Donna the Buffalo played in Washington, D.C. during the wintry throes of January, an opportune time for them to visit. Their upbeat music brings electric warmth by way of folk, bluegrass, and reggae-style rock. Making a guest appearance for the group in the absence of keyboardist David McKracken was multi-instrumentalist Sam Fribush, of Greensboro, North Carolina. Thanks to a mutual friend of mine, I was introduced to Sam before the show. After speaking with him, he asked whether our group was able to bring a beer up to the stage for him as the band came on. Naturally, we obliged. The funny thing is, Fribush didn’t even manage to grab the glass until three or four songs in. Instead, he came out guns-a-blazing.
Prior to the show, I was familiar with but three of Donna the Buffalo’s songs. Some of their amiable tunes have the capability to inspire and encourage; other songs pleasurably lull the listener into a more at-ease state of positivity. Their opener at the Hamilton was the old timey Woody Pines – more or less fitting considering the venue, which is an ornate and dimly lit environment. The colonial namesake imbues the space with an authentic vibe. But when Donna came on, opening with the funky, string dominated track, “Moving On,” the environment took on a new energy. Fribush immediately proved himself, delivering a searing hot solo on the organ. Lead guitarist Jeb Puryear even looked on with cheerful satisfaction, appearing slightly bemused. His strummed chords syncopated well against the reverberating sound of the organ. Fribush seemed to be a good match for the ensemble.
Several songs and some odd instrument rotations later, Fribush was still at it. By this point – maybe forty minutes in – Puryear was nodding along with near-reckless abandon. It was an excellent sight to see: the youthful talent had won approval from the visionary. Meanwhile, fellow lead Tara Nevins stood to Puryear’s left, cycling through instruments with masterful gusto. At last, some of Fribush’s beer had dissipated, but the show was just getting started. Donna ended up playing a full, twenty-song set as the venue’s capacity remained healthy. As part of “If You Only Could,” Fribush capitalized on another solo opportunity. With his right hand held steady, the left traversed the remainder of the keys furiously. Not a single finger remained still – Puryear and Nevins were no exception.
The show came to an end about a quarter until midnight. Donna the Buffalo had played continuously for an impressive three-hour period. Fribush was all smiles as my friends and I reunited with him, congratulating him on a job well done. He mentioned that he would be joining the band for more shows the next month in New York and Pennsylvania. Though I was unable to get a chance to meet the rest of Donna the Buffalo’s core members, their expressions during the performance were easy to interpret: the guest keyboardist had delivered. His past résumé consisting of acts with Anders Osborne, Lake Street Dive, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, I’m confident that Fribush will go on to do the same for many more.
Check out more from Donna the Buffalo here: