Hometown musicians form band for festival

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What: Bonanza King, performing at the Winters Earthquake Street Festival

When: 6:45-7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24 (festival runs from 5 to 11 p.m.)

Where: Main Street, downtown Winters

Admission: Free, but food and crafts will be available for purchase

Info: Winters Chamber of Commerce, (530) 795-2329

What do you get when several well-known local musicians drop everything and form a Western swing band on the spot, just because a well-known singer asked them to? You get Bonanza King, which will perform for the first time as a group at this year’s Earthquake Street Festival.

Kari King is the singer who didn’t even have to ask twice when she sought out musicians to perform with her at the festival. A blues singer for decades, she and her husband, Richard Hemenway, have most recently been performing bluegrass in the Sacramento area, and Bonanza King will be the first band she assembled herself.

Besides King as lead singer and guitarist, the group features Keith Cary on lap steel, Steve O’Neil on bass, Roger Kunkle on fiddle and mandolin, Bruce Brewer on drums and Cedar Seegar on guitar. When asked why they all agreed to perform without hesitation, Cary replied that King is “one of the greatest singers I’ve ever played with. She’s dynamite.” All the other heads nodded in agreement.

Cary added that in addition to old country standards, he enjoys playing King’s original songs that often have some fairly unique titles, like “Don’t Think it Ain’t Been Fun, Dear, Because it Ain’t” and “I Laugh When I Think How I Cried Over You.”

Seeger says playing with King is “a great opportunity to learn the old classics and do her originals.” Cary describes King’s originals as “brutally clever.”

“They’re excellent originals,” Cary said. “It’s hard to know which ones are the originals and which ones are the classics.”

Aside from O’Neil, who is a Dixon resident, all the band members are from Winters. All of have played together at one time or another, including several Note of Elegance fundraisers, but never before in this particular configuration.

All are also professional musicians. Brewer and Seeger play with the Phantom Rhythm Kings, and O’Neil has 56 years of playing music under his belt, including 40 years playing country music. He also has toured with California Zephyr. O’Neil says he plays “everything but metal.”

Like the others, Kunkle is a musical gypsy, playing with a variety of bands, and was a member of Thin White Rope in the 1980s. Cary is well-known in the Winters community for playing a wide variety of instruments, and some things that aren’t instruments at all, like the “commodion.” He often can be found playing with Miss Lonely Hearts and frequently performs with Bob Armstrong.

The group has come together in only a matter of weeks, but they seem more excited and enthused to just get on stage together than worried about a short practice period. King says the band’s performance will be specially geared for the Earthquake Street Festival, and there won’t be any mournful “crying in your beer” songs.

“No songs about dogs coming home,” Seeger says.

Instead, King says the band intends to get toes tapping and folks dancing with Western swing and honky-tonk tunes.

“I’m excited about it,” she admits with a big smile.

The Earthquake Street Festival takes place Friday, Aug. 24, from 5 to 11 p.m. on Main Street in downtown Winters. The pre-dance entertainment schedule is still in the process of being finalized, but Bonanza King is tentatively scheduled to perform from 6:45 to 7:30 p.m.

The Earthquake Street Festival is sponsored by the Winters Chamber of Commerce, and is one of the Chamber’s biggest fundraisers of the year. For more information, call the Chamber at (530) 795-2329.

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