Who are Bonny Light Horseman?

A collaboration between songwriters Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson and Josh Kaufman, Bonny Light Horseman came together via meetings in a Wisconsin festival field, a German art hub and a recording studio in Woodstock, upstate New York. They’re the solitary facts, but the story the folk supergroup tells when singing and playing together is something else entirely. From the moment Mitchell breathed the words “Oh Napoleon Bonaparte” into their eponymous debut album, lovers of songs and singing were hooked.

These days Anaïs Mitchell is recognised internationally for her hit Broadway musical ‘Hadestown’, but the Vermont-born songwriter has been recording and releasing great songs for over a decade. Eric D. Johnson is best known as the main man behind influential American folk heroes Fruit Bats, loved for his beguiling melodies and beautiful voice. While Josh Kaufman is a multi-instrumentalist who has worked alongside This Is The Kit, The Hold Steady, Josh Ritter and many more Americana heroes.
They first came together as Bonny Light Horseman at Eaux Claires Festival in 2018 when invited by the festival’s co-founders, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner. From there, they took the decision to form a band and released ‘Bonny Light Horseman’, a mixture of traditional British folk songs and original material in 2020, and it was subsequently nominated for that year’s Grammy Award for ‘Best Folk Album’.

The timeless qualities these traditional tunes carried, alongside the astral folk of the trio’s first compositions, found the eternal connections great roots music thrives upon and Bonny Light Horseman stumbled upon the zeitgeist. “The English folk singer Martin Carthy once said that ‘you can’t break traditional songs that are hundreds of years old and you’re not gonna’ hurt them by messing with them’,” says Mitchell. “The songs feel like ours, but they’re not ours. We worked on them and they feel like an authentic expression of us – but we’re also reenacting rituals.”
The first album was a success, tours sold-out and festivals came calling, so the trio regrouped and wrote a second record. The homespun wisdom and open tunings remained, but Bonny Light Horseman also hit a popular hot spot this time around and the warm sounds of their delicate music and deliberate harmonies found its biggest audience yet for ‘Rolling Golden Holy’.

It’s an album that could soundtrack your life. Lovelorn lyrics, lilting melodies and layers of languid and liquid guitar sounds leave their mark on even the hardest of hearts. A startlingly original voice such as Anaïs Mitchell possesses comes along once in a lifetime, while the fulsome falsetto of Eric D. Johnson is the perfect partner for her deliberate delivery, as all the while Josh Kaufman stands stage right creating aural soundscapes that simultaneously sound ancient and modern.
The Guardian recently declared that the supergroup’s work “stands alongside offerings from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss”, while Uncut has praised them for “reframing trad-folk ballads for the present”. Whatever they do or wherever they go, one thing is clear: Bonny Light Horseman does it right. Don’t miss them in the deer park this summer…

Bonny Light Horseman play Black Deer Festival on Friday June 16th – BOOK TICKETS