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Even after 20 years fronting Donna the Buffalo, Tara Nevins said she can't imagine doing anything else.

"We never thought about the future when we started doing it," the co-lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist said of the band's 1989 formation near Ithaca, N.Y. "We just started doing it, and here we are, 21 years later.

"It's pretty awesome, really."

Tonight, members of the band are returning to the stage at Merlefest, their frequent stomping grounds. Thursday, the eclectic roots/folk rock quintet will share the stage at Rhythm & Brews with Nashville's bluegrass giants The Infamous Stringdusters.

With the exception of a handful of albums released on Sugar Hill Records, Donna the Buffalo has avoided securing ties with major record labels. That self-reliant approach to the music has been a boon in recent years as label support has diminished, Nevins said.

"We definitely feel like we're in control and working for ourselves. It's our deal," she said. "There are so many bands that are struggling, and we're pretty fortunate."

Nevins comprises half the vocal forefront of the band, alongside fellow founder Jed Puryear. Nevins' stylistic flexibility combines with Puryear's more traditional singer/songwriter sensibilities to fit an overall sound that carries traces of everything from reggae and zydeco to somber ballads.

Over the years, the band has engaged itself with its community and has developed a strong cult following: the self-proclaimed Herd.

"We're ... a really grassroots operation," Nevins said. "We built everything up from the ground up. I think that's kind of what makes it able to work."

RELATED LINKS FOR WEB

http://www.donnathebuffalo.com

Contributed Photo

Donna the Buffalo are Tara Nevins (vocals/multi-instrumentalist), Jeb Puryear (vocals/guitar), Dave McCracken (keys), Kyle Sparks (bass) and Vic Stafford (drums).

IF YOU GO

* What: Donna the Buffalo and The Infamous Stringdusters in concert.

* When: 10 p.m. Thursday.

* Where: Rhythm & Brews, 221 Market St.

* Admission: $15.

* Phone: 267-4644.

* Venue website: www.rhythm-brews.com.

* Related links at fyi.timesfreepress.com.

DISCOGRAPHY

1993: "Donna the Buffalo"

1996: "The Ones You Love"

1998: "Rockin' in the Weary Land"

2000: "Positive Friction"

2002: "Live From the American Ballroom"

2005: "Life's a Ride"

2006: "The Red Tape"

2008: "Silverlined"

WHAT'S NEXT?

Now two years since Donna the Buffalo's last release, "Silverlined," the New York-based folk/roots musicians have plans for a follow-up and are writing material but have set no dates for the project thus far, said lead singer Tara Nevins.

"We definitely feel like we're in control and working for ourselves. It's our deal. It's our own well-oiled machine, in a way." -- Donna the Buffalo lead singer Tara Nevins on the benefits of independence

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