Suwannee Roots Revival Puts the Spotlight on Donna the Buffalo – Three Times!

By Hambone Sparklewell

Over more than 25 years, this upstate New York band has built a powerful steam engine of Appalachian Zydeco Reggae Bluegrass dance music, in which the bass skips from one to three, and the snare pops two and four, a-boom-CHUCKa-boom-CHUCKa, etc., a fiddle saws, or a squeezebox wheezes, and Pentecostal organ puffs and groans while a guitar sprangles silvery Highlife patterns or rattles woodenly like a stick run along a picket fence.

Jeb Puryear & Kyle Spark of Donna the Buffalo. Photo courtesy of Brian Hensley

Meanwhile, instantly familiar lyrics delivered in a pickup truck-approved blend of Tara’s whippoorwill soprano and Jeb’s wandering  baritone warble — mostly tribal odes to conscious evolution — make a sturdy chorus of the audience, and yet another Electric Church service moves the feet of the bobbing and weaving Herd of fans, unfailingly cheerful folks, unsinged by any obvious commercial corruption or drug culture.

Kyle Spark & Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo. Photo courtesy of Brian Hensley

Impatient pop music fans, familiar with instaserve candy-coated mainstream hooks and vocals, will be confused by the deliberate pace of the burlap festivities. Squint your eyes and think of a carbon-neutral Hank Williams, stumbling off Bob Marley’s steam-powered tour bus and joining flannel-clad Mimi Farina to throw pitchforks of hay to mules pulling a Conestoga wagon in which Walt Whitman yodels Carter Family scripture in the Mardi Gras parade. While the steam engine huffs and puffs, the lead instruments — guitar and accordion/fiddle and keyboard mostly — rub together, like a Boy Scout rubbing sticks together to make a fire in the forest, systematic, delicious and rhythmic friction, followed by the spark, and then the warm mounting flame. Sample a version of Sparklewell’s favorite, “Family Picture,” and you will get a feel for the fire that the tribe will kindle this weekend.

Donna the Buffalo plays Suwannee Roots Revival this weekend, October 12-15, in the magnificent woods of the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. No other band has three headlining slots, all three on the main Amphitheater Stage. Friday they have an early evening slot 5:30-6:45 PM, they shut down Saturday’s official program 12:30-2:00 AM, and they return for the festival finale Sunday from 6:00-8:00 PM.

Donna the Buffalo are Jeb Puryear, Tara Nevins, Dave McCracken, Kyle Spark, and Mark Raudabaugh.