Okanagan Nation DJ goes global with virtual music nights

DJ Bonneau has people tearing up the rug during lockdown

(DJ Bonneau,says it was his late sister Sadie Muik who inspired him to DJ. Kelsie Kilawna photo)

Country music keeps blasting from the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) in Vernon, B.C. to listeners around the world thanks to Darryl John Bonneau, best known as D.J. Bonneau both for his name and profession.

Since April, due to COVID-19, the owner of Ranch Mobile Audio Productions has been hosting virtual music nights.

“I seen a couple of artists doing it, and I thought, man, it would be cool to see a DJ do it and then I saw a buddy of mine do it, and I thought, man, if he can do it, why can’t I?,” says Bonneau.

He began his career at the OK Corral Cabaret in Kelowna in 1986. He then moved on to playing in Calgary from 2002 to 2004, where he quickly became a popular country DJ at the local nightclubs. After that, he moved home to return to the OK Corral Cabaret, and continued to perform at multiple venues and events.

When the pandemic began, Bonneau improvised, moving his music from the OK Corral Cabaret in Kelowna where he was DJing regularly to his home on the OKIB.

Now, for the last several months, he has been broadcasting live music from his home every Saturday night via Twitch for up to 5,000 viewers around the world.

(Once two bedrooms, the Bonneaus’ virtual nightclub studio is now delivering country music globally. Kelsie Kilawna photo)

Bonneau’s first show from home was on April 4 via three cellphones and a speaker at his family’s coffee table. It has since grown into a global party, straight from his basement.

He is now fully equipped with a chuckwagon, disco balls, dance lights, three computers, three cellphones for social moderation, a sound control booth and live feed cameras.

So far, Bonneau says he has reached Europe, Argentina, Vietnam, Spain, England, New Zealand, Trinidad, Australia, Germany, and eight states, including Hawaii. 

Bonneau is now collaborating with a children’s hospital in Austria to host a country night for the children in their cancer clinic. 

 “We just went at it and we’ve been having fun,” he says.

Once the livestreams began to grow in popularity, Bonneau says the DJ nights became a family affair. Tracey Bonneau, his wife of 27 years, has become a key part of the team, he explains. She even shifted from a full-time to part-time pharmacy technician to support her husband’s business.

“She’s running the scenes, and our son Colten usually gets up and dances. But he just broke his foot, so now he can’t dance for the summer. But since then, he helps monitor the [social media] comments,” says Bonneau.

Together, the couple turned two of the basement bedrooms into one studio equipped with all the bells and whistles that allow them to broadcast a fully functional live show.

“I’m running a complete nightclub experience for anyone who can’t get to the clubs right now,” Bonneau says.

Journey to country 

It was his late sister Sadie Muik, says Bonneau, who inspired him to get into DJing years ago. He was beginning to walk down a road she didn’t like, he says, so she brought him to the OK Corral Cabaret in 1986 where he found his new passion.

“My sister, Sadie, before she died, she got me into DJing. … She didn’t like what I was doing in life, she didn’t like my friends, she didn’t like the way I was dressing,” he says. “And said there’s this new place in Kelowna and I want to take you there and, 34 years later, they can’t kick me out.”

He says that, prior to going to the OK Corral Cabaret for the first time with his sister, he had no previous experience or desire to become a DJ. 

“The thought never entered my mind,” he says. “I went in there and thought, wow, this place is amazing.”

Bonneau says that since that very first visit, he was drawn to the DJ booth, where, in the beginning, he volunteered his time.

“[My sister] introduced me to the owners and the staff and the DJ, of course, and I just stood there like a puppy. … Then [the DJ] said, ‘Can I help you?’ And I said, ‘I want to do this.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s nice, everybody says that.’ And I said, like, ‘No, I really want to do this.’’

After eventually growing his set from one song to 45 minutes, the owner finally offered him a spot. 

(Bonneau in his virtual nightclub studio in his home on OKIB. Kelsie Kilawna photo)

“Finally, he comes up and says, ‘You know what? We’re going to have you work, you’re going to be part of the team, you been here long enough and you know what you’re doing and you got the dance floor going’”

From that moment on, you could find Bonneau at the OK Corral Cabaret every Saturday night getting the crowd dancing until closing.

“From 9 (p.m.), I have dancers immediately and they’re begging for mercy by 2 (a.m.),” he says. “So, that’s how I became the Saturday night DJ, because I know how to rock that shit.”

Ever since, he says, he has remained grateful to his sister, who died in a car accident on April 5, 1996. As a community researcher, she was committed to raising awareness of the impacts of diabetes on Indigenous People in First Nations communities across Canada.

For Bonneau especially, he says, she made a resounding impact in showing him a life he didn’t know he wanted. 

“It’s just, if it wasn’t for her taking me to the bar, I would’ve never met [my wife] and we wouldn’t have had our boys.”

It’s music that Bonneau says has helped him to heal and recover.

In 2017, he sustained a serious brain injury when he hit his head on a trailer hitch causing significant memory loss. He says it should have ended his life, but it instead solidified his need to continue his work as a DJ. 

“This is the only thing I can do physically and it helps me emotionally, too,” he says. “The brain specialist recommended I get into DJing as quickly as I could, and it took seven months, but I was able to get back into it again. For a year and a half now, I’ve been back at it again.”

Party doesn’t stop

With the live Saturday night sets a success, Bonneau says he and his family are looking at building an even wider musical platform for the community.

In September, they will be holding an online country music festival with local artists. Viewers can find updates on the live event on the Bonneaus’ Facebook page.

“It will be in our backyard,” he says, adding that it will feature all B.C. musicians. 

His wife explains that the family is hoping to expand their audience to a bigger one than they’d imagined possible just months ago.

“We’re all just rocking it out, like, ‘whooo!’ But we’re trying to hit different markets, we’re really trying to reach Europe,” she says. 

As the audience continues to grow, Bonneau says he won’t be slowing down anytime soon. 

“I’m looking at other ways to reach the world, and I just don’t want to stop. It’s been 34 years and I’m still going at it like I’m a teenager. This old dinosaur is learning new tricks, so look out!”

 

Kelsie Kilawna - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kelsie is reporting from the Okanagan for The Discourse as part of the Local Journalism Initiative. She's a Sqilxw (Syilx/Indigenous) journalist and photographer who was born and raised in Inkumupulux (the head of Okanagan Lake). Her work is featured on IndigiNews.com, a new platform created by The Discourse and APTN.