Donna the Buffalo
About Donna the Buffalo
Since their formation in the late '80s, upstate New York roots combo Donna the Buffalo have amassed a die-hard following, launched and maintained a beloved music festival, toured the country's festival and club circuit many times over while without sacrificing their homespun regional appeal, and released a warmly eclectic body of recorded work that spans rock, jazz, country, zydeco, and folk. Although associated with the American jam band scene, DTB boasts the fervent fandom and close-knit community of that movement with very little of its hippie ethos, focusing more on tight songwriting and an upbeat folk-inspired palette. In addition to their own strong releases like 1996's The Ones You Love, 2008's Silverlined, and 2018's Dance in the Street, they've shared stages with bands like Los Lobos, Railroad Earth, and Little Feat, and recorded an album with Jim Lauderdale.
Donna the Buffalo formed in 1989 in the Finger Lakes town of Trumansburg, New York, around the core songwriting duo of Tara Nevins and Jeb Puryear. The two multi-instrumentalists had previous met at an old-time fiddle convention and become friends over the ensuing years. While the band's membership has turned over significantly throughout their history, the initial lineup of Nevins (fiddle, accordion, vocals), Puryear (guitar, vocals), Jeb's brother Jordan Puryear (bass), Jim Miller (guitar, vocals), Richie Stearns (keyboards, vocals), Jennie Stearns (guitar, vocals), and Shane Lamphier (drums, vocals) was responsible for both their untitled cassette-only 1989 debut, affectionately dubbed The White Tape, and its 1991 follow-up, the similarly untitled Red Tape. Around this time, DTB's first lineup began to disseminate with Richie Stearns leaving to focus on the Horse Flies (though he would occasionally appear over the years as an auxiliary member) and Joe Thrift joining the group for 1993's still-untitled Purple CD. By this point they'd become quite established in the upstate New York and Pennsylvania region, founding the popular Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance, inaugurating the Great Blue Heron Music Festival, and building a hardcore group of followers, who dubbed themselves the Herd. During this period, members of DTB also occasionally performed as Zydeco Experiment or Buffalo Zydeco. Drummer Lamphier left the group in 1994 and bassist Jordan Puryear departed shortly after the 1996 release of The Ones You Love. They were eventually replaced by Tom Gilbert (drums) and Jed Greenberg (bass), who remained on board throughout the remainder of the '90s, playing on 1998's Rockin' in the Weary Land and 2000's Positive Friction.
The year 2000 also saw the debut of keyboardist Kathy Ziegler who, aside from 2001's Live from the American Ballroom, which featured a returning Richie Stearns, remained a full-time member for the next eight years. Throughout their career, DTB played with a variety of eclectic acts including Béla Fleck, Zac Brown, Mamadou Diabate, John Paul Jones, and the Avett Brothers. In 2003, they joined roots/country artist Jim Lauderdale for the collaborative album Wait Til Spring, then returned in 2005 with their own album, Life's a Ride. In between those albums, bassist Greenberg was replaced by Bill Reynolds and founding guitarist Jim Miller, whose country influence had been a significant part of their repertoire, left the band, changing the dynamic to focus solely on Nevins and Puryear's songwriting and lead vocal contributions. The lineups continued to shift over the next few years, with the bass seat cycling through a number of players before resting with Jay Sanders in 2007. Ziegler's departure on keys left the door open for David McCracken, who would fill that role for the next decade. Another album, Silverlined, appeared in 2008, as DTB continued to maintain a steady touring and festival presence over the coming years. In 2009, Nevins spent some time touring as a member of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann's band BK3, and released her second solo album, Wood and Stone, in 2011.
By the turn of the decade, DTB's lineup had again shifted, with the core duo of Nevins and Puryear joined by keyboardist McCracken and a new rhythm battery of bassist Kyle Spark and drummer Mark Raudabaugh. This lineup returned to the studio for 2013's Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday and continued to tour and make regular festival appearances. For their next outing, DTB headed to Texas' Sonic Ranch Studio to work with producer/engineer Rob Fraboni (Bob Dylan, the Band, the Rolling Stones). Recording live to analog tape, they released these sessions as Dance in the Street in 2018. ~ Timothy Monger