Donna The Buffalo | 12.31.08 | NC

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Words by: Frank Etheridge | Images by: Jessica Etheridge

Donna The Buffalo :: 12.31.08 :: Orange Peel :: Asheville, NC

Donna The Buffalo :: 12.31.08 :: Asheville, NC
The first band my wife turned me onto when we were dating was Donna the Buffalo. Jessica chided me for being drawn to angry music and figured a dose of the sheer joy produced by Donna the Buffalo would be a necessary addition to the tunes we shared. She'd become well versed in the eclectic sound of the veteran New York-based group through their annual appearances as beloved headliners at Magnolia Fest and Springfest held in the Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park in Florida, legendary shows that had no small part in creating a rabid fan base collectively known as The Herd. A few spins of the blissful, powerful revelation that is DtB's album Positive Friction (Sugar Hill Records, 2000) and I was hooked.

2008 was a milestone in DtB's 20-year history, and Asheville, North Carolina, that Southern bohemia nestled beautifully in the Blue Ridge, was the perfect spot to host both a celebration of the past and a look toward the future. During the past year the band released the stellar Silverlined (Sugar Hill), recorded mostly at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, featuring the single "Lockett & Key." In 2008, the band also welcomed two new members, keyboardist Dave McCracken and bassist Jay Sanders, both of whom have spent years in the city's old-time music scene, which is traditional enough to stay true to its Celtic musical roots but innovative enough to produce rockers like Mad Tea Party.

The Believers :: 12.31.08
For the 12.30.08 show, DtB hosted the New Year's Asheville Revue, which featured a long list of players from Asheville's bluegrass and old-time music circles, before their headlining set. On New Year's Eve, Tennessee-based The Believers held the opening slot. The duo of Cyd Frazzini (acoustic guitar) and Craig Aspen (mandolin, electric guitar and harmonica) had supported DtB during the fall West Coast tour, and the two bands have clearly created a mutual-admiration society, with Aspen calling the headliners "our favorite band in the world." Their set included originals "Ring, Ring, Ring," which swings with a Johnny Cash-like swagger, and the world-weary "Jordan," performed with the DtB backing band of McCracken, Sanders and drummer Tom Gilbert, and a cover of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," a shout out to "all the hippies out there" (and there were plenty of them in the Asheville audience). The Believers certainly converted their share on this night.

After The Believers, the Orange Peel, an excellent venue ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the top five rock clubs in the country, began to swell with a raucous gathering of The Herd. The Orange Peel offers a great variety of draft beers, including a number of local micro-brews, but it seemed the party started well before many arrived. Showgoers escorting friends new and old on the sidewalk in a homemade "hammock taxi" brought a festival vibe, while there was plenty of cocktail-to-go pounding out front. The genuine nature and superb musicianship of DtB has earned them a fun and unique following including a fair number of heads, bluegrass aficionados and free thinkers of all shapes and sizes. DtB live is a dance party for some, a cosmic connection for others, a damn fine time for all. Their studio work is great, but clearly they thrive in the live format. For this NYE show, DtB simply killed, playing for three-plus-hours straight (minus a countdown, balloon drop and toast at midnight and a few moments before the encore) in a tight-but-loose, inspired and brilliant performance.

Donna The Buffalo :: 12.31.08 :: Asheville, NC
By the third tune, "Positive Friction," the band began to click and the crowd to gleefully respond as a swirling, gyrating mass. Singer and guitarist Jeb Puryear, eyes shut, head cocked, was clearly having a blast feeding off McCracken's slick, funky organ work while singing this infectious number.

Tara Nevins, the other half of the DtB nucleus with Puryear that's written the bulk of the material and stuck together over the years and personnel changes, looked beautiful in an all-black ensemble complete with leather boots and lace. She took up her third instrument of the young set by the fourth tune, "When the World's Got You Down," having moved from fiddle to washboard to an acoustic guitar while leading the crowd in this sing-along. Next, Nevins moved to the accordion for the blistering "Hot Tamale Baby," delivering a touch of zydeco, just one of the many influences DtB masterfully incorporates into a sound the spans the spectrum of American roots music. McCracken pumped the organ pedals to drive this one into a frenzy.

