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by CLARA ROSE THORNTON – Published: February 10, 2011

In 2005, I began working for a music promotions organization called Home Grown Music Network, based out of Mebane, N.C. Founded by radio DJ and music fanatic Lee Crumpton in 1995, it’s a multi-platform company that offers a pool of volunteers, nationwide, willing to promote touring bands in exchange for free music and concert tickets.

Bands are chosen as network members through a rigorous selection process that aims to pinpoint the best independent groups in and surrounding America’s festival scene — bands that don’t fit neatly into simplified genres like “roots rock,” “jam,” or rock‘n’roll’s other current labels.

Once chosen, HGMN (www.homegrownmusic.net) provides several career resources for these groups trudging through the mire of a frenetic — if not negligent — music industry without corporate backing. In addition to the cells of volunteers and fans around the country, bands also get to sell their CDs and merchandise through the well-trafficked website, get added to playlists at affiliate radio stations, and be put in the faces of thousands who might not have heard them otherwise.

HGMN even started its own record label, Harmonized, in 2002.

Needless to say, the folks behind the organization — Crumpton and press/volunteer coordinator Chris Robie — are indefatigable. When I signed on as a volunteer and later a journalist, I received at regular intervals boxes upon boxes of music catalogs, posters, stickers and the best part — free CDs.

I devoured these LPs, EPs, live discs and samplers. In addition to starting my music journalism career, HGMN turned my home into the lush flowering pot of musical mayhem that it remains.

And, as many musicians and promoters know, the relationships between fans and bands of true substance often prove unbreakable.

During this time I discovered Sim Redmond Band from Ithaca, N.Y., whose worldbeat track “All is Not Lost” entered the hallowed ground of my Top 10. I discovered The Bridge, a sumptuous and energetic rock sextet from Baltimore, who, in fact, I’m making a three-hour road trip to see tonight, at Higher Ground in Burlington. I brought my love of them with me when I moved from Chicago to Vermont. That’s the sort of dedication these bands inspire.

Donna the Buffalo was one of these groups. When seeing it in the catalogue, I thought the name was rather strange, but intriguing. It struck me as possibly some Native American band full of environmental activists, people whose concerts included ritual and howls and 10-minute drum jams.

photo by Jim Gavenus

The howls are there, I came to find out, but there are many more whines of the accordion and wisps of Cajun/zydeco tomfoolery involved than riffs on global warming or trance-inducing drum circles. Donna the Buffalo, a 21-year-old cult favorite quintet from Trumansburg, N.Y., is energetic, inventive and soulful, and imagine the thrust down memory lane I experienced when seeing they’d be playing Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction on Saturday. They’ve kept trucking, against the odds for an independent band, and are more popular and prolific than ever.

“We were sitting together in a circle one day, in the earliest days of the band, trying to come up with a name,” recalled co-founder and co-bandleader Tara Nevins, via telephone from the road. “We knew we wanted ‘buffalo’ in there somehow. Someone said ‘Dawn of the Buffalo’ jokingly, mocking a Hallmark sort of theme. But we misheard him and thought he said ‘Donna the Buffalo.’”

“We started laughing, because these things get silly sometimes, and couldn’t stop laughing,” Nevins continued. “We thought it sounded cool and it stuck.”

Nevins — who contributes accordion, scrubboard, fiddle, guitar and vocals — founded Donna the Buffalo with guitarist/vocalist Jeb Puryear in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1990. Nevins had been a longtime fiddle player, and she and Puryear began writing songs together with no definitive plan in place, just exercising creativity in that college town’s rich musical milieu. After returning from a trip to southwest Louisiana for Mardi Gras, she was so deeply inspired by the Cajun and Creole music she’d encountered that she added a zydeco flair to her playing, soon recruiting more members and solidifying the sound of the fledgling band.

Through two decades on the road and seven albums, the band has garnered a dedicated fanbase, coining itself “The Herd.” Puryear’s and Nevins’ poetic lyrics that contemplate life’s longing, losses and exuberance, along with the occasionally kitschy, though upbeat and fun, Louisiana-inspired soundscapes provide quite the singular concert experience. For example, just yesterday, when mentioning my Nevins interview on my Facebook page, a Bellows Falls friend named Dagan Selbach-Broad immediately got excited and responded, “I love Donna the Buffalo! I’ve seen them over 40 times!”

