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Donna the Buffalo embraces new musical landscape, shuns genre labels

By Bill Lynch, Staff writer
Courtesy photo
Donna the Buffalo doesn’t worry too much about music labels as long as people come out to listen. The band performs Friday at Live on the Levee.

Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo said being in music is very different now than in the past. The whole relationship between fans and performers has changed.

“Before all this cyberspace stuff, you only had access to a band you enjoyed from the new record or maybe reading about them in Rolling Stone or some magazine. Bands were practically unreachable, untouchable and maybe a little bit more mysterious,” said the singer and front woman of the Americana band, which headlines Live on the Levee Friday night.

There was a kind of magic to that.

Now, bands are generally wildly accessible through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their websites. Fans can more easily obsess over every single detail of the lives of their favorite performers.

And that’s not the only change.

“The record world is different,” she added. “People don’t buy CDs like they used to.”

Even when they do, the lifespan of a record is shorter.

“You make a record, it comes, it goes, and before you know it, you’re off to the next thing,” she said.

Last year, Donna the Buffalo released “Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday.” Nevins said people seemed to like it OK. It was well received on the Americana music chart, going to No. 5 and staying in the Top 10 for a while.

“But then it’s over, and you’re on to the next thing.”

“Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday” was released barely a year ago, and already the band is looking at getting back into the studio to work on another album.

“It’s just not just about the CD anymore,” Nevins said.

She kind of misses how things used to be but said you can’t really beat how they are today, even if there’s not nearly as much mystery. The relationship between artist and fan is much better.

“I think there’s more of a connection between the audience and a band,” she said. “I think there’s more of a sense of building a community. It’s a more positive effect for everyone involved.”

The Internet has been a big help. Social media has been great, particularly for bands like Donna the Buffalo that usually don’t get a lot of radio airplay.

Donna the Buffalo’s sound is a mix of folk, rock, zydeco, bluegrass and reggae. While the band has released 10 records during the last 25 years and played countless shows, it hasn’t had a lot of mainstream radio airplay.

This isn’t because people don’t want to hear Donna the Buffalo on the radio. The group just doesn’t fit easily into a music category.

Americana, while not a new genre, can be kind of confusing. It’s a catch-all of misfit styles that don’t neatly fall under the umbrellas of mainstream rock, pop or country.

“The whole Americana genre can be kind of wishy-washy,” Nevins acknowledged. “But the whole thing came about because too many bands were falling through the cracks and didn’t get any radio play.”

That could eventually change. The format has grown, and it got an important boost when the Grammy Awards added a stand-alone Americana category earlier this year, which Nevins thought was something of a milestone. 

Still, she said, Americana is evolving and trying to define itself.

“The lines are kind of blurry. You hear some names who are maybe not current in the mainstream, and they’re now kind of funneled over to Americana. It can be annoying, but it can give the Americana genre a little attention, I suppose.”

Really, though, music is just music, and sometimes labels only get in the way.

“The more the merrier,” she said.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.


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