Finding their tribe

With its eclectic and danceable blend of Americana, Cajun, folk, reggae and country, Donna the Buffalo has built a steady fan base in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The band is a regular at local venues and festivals — and while N.Y. is home — both current and former band members have Asheville ties.

In 2013, the band released Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday, its first studio album in five years. Luckily for fans, the long stretch between albums won’t be repeated. The group has plans to record both a live album and studio album in 2014.

Donna the Buffalo perform at The Orange Peel on Saturday, January 18. at 8 p.m. $18 advance / $20 day of show. The band returns to N.C. in April for the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival and Merle Fest.

Xpress spoke with fiddle and accordion player Tara Nevins about Donna the Buffalo’s sound, experimentation and what the band lovingly refers to as its “tribe.”

Xpress: The song “I Love My Tribe” has become a kind of anthem in some circles. Is there a story behind it?

Tara Nevins: Well, no real particular story. I was writing songs one evening, and I just kind of came up with the melody and was singing along. The words just kind of came out. We have a following in the self-named “Herd.” Our whole scene is very much a family, a tribe sort of thing. … I think we’re very fortunate to have such a collective, such a following. We just got done playing Florida down in Key West and Tampa. A bunch of folks from The Herd came down. It’s a movement. It’s a migration, I guess. It feels like we’re a band on the road, but we’re not alone. [We have] these fabulous people that come out to hear us play and keep up with what we’re doing. We’re fortunate. … We’re just a very community-oriented group, a very grassroots operation. And I think “I Love My Tribe” flows continuously out from that.

As a listener, I feel a lot of positivity from your music. Is that your intention? Or is it perhaps a byproduct of the groove?
It’s certainly not an intention. We just write the music we write and play the music we play. So if that vibe comes across, that’s a really good thing. I’m glad to hear that. We spent a lot of years playing traditional fiddle music and traveling around. I really love listening to traditional music, like Cajun and country music, reggae music and some pop music. You know, all of it. And I think all of those influences come through in our music. It’s sort of a celebration. It’s very danceable music too — people dance all night. So I think movement and some of these different influences inject a positive feeling.

I wonder if you have any thoughts on striving for perfection, the happy accident and the unpredictability of experimentation.
I think it’s all of it. As an instrumentalist, certainly playing the fiddle or the accordion or whatever instrument I pick up and play — fiddle is my main instrument — you know, there is that sense of perfection, that sense of striving to play as best as you can. To always be learning and growing. To find a way to really express yourself on the instrument. To use it as a tool for communication and expression. There’s certainly a sense of perfection in that. But you have to reach a point where you’re just bypassing all of that, or surpassing all of that. You kind of have to get to a place where you’re truly just expressing something. In that mode of freedom of being able to do that, there are many happy accidents, discoveries and surprises along the way. … That also goes to if you’re recording a record. How perfect do you want to be? How much do you want to just let spontaneity kind of fall into place? It’s kind of a fine line sometimes, I think. It’s all important. It’s all a part of it. You just have to find that balance.


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