Donna The Buffalo: Roaming the Country, with Grassroots Back Home
What has kept the music going as you have had numerous band members come and go over the years?
That’s part of what keeps it going – new blood, new energy, but also we love what we do and that we get to play really cool places and I guess we never thought about not doing it. We’re very fortunate to be very grass-roots oriented. We’re like a machine, we’re not highly dependent on money from the record companies or this or that or dependent on the economy. We have this following The Herd, our manager is a friend of ours, we have a booking agent, we have our own bus, we drive our own merchandise person. If times get hard, we can still do what we do because it’s just us that we’re relying on, and our fans are loyal and they’ll come out.
How did The Herd build up and what do they mean to you and the band?
The Herd means everything – without The Herd we’d be nowhere. They built themselves up. It started with two people that noticed they were both at a couple of shows. They had a conversation and then they organized and said, ‘When they play in Chicago lets meet at the soundboard?’ and then it just grew from there. They have chat sites and archive all the music. We’re very fortunate to have them.
David McCracken joined in 2006, what kind of energy has he brought to the band.
He’s an awesome keyboard player and brings a lot of up energy. He really loves the sound part of it and the engineering part of it. He’s really helped me with my rig on stage. He does all the sound checking each night. He’s really passionate abut what he does and he’s a fabulous keyboard player. He keeps on your toes and challenges you to be better.
What about the newest members Kyle and Mark?
Kyle is a sweetheart of a guy and a fabulous bass player. The other night he took a solo for the first time, we all laid back and let the bass just go and I was like, ‘What? I didn’t know you can play like that.’ He plays awesome with us but not like that, but he took this solo and I was like ‘Ok.’ He’s an amazing musician and he can do all that but when he plays with us, he does what’s needed and doesn’t over play. He fits in really well and he’s a really sweet guy and that comes across. And Mark is a rock of a drummer – we’ve had so many drummers. Our style is slightly eclectic because we play songs that we write but we also play zydeco and reggae tunes, so someone needs to be very versatile and fit in with our funny way of approaching things and Mark just hits the drums and it works. His sense of rhythm really fits.
You guys never play with a setlist, so how does it work?
When it works right, we tend to alternate songs. So when Jeb is singing a song, I’ll just quickly think of a song that I think should come next. And when the song is over, I just tell the drummer what song it’s going to be and the same with Jeb. Some nights, it’s quick and it flows and other nights we take kind of long between songs, ‘What should I play?’ We gave up because we used to make setlists, which is a pain in the neck, because you can never predict what it’s going to be like. We would get up there with a setlist and never follow it, so what’s the point. One of the cons (of not having a setlist) is that you tend to end up playing a lot of the same songs at several gigs because they’re fresh in your mind. But we found it’s just better not to make a setlist and just fly by the seat of our pants.
What was the Trumansburg music like back in the day and what’s it like now?
Old time music was a really big thing and still is, but I know it was very influential for Jeb growing up there. The Correctone String Band and The Highwoods Stringband were very influential. Jeb’s family and his brothers all played old-time fiddle music and I came to that town a little later after we all met — just a really big scene of a lot people who play old-time music there. And a lot of people who just play all kinds of music and we started the Finger Lakes Grass Roots Festival because we had been going to festivals for years and we knew what we loved about festivals and what we didn’t like about festivals and we decided to do it ourselves and now it’s grown into this amazing thing. And I think Donna The Buffalo has definitely influenced the music in Trumansburg. We turned a lot of people onto zydeco and the festival now encompasses African music, zydeco, bluegrass, country, local alternative music, singer-songwriters and punk music, so I think DTB brought some outside musical influences to a town that was already steeped in music and certainly old-time music.