Tuesday, July 18, 2017

East Coast, West Coast and Beauty Somewhere In-Between

Ooh Ms. Parsley sing it out as a prayer
It's floating on sensational
You make the change in the air
Let's let it be all right
Step it up to life” (Jeb Puryear - Ms. Parsley)

I can't remember as far back as when I was first introduced to Donna the Buffalo. I was single, living in North Carolina, in my early 30's, and I was 'friends' with this guy on My Space. Remember My Space?! His name was Turk (or so he said) and he was a veterinarian (so he said). I never did keep in touch with Turk, but he will always have a special place in my heart for opening it to Donna the Buffalo. He sent me an illegal link with hundreds of Donna concerts. I downloaded all I could download and I got myself my first 100% pirated 4 cd's and I was hooked! He said “if you like The Dead, you will love Donna.”

And he was right: I only like The Dead, and I do love Donna.

I am not sure what it is about what they do, but their music is hypnotic to me. I can be tired, head-achy, moody, wanting silence and a heavy bowl of mashed potatoes, and I listen to a Donna song and it's like elements align and the world makes sense again – no pain, or discomfort, just peace. Works better than Tylenol, every time.

When I lived on the East Coast, the opportunities to see them were numerous. They are a house band, almost literally, for the Shakori Festival, and they come to NC often (sometimes several times in the same month). But when I moved out West, things got pretty sketchy: I subscribe to their newsletter and they seldom, if ever, come out there. I have lived here for seven years now and I only know of two times that they have come close to Utah (I believe they made it out here more then this, but not close enough within driving distance for me): one was four years ago in Montana, at the Red Ants Pants Festival (I am not making this up, this is the real name – https://wander-world.blogspot.com/2013/08/chasing-some-dreams.html), and the second time was this month, in Park City.

This second time, I could almost not believe my eyes when I saw the announcement: Park City is practically home for me. How did I get so lucky for these folks from Upstate New York to wander all the way over here?! So, it was a no-brainer: even if I was on a stretcher, I had to figure out a way to go see them. And thank God, I was not on a stretcher.

I have seen them all in all live for about 4 times, I think. And every time I tell myself: you've got to really love them to really keep coming back. And it's not the music: the music is amazing, and it's not even much of an acquired taste: it just has one of those melodies that just appeals to just about anyone. Not many people remain motionless and don't start to dance while listening to them. They are catchy. Beyond that, they are all also really great musicians. The organ player has always been my favorite, but what Tara does with her instruments is not short of amazing, either. Jeb's guitar picking is what gives them their unique sound, I think – they are all pretty much flawless when it comes to their peerformances.

But … there is this stage presence thing … My mom used to always say that a singer must know how to dance, or how to let us know they're happy to be on a stage in order for them to be memorable. For me, most people on this band have always been struggling just a bit with this part. Especially Tara: as talented and flawless as she is as a musician, as inspiring as a song writer, she does not look like she is having fun on that stage. She looks like she has a very serious, and very constraining job to do and she is trying really hard not to get in trouble. What she does does look very natural and very effortless. But she does it with … fear and concentration, for lack of better words. She is tense, and crisp. And frowning … I feel like she is forced to be there, rather than enjoys to be there. I am pretty sure I am wrong – being on the road for almost 20 years must offer some amount of pleasure to you, or else you'd stop doing it. But …

Jeb has some loose moments, although he can be very serious, too. For the most part, he is a warmer presence, softer, his voice very much drone-like just flows. He is more like a very easy-going hippie than an official business person (like Tara). From the other three musicians, only Kyle, the bass player, seems like he really loves being on stage, and he really loves his audience. He is the one making eye contact with people, smiling, winking, moving about, dancing. And there is another thing: I know that Kyle is the bass player, because the wiki told me so: they don't present their band on stage. I think it's the same thing for Tara and Jeb – I know their names because I investigated. As warm and inviting and party-like as their music is, there is always this guardrail at the edge of that stage, and for some reason, we are not fully invited in.

I have also noticed that they are so much more relaxed and well received by the audience (or maybe relaxed because they are well received by the audience) on the East Coast than here, in the West. I guess, to some extent, that's understandable: they are a household name back there, whereas here they are a rare apparition. I remember going to their shows in NC and people at work knew exactly who I am going to see. I have had their bumper sticker on my car for years here, and not a soul knows what the heck that means.

The other night, when we saw them in Park City, this couple approached us before the show, to ask us if we like them and if we have ever seen them live. They had never seen them live, but they listened to them, and “they sounded good”. We said yes, we had seen them live before, but I was nervous to talk them up. I love their music and I think that anyone in general should give them a listen, but especially anyone who likes bluegrass. But when it comes to their live performances, I am afraid people will be put off.

The show we saw in Montana a few years ago was a disaster, I thought: what very few people know (including us, at the time) about Montana is that it is wicked windy! Think hurricane winds as a matter of fact, howling and constant. The festival is in this wide open prairie, and there is no tree, nor mountain around to stop the wind and the sand whipping your face. Non. Stop. They came on stage and their guitar picks were blown away in the wind. The sound blew away with them. Tara got visibly mad. They were rushed, and wanted to get it done with, it seemed. People started leaving early. The crowd dwindled, and that was painful to watch. For the first time, everyone there was not there for Donna. It was new to me.

The Park City show was much, much better, I thought. The venue was small and intimate (an underground cocktail lounge called O.P. Rockwell). The sound was a bit hard, as they sounded very loud, but you got used to it fast. Tara had issues, again, which strained her nerves, visibly, because her mic was not loud enough, she thought. Their sound was a bit flat (all mics sounded like they were tuned equally, and I would have liked the instruments to be a bit more dimmed than their voices, perhaps), but they sounded good, overall, if you were not picky! And Tara is.

People were great sports. Most everyone danced and stayed till the end. They played for more than two hours, solidly – almost no breaks between songs, no introductions. They did have a short intermission.

The one thing that I can clearly see that could alike them to The Dead is their long jamming sessions. They get into these long instrumental rifts that go on for a good 20-30 minutes sometimes, just wailing away. They have instrument solos during it, and dialogues, and are somewhat psychedelic, very 60's-like. They did several of these the other night, too, and the crowd exploded a couple of times.

They sounded as great as usual – like I said before: these folks surely know their stuff. It was great to hear some old songs (Positive Friction, Everyday, In Another World), but also some new ones. I would tell you what they are called, but they didn't tell us. I guess they might be on their next album, if bands do albums anymore?!

Every single song had the same effect their music has on me: feels like every blood cell in my blood stream moves with their rhythm. It's like your whole body becomes plugged into some unseen electrical outlet which makes it move with the music. They are powerful, and entertaining, but on a more cerebral level, I suppose.

If I have one bit of advice for trying them for the first time is this: listen to their recordings first. If you like what you hear, then, listen to more and more of their music. If you really think you're hooked, then, go see them live. You can be very forgiving when you love them for their music first. And they are truly lovable because of what they do and because of the precision and energy with which they are doing it. They take their seriousness and attention to every note and “step it up to life.”

Donna is the reason why I would never sneeze at an unknown hometown band – because beauty and talent does not always need a Grammy to be legitimate.

I leave you to one of my favorite tunes, and in this video Tara looks like maybe she is having just a smidgen of fun.

Proud to be a herd member! 

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