Elephant Revival’s washboard-playing siren Bonnie Paine is in her Cherokee County hometown of Tahlequah, Okla. visiting family during a short break from tour.
Feb. 18 | 9 p.m. | $20 advance | $25 at the door
Crystal Bay Casino | Crystal Bay, Nev.
“There’s a lot of baby showers these days,” she says. “I’m looking through CDs with my niece to choose birth music. Someday, I want to be a singing doula.”
Her delightful and serene demeanor comes through the phone line just as effortlessly as it does on stage where she charms listeners with her otherworldly voice and ancestral percussion. Ten years into their calling, what sets Elephant Revival apart is the clear affinity Paine and her band mates convey to one another and the audience.
“Letting the songs come into bloom is the idea, so we’ll have to see what unfolds.”
– Bonnie Paine
“We’ve all been really close friends for a long time,” she says. “There’s definitely a sense of camaraderie between us. And we all share a lot of common interests.”
This collective journey brings them back to Lake Tahoe on Feb. 18 for a special performance in the Crown Room at Crystal Bay Club with Dead Horses. The after party features The Drunken Hearts.
“The people are super fun and there’s beautiful water,” says Paine of Tahoe. “We love going on nature adventures together and seeking out the clean water wherever we go.”
Forever one to let life and art follow its natural current, Paine shares the story of how she began playing music as a little girl under the mentorship of Oklahoma Red Dirt legend Randy Crouch.
“When I was 5, we moved across the street from the girls who would eventually become my stepsisters,” she says. “The older sister Christy had a drum set. I’d go up in my brother’s room and watch her play drums through the window. Eventually, I made friends with the younger sister and got to play the drum set.”
As Paine tells it, one day Paine’s brother climbed up a tree in the front yard to ask Christy if she wanted to play drums in Randy Crouch’s band. Soon thereafter, they were all living on her father’s land where Crouch provided Bonnie and her three sisters with free music lessons.
“He’s an incredible songwriter,” Paine says of Crouch.
Christy’s mother and Bonnie’s father would later marry, thereby permanently joining the two families together thanks in no small part to a young daughter’s insatiable curiosity.
This sense of indelible kinship is something Paine continues to pursue through her work with Elephant Revival.
“What motivates me in some ways is the feeling of being connected to something bigger and for the people receiving the art to feel connected, too,” she says. “I think the root of a lot of suffering is feeling isolated and forgetting you are a part of something bigger. Art does that in a way you can’t tell people. They have to be led through it by themselves until they open up to something they feel they can relate to.”
Even as Elephant Revival gains national recognition for its intimate performances and soulful songwriting — with banner dates upcoming at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Strawberry and Bottlerock music festivals, as well as Northwest String Summit — the band chooses to stay focused on artistic practice rather than the ephemeral frills of popularity.
“It feels like a lot is still coming creatively,” says Paine. “That’s the only thing I can get a sense of a trajectory of. I think it’s important to let the creative process follow its course before planning how to capture it. If we don’t, it’ll freeze before it’s done unfolding or something like that.”
The band is consistently seeking ways to evolve their music, changing instruments mid-show, bringing new sonic ideas into the studio and seeking out unique collaborations, including a recent string of shows with the Colorado Symphony. With the addition of Chicagoan drummer/producer Darren Garvey to the lineup, Paine has begun recording and performing on cello, an instrument she’s played as a hobby for more than a decade.
“I’ve been on tour for most of those years and having a cello you need to play it consistently,” says Paine, “I’d come home and play it once or twice a month, but now we bring it on the road. I’ve always written on cello. I’d teach the band the song and then I’d play percussion on it. But on our last album [“Petals”], we felt like the cello was an important piece, so we recorded it on three songs. Now when I play it live, there’s a solid drummer with us. [Garvey] plays a stripped down set and he’s really sensitive to our dynamics, which is rare in a drummer.”
After some valuable time with family, Paine is returning to Boulder, Colo., for five days of rehearsal on new material with the band.
“Nowadays, we only get to do this two or three times a year, so it’s kind of like going to camp,” she says. “We have a ton of new songs in the works. A lot of time, they come fully formed and we hope people will get creative with the parts. We’ll take the time to look at older songs, too, maybe accentuate the bridge here, make it more of a minor feel or introduce new melodic or rhythmic ideas.”
As to be expected, she hopes the sessions will be filled with inspiration, imagination and a good helping of old-fashioned merriment.
“We stay focused, but also like to play around,” says Paine. “It can be pretty goofy and dorky sometimes, as long as we’re having a good time. And if we’re not having fun, we take a break. But usually we are, so it works out. Letting the songs come into bloom is the idea, so we’ll have to see what unfolds.”
Tickets on sale at crystalbaycasino.com.