Four years ago, Rice University alumnus Nathan Bonnes (Brown ’15) wanted to create an outlet for amateur musicians to perform at Rice. An acoustic singer-songwriter, Bonnes had played sets at coffee shops around his hometown of Corpus Christi, TX but didn’t see an outlet for performing at Rice. Coffeehouse had just moved to its larger location in the Rice Memorial Center and Bonnes, a “Keeper of Coffee,” persuaded the former general manager Christine Cooper to use the space. Bonnes opened for the first “Coffeehouse Goes Acoustic” on a Wednesday night in spring 2012. Soon, the open mic nights, later called “Espresso Yourself,” became a regular Wednesday night tradition where students could come together to play and listen to music. It was here that Bonnes first started performing and songwriting on a regular basis, collaborating with other musicians from around Rice.
Fast forward to today — Bonnes is now pursuing music professionally, performing regular gigs all over Texas and starting to make a name for himself in the Texas Country music scene. His first officially released single “Broken Again” recently made the Top 100 on the Texas Regional Radio Charts. On Nov. 13, Bonnes will be headlining at Fitzgerald’s, one of the oldest and most widely recognized live music venues in the Greater Houston Area.
According to Bonnes, being at Rice and collaborating with musicians from the Shepherd School of Music had a large influence on Bonnes’ music.
“I think the biggest and the best thing was getting to collaborate with really different and really talented people,” Bonnes said. “So yeah, that collaboration, that’s what a lot of Rice people say is that here you get to meet so many people that are so different than you and have so many different skills.”
Bonnes entered Rice as a chemistry major, but like many students entering college, wasn’t sure what direction he wanted his life to take. After his first year, Bonnes took a gap year during which he worked as a tutor, led worship at a local church and played music. It was during this time that Nathan first discovered songwriting and recorded his first EP, “New View of the Sun.”
“One of the main things that I’m most excited about for songwriting is that you can take an experience that wasn’t good and you can redeem it by helping others learn from it and maybe even learning about it for yourself by reflecting on it,” Bonnes said.
By the time Bonnes decided to return to Rice to complete a degree in religious studies, he knew that he wanted to pursue music professionally.
“I think at the end of my time off I could have come back and completed chemistry and have gotten a good job and that would have been a fine path … But I realized that I could make a living doing the things I enjoyed,” Bonnes said.
Along with writing and performing music, Bonnes continues to tutor and lead worship at his church. Although he has met some success, breaking into the Texas Country scene has not been easy.
“What I’ve been doing a lot since I’ve graduated has been trying to get in contact with venues and other bands and trying to connect with them,” Bonnes said. “It’s kind of a give and take thing where you really have to earn your presence in the scene to be respected.”
This will be Bonnes’ third time performing at Fitzgerald’s, but his first time headlining. Fitzgerald’s features many up-and-coming artists as well as nationally recognized acts, but isn’t traditionally a country venue, which is part of the reason Bonnes is excited about his upcoming concert.
“It’s good to be playing at a place that has a little more overlap with other genres,” Bonnes said.
You can listen to Bonnes’ latest EP, “To Love and Be Loved” on Spotify, and he is planning to go back into the studio next summer to record his first full-length album.