Rockabilly band moves like wildfire

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

ROCKIN — On Sunday, Shawna Bonnevie (left) plays bass while her husband Corey Bonnevie handles the electric guitar, and Tom Hines (background, center) performs on the drums on the outdoor stage at Lost Lobstah. The band Ragged Jack, which was formed three months ago, offered audiences the sounds of rockabilly during the Maine Blues Festival in Naples. (De Busk Photo)

NAPLES — At nearly 5-foot 10-inches with heels on, Shawna Bonnevie stood as tall as her bass.

Her jet-black hair and sky blue eyes struck a chord of charm as did the green-as-grass vintage dress adorning her body. Equally beautiful was how well she commanded the big bass by her side.

When Shawna sang, Squeeze Box, her voice contained verve and sensuality. The medley blended that fast-paced favorite by the Who with Bob Seger’s hit Old Time Rock And Roll.

The crowd was already hooked.

Only three months ago, married musicians Corey and Shawna Bonnevie crossed over from bluegrass to rockabilly. Along with general manager and drummer Tom Hines, they formed the band “Ragged Jack.”

That recent switch from one musical genus to another has been an instant crowd pleaser, the band members said.

“It is one of those genres of music that has a wider audience appeal. We have the rock ‘n’ roll fans and we have the country fans appreciating the music we play,” Shawna said between sets on Sunday.

In previous years, the Bonnevie couple has spent Father’s Day weekend performing at the Blistered Fingers Family Bluegrass Music Festival held at the Litchfield Fairgrounds. This year, the new group took the stage during the Maine Blues Festival in Naples.

The 2012 Maine Blues Festival kicked off Friday night and wrapped up Sunday evening. On Saturday only, festival-goers were required to wear wrist bands to prove they had paid admission.

According to festival co-founder Kevin Kimball, it is safe to say that 2012 ticket sales broke records from previous years.

“It usually takes a week to tally it up because there are at least a dozen different sites where people purchase tickets, including online advance tickets,” he said on Tuesday. “In terms of body counts, it was a record breaker.”

“I was up and down the Causeway so I can read the tea leaves. One venue ran out of booze. Merced’s (On Brandy Pond) got to the point they were at capacity. They quit letting people in until some left. The Songo River Queen II sold out of tickets, and had to turn people away,” Kimball said. “We had a sense it was going to be huge in the days leading up to it. So, we warned the venues to put on extra staff. They did; and, they were glad they did.”

“Thank you to the Town of Naples. I will be forever in debt to you,” Kimball concluded.

Corey Bonnevie said he was ecstatic to have accepted the invitation to the Naples-based blues festival. The Lost Lobstah owners asked Ragged Jack back for the Fourth of July. He added the band was already booked through the summer.

“To tell you the truth, the band is moving like wildfire. I have never seen a band move this fast,” Corey said.

Fast also describes the rhythm of the roots and rockabilly music that Ragged Jack has in its repertoire.

“Rockabilly appeals to me because it is faster paced. I came from bluegrass, which is the fastest music on this side of the planet,” Corey said. “Rockabilly has a lot of energy, and it’s entertaining.”

From the tapping toes to the swaying heads, the audience’s reaction proved that rockabilly does have mass appeal. The people in line buying compact discs (CDs) and asking for autographs also attested to the new band’s popularity. Corey said the band performs many of Johnny Cash’s train songs — music from a by-gone era that lends itself well to the rockabilly sound. He has even researched the history of songs like The Rock Island Line.

After all, it is a handy talent to have something to say in between songs — a skill Corey has learned during his years as a bluegrass musician.

Telling jokes and stories “is a staple I picked up from playing bluegrass. With acoustic instruments, you spend a lot of time tuning your instruments. So you have to keep your audience interested,” Corey said.

“With a strong voice, you can reach out and grab them. That’s just as important as the songs,” he said.

Although there are plenty of past musicians from which to draw up a crowd-pleasing play list, Corey also writes music for the band, including an instrumental piece called Hillbilly Alien.

Five years ago, 22-year-old Shawna first picked up a bass after exploring the guitar.

“When Corey met me I was playing guitar, but I wasn’t feeling it. Corey’s mother played the bass, and asked me to try it out,” she said, adding the rest is history. The bass became her gig.

“We’ve only been playing electric instruments for three-and-a-half months,” Corey said. “Saturday, we packed this place. I have never seen a band move like this.”

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