Jam-band icons and festival favorites Donna the Buffalo thunder on
In the crowded orbit of American jam bands, Donna the Buffalo’s star shines brightly. And it’s not just because of their eminently enjoyable, good-vibes combination of Americana, fiddle, Zydeco, rock, reggae and country music. The band’s hardcore fans, lovingly dubbed “The Herd,” also appreciate New York natives Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins, along with supporting members Dave McCracken, Mark Raudabaugh and Kyle Spark, for their socially conscious lyrics, fiercely independent ethics and string of wildly successful festivals, including the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival in New York, North Carolina's Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival and the Virginia Key Grassroots Festival in Florida.
Folio Weekly chatted with singer, guitarist, accordionist and fiddle-player Tara Nevins.
Folio Weekly: Donna The Buffalo performs often in Florida. What is it about our state that you love so much?
Tara Nevins: We have a great time any time we come down there. We get a lot of support from radio there and have a lot of friends and fans in Florida who mean a lot to us. We also play SpringFest and MagFest in Live Oak, which is an hour from Jacksonville, every year. So, Florida is one of those states that kind of feels like home to us. We even have our own festival, Virginia Key, in Miami.
F.W.: Fans are still raving about your SpringFest performance in March, when you played through heavy rain. Do you thrive playing outdoors compared to theaters?
T.N.: They’re different animals — apples and oranges. Festivals are probably my favorite because I like being outside — in nice weather — they have a wonderful vibe, and you tend to get the most exposure there. But we also play some great theater shows that are more intense and intimate in an enclosed space. And that’s cool, too.
F.W.: You mix nearly every sub-genre of Americana into your sound: Cajun, blues, funk, jam, roots, bluegrass and more. Has that always been an easy task for the band?
T.N.: Well, it’s not hard to see why: Our drummer’s from Atlanta; our keyboardist is from Greenville, N.C.; Kyle, our bass player, is from South Carolina; and Jeb and I both come from a traditional, old-time fiddle background. We’ve been in lots of bands that have played only that kind of music — Donna the Buffalo is our only real electric foray.
F.W.: Were you and Jeb both raised around string-band purists?
T.N.: He had it easier because he heard it from people that played in his town. I always loved fiddle music in high school, and then went to college, it turned out that my roommate played it in a band. And now we just play it because we love it.
F.W.: Donna the Buffalo will release its 10th studio album, “Tonight, Tomorrow, Yesterday,” on June 18. But it’s your first record in nearly five years. As a thriving live band, do you find it challenging to go into the studio?
T.N.: Live, you play and it’s gone. It’s a group experience — you come up with things in your head, play them and they’re gone. They only exist in the moment. People do tape, but live is a very different, visceral, in-the-moment experience. But recording is a one-to-one experience, too, between the person listening and the record. You’re driving in your car, or sitting in your home, or playing your iPod, or walking … no matter what, you’re definitely under more of a microscope. You hear everything, and it’s all there forever.
F.W.: Your fans are notoriously diehard, even dubbing themselves The Herd. Did that following spring up right away?
T.N.: It took time, but only a matter of time. We’re honored and grateful to have such a loyal following.
F.W.: Much of that comes from being a fully independent band — a jam-band brand, really, unto itself.
T.N.: Well, we have a great manager, booking agent, merchandise person and publicist; we own our own bus and have a bus driver; we have great fans; and we’re on Sugar Hill Records. We have it pretty good, I’d say. But we are not as dependent on the machine. And that’s good, especially when so many bands are hurting. We’re kind of like that person in the neighborhood who has a really good generator and, when there’s a big storm or blackout, is doing OK. We’re very self-sufficient — a self-reliant organization in a way. We’ve done everything ourselves from the ground, so we only have ourselves to rely on. We’re great at standing on our own two feet.