‘Hadestown’ creator Anaïs Mitchell and folk group Bonny Light Horseman fill Englert with ethereal musical magic

Part of their collaborative tour, Mitchell and Bonny Light Horseman performed songs throughout their collective discographies, with sets from the band’s twice-Grammy-nominated folk album and Mitchell’s newly-dropped self-titled album.


Josie Fischels, Managing Editor

For Hadestown creator Anaïs Mitchell and her two fellow members of folk trio Bonny Light Horseman at Englert Theatre Friday night, it was a “night of firsts.”  

The group kicked off their collaborative tour at Englert Theatre. The stop in Iowa City wasn’t intended to be the first — delays caused the band to reorganize their tour schedule. 

Bonny Light Horseman, made up of Mitchell, former Shins touring member and Fruit Bats leading man Eric D. Johnson, and producer Josh Kaufman, played several songs from their 2020 album, Bonny Light Horseman. Mitchell also played from her extensive folk discography, including songs from Hadestown and her newly dropped self-titled album, Anaïs Mitchell. 

The 10-song album, released at the end of January,  is Mitchell’s first in over a decade — a decade she spent majorly on Hadestown, the folk-opera retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale that won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2019. For Johnson, Friday night became his first time singing the part of Orpheus when he and Mitchell performed a dazzling delivery of “Wedding Song,” from the hit musical.

To a crowd of only around 100, Bonny Light Horseman kicked off their very first show in Iowa as a group with a set of nine songs from their latest album. The songs are all based on traditional folk songs and texts, reimagined in a more contemporary style. 

With songs like “The Roving” and “Magpie’s Nest,” the trio turned Englert into a dream sequence, strung together by harmonica solos and acoustic guitars. Mitchell and Johnson sang freely, reaching their hands to the sky and using their whole bodies to create mesmerizing harmonies and stunning solo moments.

Mitchell took the stage with her album’s producer, Kaufman, in the show’s second half. Her breathy voice made songs from her new album, like “Bright Star” and “Little Big Girl,” feel like shared secrets. For her, the night also marked her first time playing piano for a live audience, which she did for her song, “Brooklyn Bridge” — and appropriately celebrated afterward for making it through the whole song. 

“Over Brooklyn Bridge, in a taxi. Over Brooklyn Bridge, you and me in the backseat. Finally got you by my side, riding high at the end of the night,” she sang gently, her small frame and casual, often nearly timid stage presence almost betraying the fact that she has one of the biggest musicals on Broadway right now. 

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With much of the crowd packed toward the first few front rows, the performance was strikingly intimate. Casual toss-outs of “What song is this?” and “Is this mic on?” from Mitchell made the show feel more like a thrilling peek into a dress rehearsal, especially when the stage held such a vibrant trio of talent spanning across the realms of both Tonys and Grammys. Reality struck through the ethereal echoes of guitars and ghostly voices a few times — technical issues serving the reminder that this was the band’s first stop on the tour. 

And yet the group prevailed, easing into the awkward. Plus, with Mitchell working her way through nearly her entire album, two Hadestown songs, and the band’s return for an encore, the crowd seemed more than satisfied at the concert’s close.

Mitchell’s lyrics followed me out as I left, leaving me humming, “Bright Star, keep shining for me. Shine on and see me through. Bright Star, keep shining for me, and one day I’ll shine for you.”