Who is Donna the Buffalo, and why does she keep following me?

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5/3/07 Beachland Ballroom,
Cleveland, OH

Setlist (unconfirmed, possibly incomplete)
America, Visitor, Family Picture, Blue Sky, These Are Better Days, Rockin' Horse, Funkyside, Beauty Within, No Place Like the Right Time, Riddle of the Universe, If You Only Could

Encore:This Goes

By Jon Winer

Donna The Buffalo and the Herd roamed Northeast Ohio last November, when DtB played a set for the 40th Kent State Folk Festival. On May 3, 2007, the eve of the 37th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, band and followers return to the area for a one-nighter at Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom.

I smell the diesel fumes and hear the muted rumble from the idling engine of Donna the Buffalo's well-worn lavender and gray tour bus, as I walk along Waterloo Road toward the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland's east-side Collinwood district. Inside, there is a buzz of anticipation as The Herd awaits the arrival onstage of Jeb Puryear, Tara Nevins, Tom Gilbert, Bill Reynolds and Kathy Ziegler.

At 10:25 p.m. Jeb walks casually across the stage upon which Robert Hunter, David Nelson, Bill Kirchen, Jim Lauderdale, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Chip Taylor, Rodney Crowell, Dave Alvin and Levon Helm have also walked. As the rest of the band settles into position, Jeb softly strums a few chords, and the opening song of a 2 1/2 hour set is underway. The ease with which the band plays music allows the audience to feel as though we have been invited to join them on their front porch in Ithaca, New York, for a neighborhood sing-along of old-time music. The Herd is perhaps a bit more clannish than the traditional Deadhead community, but the atmosphere at the show is reminiscent of a Grateful Dead concert. A Family Picture.

The sound of the current ensemble lacks some of the dual-guitar power and precision of the lineup which included Jim Miller, but overall feels quite complete, nonetheless. Tara Nevins stops the second song due to feedback in the monitors, but after a restart, the band begins to hit their stride. With a few more songs under their belts, Tara is smiling broadly, and the Herd is moving like a sea of migratory mammals, bobbing in the rolling wake of a passing ship.

There is No Place Like the Right Time, and the Beachland Ballroom is a place to contemplate the Riddle of the Universe. Life can be simple and still be hard, the band reminds me. Life can be complicated and still be hard, I insist. These Are Better Days, the band suggests. If You Only Could hear the voice of truth. And so it goes.

During the final verse of the encore, This Goes, I see in the faces of each band member the memories of someone they loved. I have not solved the Riddle of the Universe, but I know why I came to see Donna the Buffalo.

At 1:00 a.m. the final echoes of the last notes of the song recede into the walls that have absorbed the notes of a thousand other performances. It's A New Day. Tonight the band performs in Chicago, 350 miles to the west. Life's A Ride.

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