Nevins gave beautiful, emotional vocals to the "I Don't Need a Riddle" that followed. Then, the band paused while Puryear seared a haunting, bluesy solo intro into "Unforgiven." The disturbed poetry of this song presented a welcomed yin to the yang experienced thus far, revealing a sinister underbelly to the shining DtB rainbow. The Herd is full of open-minded positivity sure, but there are rude space-Nazis, guys stealing girlfriends and coke bumps busted in bathrooms, too - the full circle of the human existence. The band meshed in the middle of "Unforgiven" for a full-on freak-out improvisational jam, with Sanders slumped on the floor, Puryear leaning above him, wailing away while Nevins laid sharp fiddle work above it all.

Donna The Buffalo & The Believers - NYE Encore
A cover of Cash's "Ring of Fire" ushered in midnight, while band friend Greg Hurtt sang "Auld Lang Syne" just into 2009 in a years-long tradition for DtB's NYE gigs. The classic "Forty Days Forty Nights," with its dares of miracles, talk of indestructible love and exaltations to change the way you look and feel, proved an excellent choice to ring in the New Year. A bit later, Puryear evoked the Chinese proverb, "May you live in interesting times," that is a widely accepted curse, especially against the backdrop of the current Helter Skelter. But new horizons are dawning, and he further elaborated his point by pointing out a DtB gig in Virginia to run in conjunction with the celebrations surrounding Barack Obama's inauguration.

The hour had crept past 1 a.m. when the band stepped out to wild applause before launching into a four-song encore that included "Mystic Water" and sharing the stage with The Believers on their "Higher Ground," a paean to New Orleans marked by Nevins and Frazzini trading vocals for one of the night's top moments. The show ended with "No Place Like the Right Time," a grin-and-bear-it gem from the Donna the Buffalo canon that encapsulates their ethos. The opening line of "Crooked fence, chicken yard/ Life can be simple and still be hard" eventually moved into the refrain of "There's no place I can't find / There's no place, no place like the right time," as sublime a summation of the human condition as one can hope to find. If nothing else, this night in particular, NYE 2008 in Asheville with Donna the Buffalo, was the right place and the right time.

Continue reading for more pics of Donna The Buffalo on NYE...

Cyd Frazzini - The Believers
Craig Aspen - The Believers
Tara Nevins - Donna The Buffalo
Jeb Puryear - Donna The Buffalo
Jay Sanders - Donna The Buffalo
Dave McCracken - Donna The Buffalo
Greg Hurtt singing "Auld Lang Syne" with Donna The Buffalo
Welcoming the New Year with Donna The Buffalo

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wspchris Tue 1/6/2009 08:44PM
Show -8 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Deklen Wed 1/7/2009 07:46AM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Must have been a great show! Hot tamale baby! I'll disagree with the comment above and say that DtB is excellent. I grew up listening to these guys, and I've noticed some changes that I like - the keys player for one. I don't remember hearing an organ solo until maybe a year ago when they switched.

This band is wonderful, and while I wouldn't exactly tour with them, I would encourage anyone who likes good music to see them any chance they get. GBH 09!!!

linsbee314 starstarstarstarstar Wed 1/7/2009 07:53AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I agree with Deklen! DtB is wonderful and it's nice to hear a performance from a band who appreciates Americana/roots music as much as they do. Their show last October at the Pour House in Charleston was wonderful! The Herd is quite cult-ish, I agree, but aren't all touring clubs?

panicpanicpanic! starstarstarstarstar Wed 1/7/2009 08:03AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!



SilentMark Wed 1/7/2009 08:39AM
Show -5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Smittea Wed 1/7/2009 09:24AM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Tara is not that bad considering she's over 50. Not sure if see through blouses and fishnet stockings is age appropriate though.

Marcsmall Wed 1/7/2009 11:17AM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
rhcooper Wed 1/7/2009 11:56AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

It is worthy of note that the naysayers here offered no specific reviews of the show which was the subject of the article. It is, therefore, they are in no position (evidentially speaking) to remark about the quality of the band (as described with particularity in the article). My advice to the passerby, therefore, is to ignore such non-specific naysaying and see for yourself. These guys are the real deal and they bring a refreshing vitality onto the live music scene.

mackadocious Wed 1/7/2009 12:04PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Asheville is awesome, but the Orange Peel is not. No cocktails served the last time I went, only beer. Between that huge-ass ceiling fan and security, there is no way to enjoy your N.Carolina treefer.

