Show Recap – Donna The Buffalo
The Rex Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA – 11/24/12
by Ryan Neeley exclusively for Appalachian Jamwich – photos by Ryan Neeley
Donna The Buffalo is a band in the unenviable position of being a considered a band you “must see” live. While this is a term many artists would clamor at being tagged with, it also comes with a great deal of pressure to perform a stellar show night in and night out, especially when you’ve been at it for over twenty years, have been through a number of changes, and you have a fanbase as diverse as Donna The Buffalo’s. But it seems that Ithaca, NY based band Donna the Buffalo welcome this “must see live” tag with enthusiasm, each and every time they take to the stage.
Tara Nevins, Jeb Puryear and the boys brought their high energy, dance heavy, groove oriented feel-good music to The Rex Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday night, and put on a show that would have young and old, rich and not so rich, hippies and yuppies dancing together shoulder to shoulder in an expanious turn of the century vaudeville theater turned concert hall. And the surroundings fit the music well, with a few dozen rows of chairs lining the ornate walls of the dancefloor for folks to sit with an ample sized dancefloor taking up the majority of the room. But most in attendance didn’t sit long with the performances coming from the stage that protruted from the back wall of the room.
Tiger Maple String Band of rural northwest Pennsylvania brought a 100% true Appalachian string band sound to the stage to warm things up on this cold November night, and this fiddle-heavy group filled the room with sounds dating back to when the building was raised. Vocalist Lori Burke’s and Guitarist Fred Parker’s harmonies shined on many of the songs, and the crowd, ready to dance to some DtB, took no time welcoming Tiger Maple String Band with open arms, foot stomping, and whoops of approval each time they finished one of their coal mining ballads or fiddle-happy traditional folk tunes. Jeff Schiller lays down a thick upright bass, Justine and Allison Parker trade fiddle licks like a 12 year old trades baseball cards, and Barry Smith was pickin and grinnin on the banjo. Some of the highlights included an original, Coming Home, which is also the title track of their new CD, and the closer, an old time fiddle tune called Elziks Farewell, with three females showing that boys aren’t the only ones that can rip on a fiddle. You may have seen this group at The Great Blue Heron Festival in upstate New York, where DtB usually headlines multiple nights or in and around Edinsboro, PA, their home base, but no matter where you lay your head, I highly recommend getting out to see this group of talented musicians any chance you get.
After the opener and before members of Donna the Buffalo graced the stage, I took a moment to scan the crowd – The people in front of me were an eclectic mix of dressed-up businessmen on a night out with their wives, professionals in suit jackets with long sleeve plain T-shirts underneath, hippies turned parents with DtB logos on their chests, younger heads covered in dreadlocks, donning patchwork pants next to soccer moms and dads out for a rare night on the town, tonight all members of a group affectionately known as The Herd. “The main thing I like about The Herd is that you don’t have to do anything to be a member. You just have to like a song,” guitarist Jeb Puryear recently said in an interview with Roanoke Times. “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 powerful force.” And when Puryer and multi instrumental vocalist Tara Nevins took the stage, the force was to be felt, like a herd of buffalo trouncing the theater.
Nevins took off her scarf and sweater, and picked up her fiddle, getting right to work on a set of high-energy favorites. As was the pattern most of the evening, Puryear followed with a song of his own, with each member adding inspiring harmonies and backup vocals on selections that they were not showcased on. Some of the highlights of the night included an emotional I Love my Tribe, with Nevins shining vocally, pouring emotion into the song for the audience to lap up. Looking into the crowd, I noticed a mother of a developmentally delayed child in the second row wiping tears out of her eyes with her daughter in front of her – A testament to Nevin’s songwriting and vocal capabilities, drawing emotional responses like this from the crowd each time I’ve had the opportunity to see them. The band’s feel-good roots became evident during a romping Everybody gets High on Love, with the crowd dancing, smiling and chanting, “My, my, my everybody gets high On love, love, love everybody gets high..” and on the popular Puryer song Positive Friction, where he encourages the crowd to “get together and become natural once again.” They picked up the pace with bassist Kyle Spark and drummer Mark Raudabaugh laying a groove-heavy foundation on a driving Concious Evolution, and they thrilled a Tara-worshipping audience member posted up front, playing Way Back When, the opening track from their 2005 release Life’s A Ride, after he had requested it multiple times. Nevins again shined on the song One Day at a Time, showing her dexterity for playing multiple instruments and vocals simultaneously, whether she was being showcased or adding subtle harmonies while singing backup to Puryears somewhat edgy, distinctive voice, and Dave McCracken added his funky organ and electric keyboard fills throughout the night, rounding out the bands sound tightly, yet just loose enough to sound playful at times.
Some hardcore Donna the Buffalo fans felt that the band’s 2008 release Silverlined went too far mainstream and the band didn’t do enough free-wheeling jams, but on this night, they would keep everyone happy with a mix of feel-good, NPR-worthy folk-pop and delicious, jam-happy down-home Appalachian-Cajun reggae-swamp-funk, which makes a lot of sense if you’re a Donna the Buffalo fan. Nevins played the violin, which was her first instrument, fiddle, washboard, tambourine, acoustic guitar, and was relaxed vocally, while Puryears, as always, was the ultimate showman, interacting with the crowd in between songs, whether it was wishing someone a happy birthday to responding to the multitude of requests being thrown at them from die-hard DtB lovers. Longtime fans and first time Donna-viewers alike walked away from the show with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts, ready to tell friends of theirs that they just saw a band that you “must see live,” charting another course of expectations from a new group of people, all readily accepted by Donna the Buffalo, a group of accomplished musicians that may not strictly be considered a “jamband’ but is most definitely, without a doubt a “band that jams”.
DONNA THE BUFFALO WILL BE APPEARING IN THE FOLLOWING LOCATIONS IN OUR REGION IN THE COMING MONTH:
Thursday, November 29th – Towson, MD – Recher Theater
Thursday, December 13th – Kent, OH – The Kent Stage
Friday, December 14th – Columbus, OH – Woodlands Tavern
For a complete list of tour dates, including Tara Nevins solo dates, click HERE
For a Donna the Buffalo fan-run website, Donna Fans, click here.
For information on Tiger Maple String Band, click here.