While icy mountain winds rattled windows in Asheville, Tara Nevins (a founding member of Donna the Buffalo) was hanging out in Miami with bandmates after a string of Florida shows. Nevins and fellow DTB songwriter Jeb Puryear provide a perfect example of how doing what you love can change the world: For 25 years they’ve not only excited audiences but built community. The two original members followed their joy to create four annual festivals that combine culture and fun (the GrassRoots Festival in DTB’s home state of New York is also celebrating two and half decades). Plus, many of the songs on the band’s 10 albums ask listeners to look inside and open their hearts to others. DTB is currently working on a new studio album and will be touring the East Coast throughout the winter and spring.
The five person band returns to Asheville for a show at The Orange Peel on Friday, Jan. 23. In advance, Nevins shared some of the secrets to lasting success.
Mountain Xpress: From relationships to washing machines, not much seems to last for 25 years. What keeps Donna the Buffalo going strong?
Tara Nevins: We built it all ourselves. Right after we started we bought the bus. We hired our own merch person. Because we are self-contained, we aren’t reliant on an outside source so we can make decisions. We’re very grassroots.
Why was having your own bus so important?
If we didn’t have the bus we couldn’t do it. We hire a driver so we can travel through the night. After the shows, we relax and hang out. We’ve got a little kitchen and fridge where we keep fresh foods and cook on the road. We’ve got our bunks so we can rest.
So is the bus your home base?
It’s one of our bases — we’re on the road a lot. We have our festivals, three that have been going on for years and years: The Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in Trumansburg and the Spring and Fall Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festivals in Silk Hope, N.C. Then there’s the newer Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival in Miami. The festivals keep us going for so many reasons.
I hear the word “grassroots” a lot. How does Donna the Buffalo embody the idea of being community driven?
You get people together, listening to music and dancing under the stars, and it just works. The festivals build community naturally. This year, a really exciting thing we’re doing for the first time is our upcoming GrassRoots Culture Camp that will run Feb. 15-18 before the start of our Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival.
So the GrassRoots culture camp is something you’re offering in addition to the festival. What exactly can people do?
It’s a skill-building camp, similar to the Swannanoa Gathering, but we’ll offer a really diverse range of classes: everything from music to yoga. The four days of workshops will feature amazing musicians [like] Jim Lauderdale. There will be different styles of dancing and instruction every night. Since we’ll be close to Miami, we want to incorporate the community there by having a Latin dance night and lessons. Of course there will be a Donna the Buffalo style throw-down, and we’ll have amazing food and cooking classes with trained chefs from different culinary ethnic backgrounds.
Have you had a chance to spend much time in Asheville around your shows?
Asheville is like a sister city for us. Jeb and I met playing fiddle and we both love old-time music. Asheville has one of the strongest old-time communities, so we have a lot of friends who we really look forward to seeing and playing with when we come to town.
Do you set out to create positivity and a sense of connectedness with your lyrics or does it happen organically?
We just play. Jeb and I write music together, that’s what comes out and it works. And of course there’s The Herd — that’s our fan base. They’re a fantastic group and a big part of the reason we’re still going. They are so tribal. They motivate us, and we motivate them right back. It’s an exchange.
So who is a typical DTB fan?
That’s what’s cool — our fans are so diverse. They are Republicans, Democrats, young and old. We’ve got whole families coming to our shows and all loving the music together.
So I have to ask, after all this time, are you all still living on love and gasoline?
Well gasoline, definitely. But really it’s the music. Playing the music has always come naturally. Of course Jeb and I have become better at what we do, and the different bandmates we’ve had over the years always infuse us with fresh energy. And yes, there’s plenty of love. It’s the love for what we do that keeps us going.