Bonnie Ward —21 August 2019 on Rocket Shop Radio Hour
On Wednesday June 22, Bonnie Ward fluttered into the studio for an evening of musical conversation. Anecdotes drifted into songs, and songs tapered into stories. Bonnie flitted between reverent discussions of Woodstock ‘69 and divisive topics such as the #metoo movement and migrant camps. The evening was full of highs and lows, and was, in short, dynamic.
Although fresh from work on her farm, Bonnie entered the studio like a bird in the sun: full of energy and ready to warble. She quickly tuned her twelve-string and got the interview rolling before we even went on air. Rambling from the farm, to Woodstock, to high school in Daytona, Bonnie gave us snippets of the conversation to come.
Bonnie opened with her song, “Secret Rendezvous.” She wrote the song at her kitchen table, from which she watches truckers driving by. The song sings of a hypothetical playing out in Bonnie’s head each time a truck passes. And although Bonnie tries to avoid using other people’s song titles, she just couldn’t stop herself in this case.
Without any prompting, Bonnie launched into her second song, a dedication to the tragic Parkland shooting. From the flirtatious insinuations of “Secret Rendezvous,” to such a sorrowful ode caught the studio off guard. But for Bonnie, this is expected. Her music flows with her thoughts, and, as she said, “Without music I wouldn’t be sane.”
Music functions as both a means of expression and a coping mechanism. As a mother, Bonnie was hurt by the Parkland shooting. She feels for every child that gets shot, and feels the brutal punch of each bullet. She thinks of her own daughter, and all that she would give to keep her safe. At times the emotions are too large and complex to comprehend with words and thoughts, and so her music does what it can to heal the wounds.
Again the conversation drifted, and again the mood swung. Pain ebbed into nostalgia, as the conversation spun to Woodstock. Though the primary festival was cancelled, Bonnie did manage to snag one of the last tickets to a special performance in Bethel, New York, commemorating the original Woodstock on its 50th Anniversary. She listened to Santana and the Doobie Brothers, and was reminded of the festival which started it all.
Bonnie has always held reverence for Woodstock. It changed her life in many ways. She graduated from high school in ‘66, and for three years worked in a beauty boutique in Daytona, Florida, for her mother. But that wouldn’t last. In ‘69, she abandoned the parlor and embarked on a pilgrimage to the north, all the way to a field in Bethel, New York. There, she jammed, loved, listened, and enlightened herself. And it was in front of Jimi Hendrix’s staple performance that she met her twin sister. Anything could happen. It was a world within itself, and full of possibility.
From Bethel she was whisked off to New York City in a limousine. Eventually she wound up in Haight-Ashbury, surrounded by artists and the great wave of counterculture. As with all artists on our show, Bonnie’s lifelong journey has led her to Vermont, and her farm. The quaint and quiet life, far removed from the excitement of the greater world, though not out of touch.
Bonnie grew up down the street from the Allman brothers. She was there at Woodstock ‘69. And now she is happily shucking peas and toiling over 1,200 acres of farm fields, singing her songs all the while. Bonnie did grace us with two more songs before she departed. “Mother Nation,” a dedication to all the mothers of the world, and the pain under which some must suffer. Bonnie wishes us all to turn our heads to the migrant camps at our own borders and imagine the pain of a mother being forcefully separated from their child.
Bonnie’s last song was a dedication to the bikers, who carry a mutual respect. In January, Bonnie will return to Daytona Beach and biker country for a concert. Though it may be hundreds of miles away, we’ll be thinking of you Bonnie, especially as the snow falls and frost paints our windows.
Photo by James Lockridge.
Text by Luke Vidic.