Local musicians Bonny June and Ken Kraft answered my phone call in the voices of their alter-egos, Countess June and Count Kraftula. Vampire-vaudeville is not a genre currently on any Billboard charts, but as they told me about the creepy, hilarious songs they’re working on lately, I started to think it could be.
June and Kraft along with bassist Craig Owens (or, this week, “Batman Owens”) comprise Bonny June & Bonfire, a band with Americana roots, songwriting chops and theatrical flair. Since 2018, the trio has put on one of the most creative Halloween events in town, transforming themselves into monsters and playing an entire show in their adopted identities. This year their Halloween musical returns to Kuumbwa Jazz via Ron Sandidge’s Snazzy Productions. With the full moon set to fall on the night of their performance, it promises to be their wildest show yet.
Last year’s show at Kuumbwa was a resounding success and “dream come true” for the band. “It’s the best thing I do,” says June of the Halloween show, “and it’s only once a year.”
A life-long writer and performer, June grew up in San Diego. “I’ve always sung,” she says, “but I never considered myself to be a songwriter until 2009 or so, I just started writing songs out of the blue.” Around that time, she met Kraft through the annual Mars Studios singer-songwriter contest. He added his decades of experience as a rock guitarist in Snail and other bands, and then the duo recruited Owens, who played in country singer Lacy J. Dalton’s band for over 20 years.
“All three of us sing,” says June. “We do a lot of harmonies, and we love the way that our blend sounds.” In 2012, the fire of Bonny June & Bonfire really started burning with the release of their debut album Bright Moon Pearls.
What makes June’s music distinct is its emphasis on dramatic narrative, an interest that often leads her to embody outlandish characters as she sings. “They’re story songs,” she says. “So we introduce them with little stories in between the songs.” Fans began noting that Bonny June & Bonfire shows felt like mini-musicals or vaudeville revues. The band embraced those descriptions and now proudly bills itself as an Americana-Vaudeville act.
“At first I was writing make-you-cry make-you-laugh love songs, songs about rising above adversity, inspiring songs,” June says, “but then I found that audiences like comedy, so I started trying to be funny!” This realization in addition to June’s childhood love of old-fashioned monster programs like Monster Rally and Creature Features led her to an unexpected place in her songwriting.
“I decided to write a song about a werewolf, and the werewolf was a female werewolf, so a little bit of a twist on it,” she says. “It’s a bluegrassy, folky tale, and that was our first monster song.” Called “Wolverina,” the song lives alongside Warren Zevon’s 1978 masterpiece “Werewolves of London” in the pantheon of monster music.
“It’s absurd!” June says. “It’s the perfect mix of spooky and silly.”
Bonny June & Bonfire seem to be onto something magical, because ever since they started writing character songs like this, they simply cannot stop. The theatricality of their Halloween show has grown and grown, to the point that they have incorporated a fourth performer (Cheryl Henson a.ka. “Devil Maycare”) who helps debut one of two new songs: a cover of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’ 1966 jam “Devil with a Blue Dress.”
How big will this Halloween Bonfire get? We’d have to consult a psychic for all the details, but it’s safe to say it’s not dying down anytime soon. They are writing a full-length vampire musical called Kraftula.
Kuumbwa Jazz Center – October 28, 7:30pm – $30
Tickets at snazzyproductions.com
Bonny June & Bonfire’s Halloween Favorites
Favorite Horror Story
Bonny: We both love Poe, but I’d have to say Dracula, the book
Ken: If it’s a move, Alien 1 and, as a close second, The Exorcist
Your Best Costume
Bonny: Countess June. It’s pretty darn good, because now they have the real fangs, you know?
Ken: Count Dracula. It’s fabulous.
Best Past Costume
Bonny: I was a sea monster when I was about 20!
Ken: I never dressed up for Halloween before I became the Count. I was always playing the Good Times Ball or The Catalyst. I dressed like a rock star, I guess!
Ken: Anything dark chocolate for me