Donna the Buffalo to stampede Kent Stage

Greg Schwartz

Yee-haw! Jam band Donna the Buffalo could play for up to two and a half hours at their Kent Stage show next Wednesday.

Credit: Greg Schwartz

Kent music fans usually have to travel to Cleveland to see nationally renowned live music acts. Wednesday night will be an exception, however, when upstate New York’s Donna the Buffalo brings its unique blend of harmony-laden folk, rock, reggae, zydeco and improvisation to the Kent Stage.

The band has been around since 1988, but its national star has risen over the past few years, earning it high profile gigs like a side stage slot at the Grateful Dead Family Reunion at Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley in 2002, the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee, the Newport Folk Festival and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Playing more than 100 shows a year has enabled the band to be picked up by the prestigious Monterey Artists Booking Agency, who has handled acts such as Phish, Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews Band.

While the band enjoys the opportunity to gain recognition by sharing bills with its peers, it definitely prefers to headline, says guitarist/vocalist Jeb Puryear, who founded the band with guitarist/fiddler/vocalist Tara Nevins. The band also includes keyboardist/vocalist Kathy Zeigler, bassist Bill Reynolds and drummer Tom Gilbert.

Puryear promises a long set around two and half hours.

“We used to take breaks, but then you end up comparing sets. Once we get it rolling, we like to keep it rolling.”

The band is also known for the way it mixes uplifting grooves with a socially-conscious message of tribal philosophy and celebration. There’s a focus on getting people dancing, but Donna the Buffalo also likes to challenge and inspire its audiences with thought-provoking lyrics.

“I look at it like a traditional form, like Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. I think it’s a natural thing,” says Puryear of the band’s lyrics. “It’s important because music is such a great human gesture of love, and we’re basically just trying to focus society on that paradigm rather than the more prevalent money paradigm … there’s a lot of unhappy people out there looking for more to connect with and music can help do that.”

“I think, also, people tend to get shallower and less expansive under the spell of fear, and I think we’ve been having a heavy fear base promoted to us, and it needs to be counteracted with music, art, food and love,” Puryear says, evoking the spirit of the socio-cultural revolution of the 1960s. “The times are slightly (disheartening), but people should stay positive and be as beautiful as they can be.”

Like many jam bands, Donna the Buffalo has a core following that trails it on tour. Affectionately known as “the Herd,” these fans help maintain the uplifting vibe on the road with the efforts of “Herd Charities,” fundraisers organized to donate money to local charities where concerts are held. “That’s not so much us, as our fans,” Puryear says. “The money comes from their donations.”

The band’s name was conceived in a whiskey-drenched brainstorming session in 1987 when someone suggested “Dawn of the Buffalo.” It was heard as “Donna the Buffalo” and stuck.

The band has endured several lineup changes over the years, but they have never shaken its resolve.

“The band was born with a certain collective spirit that maintains itself no matter what happens,” Puryear said.

Set to release a new studio album in April, the band plans to keep trucking forward into what appears to be a bright future.

Contact forum columnist Greg Schwartz at [email protected].