quite fill, and there’s nothing holding your guitar in place, Hadfield said.
“It’s like trying to sing standing on your head,” Hadfield said.
The band’s lead singer Micki Pettit is married to Donald Pettit, 63, who is currently NASA’s oldest active astronaut. With astronauts training for months on end all over the world, spouses often come and live with them, Hadfield said, and he’s been singing and harmonizing with Micki Pettit for 20 years.
“Flying in space becomes very much a family,” Hadfield said.
Webb, a friend of the group, plays the keyboards.
The group only performs once or twice a year, given that its members are all scattered apart. When they do, however, it’s a special experience, Robinson said.
“The band you’re gonna see is a group of really good friends trying their best to make good music,” Robinson said. “It’s a little infectious ... the audience and the band, they all have fun.”
Robinson joked that he hopes that at least a couple of people show up this time around, but “we’ll have the same amount of fun no matter what, if two people show up or 200 people,” he said.