grtwent starstarstarstarstar Wed 1/7/2009 12:07PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Look, music is a taste and some don't like DtB's Americana, zydeco sound that yes, often relies on repetition. The Doors also relied on repetition, but does that make them bad? Donna is a breath of fresh air, full of positivity and consciousness in a jamband scene of testosterone and nonsensical lyrics. They stand for a positive evolution and do so in a creative way with frankly one of the most unique lead guitarists in the history of rock...really...nobody and I mean nobody plays a lead like Jeb. Their music not only lifts one up but can pull at your heartstings and that's more than can be said about 95% of the jamband scene.

krizaster Wed 1/7/2009 12:43PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

This was alot of fun! The keyboardist was killing it all night, beer was affordable, and the crowd was awesome. Donna the Buffalo were one of the first bands I ever heard at a festival and they always bring the good vibes and good tunes!

johnnygoff starstarstarstarstar Wed 1/7/2009 01:38PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


The Finger Lakes (NY) were thinking of you cats in Asheville on the New Years Eve. as Napoleon Dynamite would say, "Luckeeeeey".

DtB. Not tDB. Big Difference. ha.

Wishing Donna a blessed 2009. We'll save a spot for ya @ Castaways for ya.

DeliMan starstarstar Wed 1/7/2009 02:49PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


How is there a review of this and not for JFJO. Their New Year's Show sounded way more interesting than this, even if it was all covers I'd like to hear the review of it

Marcsmall Wed 1/7/2009 03:52PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Oh, and they don't even have Jim Miller anymore, who was a huge part of the band.....Joe Thrift was really great on keys too, just laid it down the whole time....Miller sang like 1/2 their songs....and they also don't have Tom on drums or Jed on Bass.....I mean, it's really not even the same band anymore....The Old Skool Donna was fun.....This is something else and i'm just not into it anymore.....Bring back Jim, Jed, Joe, and Tom, and I'll go see them anyday.

thefunknasty Wed 1/7/2009 04:22PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I had a rockin time at both shows! It's unfortunate that the author of this article had to bring up anything negative about the fans - aren't there always a few bad apples in a big crowd? Do we really need to comment on something that certainly didn't affect a true fan's good time? Anyone who is going to be distracted by that during an amazing show, should probably stay at home. The only "space-Nazis" I saw, were of the Orange Peel staff when one of them was standing on the toilet in the stall next to me, peering over while I using the restroom. I'm pretty sure that's illegal, but I sure didn't let it put a damper on my New Year's Eve show. Anywho ... THANK YOU DONNA FOR ANOTHER ROCKIN TIME!

funkle Wed 1/7/2009 06:01PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I was not at the Donna NYE shows, I've been listening to them for a long time and got to see them two nights in Denver this past November. Jeb and Tara are a huge force in their song writing capabilities, Jebs guitar sound and solos are amazing. I haven't experienced a group that comes off with such a positive vibe and message, that doesn't come off as commercial or even laughable. There definatly is a a very generous, cool vibe pouring off the stage when they hit there groove. My experience was it takes a few songs for them to get rolling, but then step aside...let it roll. The Donna experience is unique and welcome in my book. As for the Herd folk, I have friends in that circle and they brought me in and along for the ride. The group was different then I am used to, but there is a serious family there and they really take care of each other. They welcomed me and my girl and made us feel at home and part of the group. Keep on Truckin Donna! Check out Bonnaroo '02 show if you doubt me.

rainydayman starstarstar Wed 1/7/2009 07:42PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Good comments, the funknasty.......those Orange Peel No Fun Nazis are really no fun at all. Looking over bathroom stalls is wrong on so many levels. When they do that to me I usually just smile and say, "Sorry, get your own drugs you parasitic pervert. I didn't bring enough for everyone."

1radioheader Wed 1/7/2009 07:56PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Orange peel is a great venue, but the new(ish) security (last 2 years) is some BULLSHIT!!!!!!! . . . .

rainydaywomen420 Thu 1/8/2009 11:48AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


haha dude on keys with the last name of McCracken. Parasitic pervert, thats good rainyman.

whodoyoudo Thu 1/8/2009 12:12PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


we went to a donna the buffalo new years in florida a few years back

best vibes ever

get off the east coast and hit the midwest though


rainydayman Fri 1/9/2009 02:09PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Wouldn't it be weird if their name was really "Dawn of the Buffalo," but everyone kept misunderstanding the name so the band concedes that maybe they really are Donna The Buffalo. That would be weird.

Zarathrusta Sun 1/11/2009 02:56PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!