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Donna the Buffalo to wrap up 40th LEAF

LEAF1DonnatheBuffalo RS

Day tickets ($40-60) and $112 (per adult) weekend commuting community passes for Buncombe County residents (showing valid IDs) remain, as of Monday. Overnight weekend tickets are gone. Organizers said the festival is selling out even quicker than usual.

Donna the Buffalo plays Sunday, May 10, 4:30-6 p.m. on the main Lakeside Stage.

R. Carlos Nakai plays a soothing Native American flute. Another treat is bluegrass virtuoso Sierra Hull, 23. She first played in Carnegie Hall and the Grand ‘Ole Opry when she was 12, and hit number two on the bluegrass album charts at age 16.

“Global Gratitude” is the theme of the 40th LEAF, with tribal tribute artists from 30 different countries. They include Bombino, a Rolling Stones magazine Top 100 guitarist, on May 10. Xavier Rudd & The United Nations wraps up main-stage acts May 9. “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires is the final headliner May 8.

Festival founder and Executive Director Jennifer Pickering has long promoted such international music, as well as Cajun-infused sounds such as by Donna the Buffalo. LEAF, at Camp Rockmont, began in 1995.

A newer attraction, a songwriter competition, is in its second year. This is the 10th year of Happy Hour Jams. As always, there are a variety of artisan vendors, arts and healing workshops, family camping and lake activities.

LEAF Performing Arts Director Ehren Cruz said “We have established time-honored traditions that now rest at the heart of our community — from contra to poetry (slam contest), family adventure to late-night drum circles, roots music to world music. We aim to bring in the very best of all we have created into a celebration of epic proportions!”

Donna the Buffalo played in the first LEAF, and wraps up this 40th edition. A friend of the musicians suggested Native American “Dawn of the Buffalo” as a band name, in 1989. But it was slurred into “Donna the Buffalo” over a few drinks, and that name stuck.

There is no Donna in the five-piece band. The lone female is Tara Nevins (fiddle, accordion, tambourine and scrub board). Electric guitarist Jeb Puryear also sings lead and writes songs. They are based in Puryear’s hometown, Trumansburg, N.Y. near Cornell University. Nevins grew up near New York City.

Nevins said she likes mountain venues such as LEAF that draw old-time and roots musicians and fans, as well as this area’s eclectic music interest. She recently noted she and Puryear each relished old-time fiddling early on, and like old-time music’s collective improvisation the Grateful Dead embodied. “It’s very natural, under-produced and all about coming from the gut — flying by the seat of your pants.” They adapted to electric instruments. Nevins is into Cajun and zydeco, and her accordion drives many songs.

The band plays energetic variation of old-time with mesmerizing, danceable acoustic roots music espousing “universal messages of celebration, cosmic humor and a big groove.” Nevins said dancers can ride the groove “wave.”

David McCracken plays organ and piano, and was with blues great Buddy Guy. Bassist Kyle Spark and drummer Mark Raudabaugh have jazz backgrounds.

Donna the Buffalo’s avid, dancing-frenzied followers form the “Herd.” Fans of various generations and professions drive or fly across the country, to gather and hear the band. Puryear calls them a “family,” and throw-back to “explosive” Southern old-time music festivals that drew together entire counties. He said the band’s music reflects this celebratory joy. Nevins also values a “feeling of community … a powerful, positive force.” She told The Tribune years ago the fan loyalty is “incredible, amazing. “They’re positive people. They’re passionate — up for the moment, ready to spread good energy.”

Nevins added that “Music is a language. When the audience understands the language and responds accordingly, it’s powerful both for the audience and band. You’re aware of the exchange the whole time, no matter how hard you’re concentrating (on playing the tunes). You feel the energy. When it’s really happening, it feels like everyone is one. It feels like a pure celebration of life, almost a religious experience. It touches you. That’s why we fall in love. It’s a color that strikes us.”

The band tours extensively (110 live shows a year), known for its old, stark school bus. They drove a 1953 then a ’61 bus which had benches, foam mattresses and a hot stove but no bathroom nor sink. Nevins often stews vegetables and hot tea while on the road.

The group emerged by winning the 1999 Association for Independent Music Award for best rock album for Rockin’ n the Weary Land, and has built a following through the New Millennium. Its 10th and latest CD (Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday) came out last summer.

The lyrical themes of brotherhood and love easing hard times are once again very timely, in an era of economic challenges and rising terrorism threats and accompanying cultural tensions. “Those themes speak very loudly,” Nevins said a dozen years ago, in words still urgent. Puryear in “Times are Bad” hails the nation’s “vision of greatness” and an inward “spiritual solution.”

Another earlier hit is Nevin’s up-tempo “Living in Babylon”: “…The light in your eyes like a sound in the dark, leaves a trail of mystery with its own spark. Waiting for a moment to ease your stride; your are living in Babylon with nowhere to hide.”

Puryear sings in “Do it for Love” that “Life is short, but it’s long enough to lose your way. If you’re gonna do it, do it for love…with a living spark, with your spirit in mind and the truth in your heart.”

To reach the festival take I-40’s exit 59 east of Asheville. For schedule and tickets, call 686-8742 or check

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