Multi-instrumentalist Tara Nevins sounds exhausted over the phone. She and her Donna the Buffalo bandmates are burning the midnight oil, firing up their ninth studio album. They put in 12 hours a day for almost two weeks straight before kicking off their current spring tour.
The popular, rootsy jam band makes its living onstage, and while they appreciate the studio, it's simply not the same as the charge they get from the crowd. Nevins and singer/guitarist Jeb Puryear have a fine band in drummer Mark Raudabaugh, keyboardist David McCracken, and bassist Kyle Spark, and they're enthused by the melodic new music they've worked up.
"It's going pretty good," Nevins says. "We got our basic tracking done. Mark, David, and Kyle are fantastic, and the music's really fun, so making a record is easier in many regards."
Nevins promises to give some sneak previews of the new songs from the forthcoming album at the Charleston show this week. The new disc follows last year's release of Nevins' second solo album, Wood and Stone. While it's taken a lot of energy to balance the two projects during the past year, she says it's been worth it.
"It's great to challenge ourselves and step away from this thing you're comfortable in and paint a different picture," Nevins says. "I learned a lot, and I'm feeling more confident as a musician."
Now entering their 25th year, Donna the Buffalo has built a huge following, starting a series of festivals that go by the "Grassroots" moniker. It began with the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival in 1991, at Trumansburg, N.Y., near their home of Ithaca. In 2003, Puryear's brother Jerdan helped start a sister event in Shakori Hills, N.C., just outside Chapel Hill. It features festivals twice a year. Then, in February, they inaugurated a third festival in Virginia Key, Fla., near Miami. "Festivals tend to be a big shot in the arm for any community," she says. "It brings people together in a positive way. That's what music's about."
It's just another thing they've done to build their musical brand and develop a network of fans and goodwill. It gives Nevins powerful shudders of recognition at times. "All of a sudden, we're maybe at the Grassroots Festival on the main stage," she says. "There's thousands of people out there, and it's our festival, and it hits you in that moment.'"