Nevins will release a solo album entitled “Wood and Stone” in April on Sugar Hill Records. Donna the Buffalo’s show on Saturday at Tupelo Music Hall, a BYOB venue, begins at 8 p.m.

Two other concerts occur in southern Vermont this weekend in that road warrior spirit of purity, that essence of which Home Grown Music Network lauds and nurtures.

The first, incidentally, is also a Home Grown band and a zydeco band, Buckwheat Zydeco, from Lafayette, La.

Buckwheat Zydeco

Buckwheat Zydeco is the stage name of accordion player Stanley Dural Jr., born in 1947. He’s one of the only traditional zydeco acts to achieve mainstream, pop culture success; the band is a household name among southern music fans.

He brings his group, formerly billed as “Buckwheat Zydeco and Ils Son Partis Band” to the Bellows Falls Opera House at 8 p.m. tonight.

And tomorrow, San Antonio, Texas, alternative-country songbird Rosie Flores brings her distinctive mixture of Tex-Mex, rockabilly, honky tonk and jazz/swing to Boccelli’s On the Canal in Bellows Falls at 7:30 p.m.

It’s a weekend of from-the-heart, multicultural creative whimsy happening around our stomping grounds. Throw your best “devil may care” glance to the snow and add your yelp.

Clara Rose Thornton is a freelance cultural critic and arts journalist originally hailing from Chicago who now lives in an artists’ colony in Bellows Falls. She can be reached at clara@inkblotcomplex.com, or through her website, clararosethornton.com. Follow her at twitter.com/ClaraRose.

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Larry Keel and Natural Bridge just played a show at Ft Ashby in WV at the RoadHouse Pub. Jeff Henry from the Appalachian Independent got to sit down with Larry and ask a few questions.  Click here for the original post and a couple photos.

 

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What was it like working at Tokyo Disneyland?

It was really cool. I learned a lot. A friend was living down in Florida, he sent me word up to Virginia that they were doing auditions for a bluegrass band to go to Tokyo Disneyland. It was something different, I was a mountain boy – had never been out of the mountains before so going to Tokyo was extremely exciting. We got our chops down – playing six shows a day. Each show was a half hour. We’d have a half hour off, then a half hour on. We did this for about six months.

Folks were intrigued by bluegrass and I was intrigued by the Japanese music. I like music (genres) of all flavors everywhere. With a lot of the soldiers being there during WWII there was a pretty big bluegrass following and interest in Tokyo. I met a lot of great musicians there.

What do you like to do while on tour?

I like to do a lot of stuff while on the road – like to sample the great food out there, visit friends all over the country, take in all of the sights like national parks. I like to fish as much as I can, if I have my fishing pole with me and there’s a mudhole somewhere, I’m liable to cast in it.

You’ve played festivals, theaters, pubs, and bars – what do you like about these venues and what brings you back to small towns?

I like all sorts of venues. I like to get a crowd in and get ’em focused in what we’re doing, take their minds off their troubles for a little while… and just have some fun and get the energy level up. No matter where you’re at, if you’re doing your job right (the crowd will love you). As far as coming back to small towns – I just love small town America. That’s what America is – it’s all the people you meet at these places, it’s a beautiful thing.

When will you be back in the area?

We’ll be up in Morgantown in the beginning of December (author note: December 11, 2010 at 123 Pleasant St). We’ll be back in Frostburg in February. I always advise everybody to check out our website (larrykeel.com). That’s what I do… I don’t know where I’m going to be half the time (laughs).

If you could jam with one musician, dead or alive, who would it be?

I’d probably want to play with Miles Davis. He had a whole lot of things figured out in a very simplistic and complicated way. I’m a big admirer of his music.
There are so many of them who have come and passed – Bill Monroe and Django Reignhardt. I try to pay my respects to them while I do my thing.

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