Bonnie Bishop, live

by Jordan Green

Bonnie Bishop, live

Singer Bonnie Bishop slides into a seat in the cramped performers lounge behind the stage at Winston-Salem’s Garage as the drummer for another band arranges some gear.

“Feel free to have some cookies,” she says to the visiting reporter. “A creepy fan gave those to me.”

An oldish looking guy with a graying crew cut and a T-shirt imploring “Keep Austin Weird,” the fan has been hovering around Bishop’s merch table. The soundman and the doorman appear to be keeping a close eye on him.

Bonnie Bishop is a Texas singer — yes, with all that implies — transplanted to Nashville. The daughter of a college football coach, Bishop is a student of the homegrown Lone Star music scene, a headstrong contender in the game, a newly minted guitar player, a songwriter and a consummate professional on stage.

“I would say my parents have really instilled me with the fight,” she says. “My dad’s favorite saying is, ‘You put your head down, put your ass in the air and keep digging.’ I’ve got a talent from God. It doesn’t matter who gets it. I’ve got to get to the people who do.”

The instrument that Bishop holds in her possession — that earthy, quavering alto that harnesses a gale-force hurricane and a soft summer breeze — hints at grief, joy, relief, pain. All the powerful elements of the cosmos, basically. But the singer’s sporting, relentlessly positive attitude holds some of those vulnerabilities at bay. Her voice resembles that of Bonnie Raitt to an uncanny degree. The instrumentation on her new album, Things I Know, evokes the rollicking soulfulness of Delbert McClinton.

Before she went away to college in Austin, Bishop grew up in Starkville, Miss., where her father coached football for Mississippi State University. She learned to sing vibrato from the black girls at her high school.

Tonight, she’s performing without a band accompanied only by her own hand at the strings of her acoustic guitar. No Wurlitzer, no slide, no resonator, no B3 or piano, no stinging red-hot electric guitar, just her own rudimentary but completely serviceable strumming.

Bishop grew up listening to Motown, Etta James and Ruth Brown. She’s always been into Elton John, she says. Of course, she loves Bonnie Raitt. She’s a big Bob Seger fan.

“I never listened to country,” she says. “Nashville doesn’t call me country, and I don’t call myself country.”

Bishop comfortably balances the contradictions of gender, showing up at the Garage before the opening set by fellow native Mississippian Brandon Land dressed in jeans and football jersey with her blond hair tied back in a ponytail. Later, she appears with her hair down in a sequined black halter and heels. She loses the heels by the time she makes it to the stage, and wriggles her toes to subtle feel of her music.

Bishop contends with the characteristic North Carolina reserve by rallying the audience with good cheer and banter, the latter being a stock device of the singer-songwriter trade. She tells the crowd that one of her songs will be on the next Bonnie Raitt album, and tells a story about a recent opportunity to appear with the legendary performer.

“She’s got a guitar strapped on,” Bishop recalls. “She’s out there rocking. She’s in her mid-sixties. She’s still got it. I’m in the wings kind of dancing around. I think I know almost all of her songs. She kind of comes up to me and gestures for me to come out, and it’s the one freaking song that I had never heard. I have to prostrate myself in front of an audience once in awhile.”

Bonnie Bishop, a singer from Texas, has relocated to Nashville towork in the songwriting trade. She recently made a stop at the Garagein Winston- Salem for a solo performance. (photo by Quentin L.Richardson)