Donna the Buffalo goes political

The band’s Stampede tour brings them to Minneapolis with a new political twist.

Danylo Loutchko

Donna the Buffalo got its whimsical name more than 20 years ago when the group’s members misheard a friend’s suggestion to name their band “Dawn of the Buffalo.”
 
From then on, they have toured the Eastern and Central United States, playing a blend of country, folk rock, zydeco, reggae and bluegrass at concerts and festivals, building a fan base that now calls itself “the Herd.” 
 
Their “Stampede” tour, along with a strong political message, is what brings them, with renowned bluegrass musician Peter Rowan, to the Dakota Jazz Club on 
Saturday.
 
“I’d call [the music we play] Americana, basically,” Tara Nevins said, who sings vocals, plays guitar, fiddle, accordion and scrubboard in the band. “Most of it is original. Some of it is traditional zydeco, but other than that, we write all the songs. It’s very danceable.”
 
The overall style of the band’s music is deliberately eclectic. One track can be bluegrass. The next could be a tune with a strong reggae groove, and the next could be a country rock song. 
 
A strong sense of musical groove matched with accessible lyrics makes Donna the Buffalo exciting. Their most recent album, “TonightTomorrow and Yesterday,” falls very much within the mold of their previous work.
 
The quintet includes Nevins, along with Jeb Puryear (vocals, electric guitar), David McCracken (Hammond organ, Hohner Clavinet and piano), Kyle Spark (bass) and Mark Raudabaugh (drums) to round out the group. 
 
The band released their first album in 1989. The lineup has changed since then, except for Nevins and Puryear, who’ve helmed the group throughout the years and share songwriting duties.
 
However, Donna the Buffalo’s current tour is slightly different than excursions of the past. Recently the band met Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s) and strongly identified with his Stampede campaign, a grassroots movement to get corporate funding out of politics by having people stamp individual dollar bills with messages like
“Corporations Are Not People” and “Not 2 B Used 4 Bribing Politicians.” 
 
The band is still playing the same music they’ve been playing for 25 years but hope to use their platform as musicians to speak out about an issue important to them.
 
“It’s a great message,” Devins said. “We liked it because it’s not about what political party you belong to. It’s not about what candidate you want. It’s about what’s fair. It’s about democracy.”
 
Whenever artists get politically involved, there’s often the assumption that they’re pushing a strictly liberal agenda or trying to persuade people to vote a certain way.
 
“People think that it’s just some leftist thing, and if they’re Republican or whatever, they’ll be against it without really understanding,” Devins said. “[That] is silly because it’s not something just to the left or just to the right; it’s for everybody. … It’s about getting big money out of politics — it’s unfair on all sides.”
 
Regardless of whether their audiences like the tour’s political theme or not, “We want them to have a good time, enjoy the music, have a sense of community, dance,
celebrate,” Devins said.