By George Watson
Known as one of the most dynamic and determined bands, Donna the Buffalo has continuously toured America for nearly 30 years, creating a community environment at its shows through distinctive, groove-heavy, and danceable music. The band performs at The Caribou Room, Nov. 3, 9 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. The band performs its only other Colorado show at Hodi’s Half Note in Fort Collins, Nov. 2.
With roots in old-time fiddle music, Donna the Buffalo’s sound has evolved into a soulful, electric, American mix infused with elements of Cajun, zydeco, rock, folk, reggae, and country. Although its music often contains social and moral responsibility as core beliefs, the band’s shows are mainly a fun way for fans to celebrate life.
Originally from Trumansburg, NY, Donna the Buffalo is Jeb Puryear on vocals and electric guitar and Tara Nevins on vocals, guitar, fiddle, accordion and scrub-board joined by David McCracken on Hammond organ, Hohner Clavinet and piano; Kyle Spark on bass; and Mark Raudabaugh on drums.
“It’s been really fun with this lineup,” Puryear said. “You get to the point where you’re playing on a really high level, things are clicking and it’s like turning on the key to a really good car. It just goes.”
Donna the Buffalo drew it’s original inspiration from a cherished part of the American heritage: the old-time music festivals of the south that drew entire towns and counties together. Not only was it playing music at these events, it was the vibe and togetherness that bonded attendees.
“Those festivals were so explosive, and the community and the feeling of people being with each other, that’s the feeling we were shooting for in our music. Donna the Buffalo is an extension of the joy we’ve found,” Puryear explained.
“You have to do just what you want to do, and everyone likes different things,” Nevins said. “Both Jeb and I come from this background of old-time fiddle music, which is very natural, very real, very under-produced, and all about coming from the gut—flying by the seat of your pants. So we have that in us, too.”
Puryear talks of his inspiration, “rolling off all the great protest songs and the socially conscious music like Bob Marley and The Beatles and Bob Dylan—all of that stuff. So that, to me, is sort of like a tradition to write from that angle as a way of reflecting on what you feel about the world and how you feel it could be better and getting to a different place as a society. There’s also the strength that comes from music and gives you the feeling like you can change those things and make some progress, and then express some of the particulars about what you’d like to change.”
According to Puryear, “If there’s a common thread, it’s an up-tempo beat that gets audiences dancing, moving and smiling, even for the more topical songs. That’s part of the point: Sending energy and spreading joy can be political acts.”
It’s certainly kept the band rejuvenated, he noted: It’s “having an absolute chemistry that’s creative and can still be exciting over 20-something years.’”
Over those years, the band has also built a following that proudly calls itself The Herd, along with a well-deserved reputation for crafting social narratives and slipstream grooves without equal. To merely call this “roots music” does it disservice, for the roots nurtured by Puryear and Nevins run wild, deep and strong—a tribute to how much Donna the Buffalo marries musical trailblazing and tradition.
“It’s a great feeling to promote such a feeling of community, like you’re really part of something that’s happening, like a movement or a positive force,” Nevins said. “All those people that come and follow you and you recognize them and you become friends with them—you’re all moving along for the same purpose. It is powerful. It’s very powerful, actually.”
As an expansion of this community and the band’s own dedication to live roots music, Donna started, and are still the driving force behind, the 25-year-old Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in Trumansburg, NY, the bi-annual Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival in Silk Hope, NC and the Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival in Miami, FL. The band is a regular at MerleFest in North Carolina, Suwannee Springfest & Magnolia Fest in Florida, All Good in West Virginia, FloydFest in Virginia, The Great Blue Heron Festival in New York, Del Fest in Maryland, Rhythm & Roots Festival in Rhode Island, Targhee Bluegrass Fest in Wyoming as well as a variety of venues and festivals across the nation.
Originally published in the October 2017 issue of te MMAC Monthly