Donna the Buffalo
Brooklyn Arts Center • 516 N. 4th St.
9/18 • Doors 6 p.m. • Show 7 p.m.
$20 adv. or $25 day of
In childhood, the members were surrounded by sound. Vic Stafford literally started drumming on pots and pans, eventually graduating to a Muppets-themed drum set (and then from Berklee with a BA in music performance). Keyboardist Dave McCracken’s father owned a music store in North Carolina, where McCracken encountered all sorts of instruments, and eventually his love for the keyboard. Kyle Spark tried the bass as a recommendation by his high-school band director. Co-vocalists and songwriters Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins both grew up in towns where mountain music ran rampant through the streets—thus, it was a natural inclination for the pair. Since growing up, they’ve formed a widely respected band that’s collaborated with Jim Lauderdale, Bela Fleck, David Hidalgo and more.
As of 2010, Puryear and Nevins have been members of Donna the Buffalo for 20 years. They still cite influences of the roots ilk such as Benton Flippen, Fred Cockerham and Smoky Mountain Boys, yet they incorporate musical stylings like that of Bob Marley, The Beatles and Sheryl Crow. The product is an amalgamation of folk and Zydeco, as their backgrounds in fiddle meld with an interest in accordian, scrubboard and electric guitar. Nevins’ vocals possess a Carter Family-inspired quality, lending the band a delicate country sound while instrumentals provide an upbeat, Cajun twist. Followers of the band—resembling a close-knit, music-loving family known as “The Herd”—just appreciate the mix as Americana they can dance to.
With a desire to create the same atmosphere of their concerts on a larger scale, while raising money for a friend diagnosed with AIDS, Donna the Buffalo founded the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in Trumansburg, New York two decades ago. They’re also responsible for the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival in Silk Hope, North Carolina.
Among the group’s accolades is a top-10 spot on the Americana Music chart for their 2008 release, “Silverlined,” and an Association of Independent Music award for Best Rock Album for their 1998 release, “Rockin’ in the Weary Land.” The Herd is hard at work as well, having formed Side to Side Charities in 2002. Tagging along with the band, they raise money at each concert to benefit organizations in cities across the tour. By 2004, they’d raised $26,000 for shelters, food banks and other deserving nonprofits.
In anticipation of their show at Brooklyn Arts Center on Sunday, August 18, Nevins caught up with encore and shared a little insight into touring, her solo endeavors and their extended musical family, The Herd.
encore: How was Donna the Buffalo formed?
Tara Nevins: Jeb Puryear, myself and the other original members were playing old-time fiddle music. We traveled to fiddle conventions in the South and were deeply meshed in [that] music community. We still are. At one point I started writing songs. Jeb picked up an electric guitar, I bought an electric five-stringed fiddle, and so began our journey!
e: Who is Donna—any good story behind that?
TN: There is no Donna—never was. [We] wanted Buffalo in our name, were throwing ideas around and someone said “Dawn Of The Buffalo.” Someone mis-heard them and said out loud, “Donna The Buffalo?” We all laughed and it stuck. That’s the story. Not very exciting.
e: What about touring intrigues you?
TN: The travel, seeing new places, meeting new people. The lifestyle in general—it’s hard work, late hours and can be very stressful, but there is a sense of freedom with it all. Every tour is somewhat of an adventure. All audiences are a little different; it’s very interesting and can be exciting playing to new audiences. It is also great seeing fans who have become friends over the years wherever we go.
e: What drove you to create a solo album? What effects did it have on you as an individual?
TN: “Wood and Stone” is my second solo album. The first one was “Mule to Ride” about 10 years ago. I love acoustic music, I love playing old-time fiddle, and I wanted to create something in that realm. Making a record with the whole band is five opinions, five colors combining to paint a picture. A solo project allows you as an artist to paint the whole picture yourself, choose your own colors. It’s a wonderfully challenging and inspiring thing to do. Jeb did one a few years ago, too. Stepping out of the box—it’s a big world out there, so many awesome musicians and personalities.
e: Tell me how having followers affects the band emotionally, and does it affect performances knowing you have that sort of audience?
TN: We are extremely fortunate and grateful to have The Herd! Our fans are incredibly generous people! When you have an organized fan base like that, you feel like you are all on a journey together. It is powerful. It creates its own community. It’s a force of positive energy being generated at each gig!