Bonny Light Horseman performs at Howard Theatre on Dec. 10, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Musicians of all character and sound have collaborated in recent years, and like many relationships in life, these connections of course can become fleeting.
And so high-profile partnerships that go beyond just a single festival appearance or one-off recording give fans plenty of cause for thrill and delight just at the idea that the original experiment indeed worked out and turned into something more.
Bonny Light Horseman — now almost five years old — visited the Howard Theatre in DC recenty as one of the most important folk outfits touring today.
But when the group formed almost on a whim at a festival back in 2018, it seemed like a fantasy lineup — one of the most adored voices in all of indie rock in Eric D. Johnson, teaming with the renowned Anaïs Mitchell, not only a captivating singer-songwriter but an esteemed, Tony-winning playwright, and Josh Kaufman, who’s quietly put together an unthinkable resume both as a multi-instrumentalist and as a producer working with a wide network of respected musicians from different genres, both emerging artists and some of the most successful in the world.
Stream Bonny Light Horseman’s 2022 studio album, Rolling Golden Holy, via Spotify:
As Mitchell described in a video shot by GRAMMY in 2019 — prior to the band’s two nominations — it was an occasion to rise to when the trio was offered a slot at the Eaux Claires fest in by the event’s co-architects, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of The National. Playing traditional songs as a unit, as Anaïs said, turned out to be natural, and Kaufman described the group as “personal” and “connected” to this type of music together.
And so this remarkable band didn’t just survive, but has gone on to thrive, riding the reception of early 2020’s self-titled album through the pandemic that set in just as the record was being launched, endearing listeners that had picked up the trail by way of Mitchell’s notoriety, or possibly via Fruit Bats, which is Johnson’s one-of-a-kind vehicle, or maybe through following Kaufman’s work — he’s recorded for albums by The War on Drugs, The National, Hiss Golden Messenger, Josh Ritter, and more, and he’s produced for Bob Weir, Craig Finn and The Hold Steady and Cassandra Jenkins.
Bonny Light Horseman’s seemed to have made a lasting impression wherever the group ventures, including appearances at other festivals like, of course, the Newport Folk Festival. Boosted by the in-demand drumming skills of JT Bates — and, on this tour, the help of bassist Cameron Ralston — these friends have created a platform and outlet for passed-down songs, interpretations or new material of their own that they might not otherwise have, and their awards and followership so far speak to a winning combination of shared vision and the synergy they enjoy as masterful skills as musicians and singers who genuinely care about each other and making songs together.
Out in support of the band’s highly anticipated second album Rolling Golden Holy, released early October on 37d03d, Bonny Light Horseman impressed a large audience the night of Dec. 10 in DC with a robust set of beautifully arranged songs — some that soothed, others that rocked, and all of them provided satisfaction to the ear.
And the night’s supporting act, too, rightfully drew plenty of her own fans as singer-songwriter Joan Shelley, who hails from Louisville, opened the show in mesmerizing fashion. Out to promote The Spur, her record released this past summer on No Quarter, she would ultimately join Bonny Light Horseman for a memorable closing performance of the English folk tune “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”
Stream Joan Shelley’s new studio album, The Spur, via Spotify:
While so many nights in the District seem to offer an abundance of live music options, this one in featured the opportunity to witness two world-class acts touring and sharing their newest music with eager fans.
Bonny Light Horseman Setlist
Bonny Light Horseman
Green Green Rocky Road (Dave Van Ronk)
Gone by Fall
Fleur de Lis
Cold Rain and Snow
Deep In Love
Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
Here are images of Bonny Light Horseman and Joan Shelley performing at Howard Theater on Dec. 10, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.
Photos of Bonny Light Horseman’s set
Photos of Joan Shelley’s set