By Michael Hamad
3:49 PM EDT, September 2, 2011
If you're not that familiar with Donna the Buffalo, ask the Herd, a huge bunch of music lovers dedicated to the band.
They don't just go to shows; The Herd's got its own fundraising organization, Side to Side Charities, which has raised piles of money for food banks, women's shelters and other charitable causes.
"There are still some members of the original Herd," says multi-instrumentalist Tara Nevins of the DTB's following. "They're the real core, and they've been fans forever."
I spoke with Nevins by phone from Nashville, where she, co-founder and guitarist Jeb Puryear and the rest of the band -- keyboardist Dave McCracken, drummer Vic Stafford and bass player Kyle Spark -- are convening for a show this weekend. They'll play twice in Connecticut this month, first at Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk on Sept. 9 and then at Toad's Place in New Haven on Sept. 11. The Roy Jay Band opens both evenings.
"We tend to go out every weekend, usually Friday though Sunday," Nevins tells me. "We just had a weekend off. Mostly we don't tend to go out for three or four weeks at a time."
The band originated up near Ithaca, N.Y., but now, Nevins says, they're spread out all over the place. The tour bus takes off from the Finger Lakes region, but band members will fly into wherever the show takes place on any given weekend. They're currently recording a new album in Athens, GA with producer John Keane, who has worked with R.E.M. and Widespread Panic.
Nevins also recently released a solo album, Wood and Stone, which she recorded with producer Larry Campbell at Levon Helm’s Woodstock digs. Helm played drums on a couple of the tracks. "The whole camp up there, they are just fine people, and just not pretentious at all. I feel very fortunate to be playing with people like that," says Nevin.
Donna the Buffalo is about as unpretentious as they come, a quality Nevins attributes to the band's roots in old-time and string band music. "We are a pretty low-key bunch in a way," she says. "We just do what we do... We spent ten years playing old-time fiddle music, very old and historical stuff, and we come from that traditional culture and music. It's all very unpretentious and salt-of-the-earth, and we just transferred that over to electric music."
Nevins says the band’s switch over to electric guitars and drums was a necessary result of the type of songs she started writing back in the 1980s.
“We were playing fiddle music,” she says, “and I started writing songs that were not old-time but sounded more contemporary, stuff you would hear on the radio. We were playing them on our acoustic instruments... I started playing electric fiddle as an adventure. It definitely gave us more volume and it was just kind of a natural progression. The songs no longer sounded like they came from the mountains.”