I’ve seen Donna the Buffalo a number of times and I’ve always enjoyed them. I had the added excitement this time around of photographing them with a nice camera. Still, I had that feeling of, “Well it will be fine, but I have seen them before,” so my expectations were modest for being amazed, wowed or transported in any particular way. I was wrong.
The first indications came when Peter Rowan opened the show. The best I could have told you before the show was that his name sounded familiar. That’s pretty embarrassing to admit now that I’ve learned more. He’s worked with some notable names, like Bill Monroe, for whom he was the principal vocalist for a stint in the 1960s. Friends with Jerry Garcia, he was an original member of Old and In the Way and worked separately with David Grisman.
He also penned the best known songs performed by New Riders of the Purple Sage, including “Panama Red” and “Midnight Moonlight” which he performed much to the delight of the crowd. As someone who loved “Panama Red” (the song, people, the song) back in the day, I particularly enjoyed that little flashback.
But it was the warmth of his performance, perhaps born of the joy of being able to do what he does at seventy-three-years-old. I honestly found myself drawn completely into his world of simple delivery – just him and a guitar most of the time. The solid nature of the songs and his connection to the audience could have carried me through an entire evening. As it was, he played for about forty minutes, accompanied on bass for a couple of the songs.
Donna the Buffalo always delivers a good show, but this one seemed a little above and beyond the norm. It’s always hard, if not impossible, to know whether a show that seems to transcend is a factor of the artist performance or of audience or personal responsiveness. The crowd was small – probably filling 3/4 of the Bijou, but what they lost in number, they made up in enthusiasm. Crowding the front from the beginning, probably Ok’d by the band before the show, it was a dancing, twirling kind of night.
The music is just so solid. The warm sounds of the Hammond B-3 played by David McCracken lays the base for the electric guitar and vocals of Jeb Puryear and the violin and vocals of Tara Nevins, the mainstays of the group which formed in 1989. It’s a reggae-laced, jam-band mentality that serves up just a delightful stew of feel-good music – often with a serious, though uplifting message.
A highlight of the night for me was when Peter Rowan joined the band on the stage for a set. The artists fit together seamlessly and reflected a genuine mutual affection that translated in song. But it wasn’t just that set, the whole band seemed relaxed and comfortable all night. Even with a smaller crowed at the late-night encore, they continued to appear invested and present for those who came to see them. The show ended not long before midnight and I could have enjoyed another hour it was so good.
I’ll leave you with a sample of their work below, and hopefully I’ll have the complete set of photographs on the Inside of Knoxville Facebook page sometime this weekend.