Firing on all cylinders with rising Americana multi-instrumentalist Micah Bonn

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Photography by Wenda G. Bailey / Berrien.SmugMug.com

Dynamic Georgia Country Female Artist of the Year Micah Bonn, born Micahlan Boney, is adept at fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, and most any stringed instrument. Fusing original material and covers into intimate onstage territory, the wise beyond her years native of the rural “Fruitcake Capital of the World” in Claxton began performing at age 12. In spite of her consistent “squawking and squeaking” during bedroom practice sessions, Bonn’s compassionate parents wholeheartedly approved of her decision to pursue her dreams.

Whether a stunning rendition of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind,” a drastically rearranged, sassy acoustic take of Jackie Wilson’s R&B stirrer “[Your Love Keeps Lifting Me] Higher and Higher”, violin spelunking for Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” or the original composition “Rock ‘n Roll to Satisfy My Soul,” rowdy audiences eat out of the palm of her hand. Connie Smith gave Bonn some life-altering career advice when she opened for the Country Music Hall of Fame inductee at the annual Alapaha Station Celebration festival. “Your validation doesn’t come from the praise of other people, but rather from knowing you’re accepted in Christ,” Smith confided.

In the latter half of 2018 Bonn ventured to Nashville’s Dark Horse Recording to experiment on her first songs in a major recording studio with Dolly Parton’s longtime producer-guitarist Kent Wells. Exasperated with the nightly frigid temps and missing South Georgia as the holidays stocked the horizon, in an exclusive conversation on the way back home the engaging chanteuse detailed how she recovered from the all-time worst incident that she experienced onstage and offered insight into her songwriting and stage craft.

The Micah Bonn Interview

How do you pronounce your birth name?

Micah like the book in the Bible. Then “land” minus the “d.” Another way is Michelangelo minus the jello!

Were you named after the Old Testament prophet by chance?

Yes, I was. Micah means, “Who is like the Lord.”

Who encouraged you to pursue your dreams?

My parents have encouraged me greatly. Since I started performing at the age of 12, they have been with me to nearly every single show. They are always ready to travel whenever there’s an invitation for me to play. Perhaps what impresses me most about them is that when I was learning to fiddle they overheard all my practice sessions. I squawked and squeaked a whole lot back then.

What was the first song that you composed?

The first tune that I truly finished is one that was about domestic abuse. I was around 13 years old when I wrote “Ramona’s Last Goodbye.” It’s a story song, but it wasn’t written from anything I had witnessed. I just felt very passionate about calling attention to the issue — and still do — so I conjured it from my imagination. I’ve written about 15 songs since then.

How would you encapsulate your stage presentation?

I play different instruments and blend genres to make a high energy show.

Is your setlist pretty much written in stone?

When crafting a set list, I take responsibility in finding the right mix of songs which will thrill an audience. I’ve learned over the years that the parts of a show which imprint most greatly upon an audience member are the beginning and ending. These should be the most intense and memorable numbers — that’s why I favor songs with infectious rhythms to open and close a show.

The songs themselves don’t have to be written in stone because there is magic to be captured in the spontaneity of the moment. As long as a show follows this rule of thumb I find it to be a satisfying set.

What prompted you to tackle Jackie Wilson and Glen Campbell material onstage?

Whenever I’m not playing original music, I choose covers that have an unmistakable groove and are also by artists I hold dear to my heart. I enjoy listening to a wide spectrum of musicians, but Jackie Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dwight Yoakam, Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nina Simone are a few who come to mind. I try my best to give a unique interpretation of each cover.

How did you come up with your stunning arrangement of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy?”

I chose the song because of its groove, and also because the words are so ambiguous that they seem to apply to any situation. The arrangement is still malleable, but it seemed to come together pretty easily.

What are some of the songs that you wanna perform onstage but have yet to nail down an arrangement to your satisfaction?

I recently started incorporating a loop pedal into my solo shows, and I’m very excited to work up vocal and fiddle arrangements for several tunes using the pedals. “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys remains high on my list. I have mastered Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and shot a video performing it underground inside Lost Caverns in Lewisburg, West Virginia. A medley of Led Zeppelin songs — arranged by violinist Tracy Silverman — is in my set list as well.

There are some songs that I’d like to do, but the original recordings are so raw and perfect that it’s a wiser choice to leave them as they are. Elvis’s early recording of “Mystery Train” and Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say” are both examples of this.

What is one of the worst incidents that happened to you onstage?

There was an incident during a recent outdoor show at the Ashburn Hill Plantation in Moultrie, Georgia, that made my heart sink into my shoes. Just a few minutes before starting, I took a few steps in front of my fiddle — which was plugged into my pedal board and hanging on a stand — and tripped over a tangled chord.

My fiddle fell to the floor with a sickening crash. Every fiddler’s nightmare became a reality for me when I saw that the instrument’s bridge had broken into two pieces. My kind band members tried to console me by gluing it back together using two toothpicks and gorilla glue, although I had been told by a trusted luthier that trying to fix it like that was a complete waste of time and hope.

After half the show was over, the bridge was stable again. The dried globs of thick glue made it look like a DIY Christmas ornament. And believe it or not, I was actually able to set down the mandolin and fiddle out the rest of the show. I owe Kerry Phillips, Jesse Herrin, and Sean Clark a huge thank you for saving the day!

What was your takeaway from opening for Grand Ole Opry member Connie Smith at the Alapaha Station Celebration?

It was so inspiring to see Connie Smith live in concert [Saturday, November 10, 2018]. Though her show had professional polish, the way she delivered it was wonderfully sincere and pure. That’s a rare combination. And her voice! Oh my! It’s still firing on all cylinders after all these years.

Connie did give me some advice after the show. She said that your validation doesn’t come from the praise of other people, but rather from knowing you’re accepted in Christ. She said this was especially true for performers.

Ironically a month and a half earlier I also met Connie’s husband Marty Stuart backstage in Waycross at the 21st Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival. Marty mentioned that he heard my fiddling and thought I was really talented. He kept encouraging me and is a super nice guy.

Overall how did your visit to Alapaha go?

I thought that a lot of love and dedication goes into the festival, which makes it a special event to be part of. Since October I’ve been in Nashville at Dark Horse Studios working on my debut EP and some other projects with Dolly Parton’s longtime producer-guitarist Kent Wells [also supplied six-string wizardry for Travis Tritt, Reba McEntire, and the Grascals]. He has taken an interest in my music, and we’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting in the studio.

© Jeremy Roberts, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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