East junior nominated for Wisconsin Area Music Industry award
By Hannah Bensen, Editor in Chief
Many young musicians dream of winning a Grammy Award one day. Savanna Bonlender may not have received a Grammy quite yet, but she has the chance to win a prestigious award.
Bonlender, a junior at West Bend East High School, is nominated for a Wisconsin Area Music Industry award in the “Rising Star” category. She goes by the stage name “Savanna Rose” and will compete with six other people in the category for a coveted WAMI. The award show will be at 7 p.m. April 23 at Turner Hall in Milwaukee.
The Wisconsin Area Music Industry s an organization that recognizes the achievements of musicians from across Wisconsin. Their annual award show has over 30 categories ranging from “Album of the Year” to “Polka Artist.”
“I was very surprised,” Bonlender said of the nomination. “I did not expect it because it’s a huge honor and obviously there’s so many people in the state of Wisconsin that play music and are musicians. Just to be recognized as one of the top youth musicians in the state is incredible.”
Bonlender is only 17 years old, but she is already quite experienced in the music industry, having played on stages at Summerfest and the State Fair. However, it’s taken several years of practice and dedication to find this success.
“I’ve grown up in a pretty musical family, but I always loved singing and playing piano as a little kid,” Bonlender said. “Sixth grade was when I stepped on the stage for the first time for a talent show. I taught myself how to play guitar during seventh grade, and then I learned about 50 songs, all the words and the chords for that, and then I started to play by myself in the community in eighth grade, which was in 2014, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Bonlender is making a name for herself in the competitive music community. She averages about 100 shows per year and has played bars, farmers’ markets and festivals throughout southeastern Wisconsin. She performs at paid events, where she can make up to $100 an hour, and sometimes volunteers to sing. She has also been featured on several local radio and television shows.
Bonlender has won several competitions as a musician. She was a top-four finalist out of 250 performers in the Best of Blueburg Cafe Open Mic competition in Cedarburg and she won the West Bend High School Talent Show last year. In addition, she received the “Rising Star” award from the Volunteer Center of Washington County for donating all the money from one of her shows in order to purchase teddy bears for the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
“It always surprises me (when people recognize me),” Bonlender said. “It’s so amazing how you can play in just one event, and the networking that comes with that. A lot of times I get my shows from people in the crowd. My mom always says ‘do your best in every performance, because you never know who’s going to be in the audience.’”
Bonlender’s performances can last up to three hours long, and she plays music from many different genres and time periods. She practices around 12 hours a week to maintain the stamina for such long shows as well as to keep a setlist that is fresh and diverse.
“I always say that every age that comes to watch will know at least one song,” Bonlender said. “It keeps me on my toes; I just love how it’s different every time. There’s always new people in the crowd and it’s just such a fun thing to do when you are working but you are doing what you love, and sometimes getting paid to do what you love, which is the coolest thing ever.”
Bonlender also writes her music and self-published an album two years ago called “Change.” She sells this album at her performances. She is now working on her second album, which is currently untitled.
Bonlender does not plan on pursuing music as a full-time career, but for now she will continue to follow her passion.
“I guess I just like performing,” Bonlender said. “I like the adrenaline rush, and I don’t really get nervous. It’s more of an excitement, because that is where I really love to be, to see how emotional and moved can get. Some people cry, some people laugh. It’s a really expressive form of art.”
(This article also appeared in the Washington County Daily News. Photographs are courtesy of Savanna Bonlender.)