I first heard of the Buffalo Gals through their facebook page, and was intrigued enough by the snippets of American musical history and dance to go along to their recent gig during the Frome Festival.
As I headed into the delightful old Archangel pub ready to enjoy one of the evening’s many offerings – I was greeted by a full house of Frome Festival enthusiasts, filling every corner of the bar and courtyard garden.
I was anticipating a night of American Old-Time String Band tunes but was totally unprepared for the sheer diversity of styles in this increasingly popular genre of Americana. From hard-driving traditional dance tunes to obscure string-band novelties the band delighted its multi-generational audience with their passionate delivery of the soaring ‘Eliza’s Farewell’, a dance number which typifies the ‘high lonesome’ sound so associated with Bluegrass. Headed up by unexpectedly funny front-woman, multi-talented fiddle player and lead singer Kate Lissauer, the audience surrendered immediately to Kate’s charming banter and the rhythms and harmonies of ‘I’m a Wild and Restless Cowboy from the West’.
Buffalo Gals percussion is provided by one woman’s feet (I kid you not) which provides a hypnotic and seriously impressive rhythm. Known as ‘Appalachian step-dance’ or ‘clogging’, dancer Sibylle ‘Sibs’ Riesen’s syncopated dancing, on a portable wooden board, punctuated the music throughout the evening and before long most of the increasingly enthusiastic crowd were up and dancing for themselves. When the band returned from their break the musicians weren’t even required for the first few minutes as the second set was opened by a solo a capella dance from this petite but powerful lady.
In addition to being blown away by the range of styles covered within the Buffalo Gals evening, you cannot fail to be impressed by the multi-skilled nature of all the band members. Lead vocals were shared between Kate, the band’s banjo player and raunchy blues-voiced Sue ‘Sooz’ Clare. Sooz also wrote several of the numbers and was part of the mad trio’s ‘Whoopie Song’ and ‘Doodad’. I am at loss to explain the meaning of the ‘Doodad’ song but suffice to say it involved yodelling and produced loud cheering from the crowd. The whole band, typical of the very friendly nature of Frome Festival, stayed behind to soak up the remainder of this warm summer’s evening; happily chatting to their fans in the Archangel’s charming courtyard. In conversation, Johnny the banjo man summed it up like this: “It’s great to have so many young people enjoying the energy of old-time American music; even if they’ve never heard of it before they can feel what it is about and as we get older our crowds are getting younger because this scene is growing now. We love playing here; Frome has to be the place to play for us. It’s our second year of starting the festival in this venue and again it has been a really memorable night.” I’ll second that, Gals!