Being in the right place at the right time meant traveling more than 900 miles from home for the Steam Donkeys. It was worth the mileage.
On Memorial Day weekend, the Buffalo country-rock band was one of three groups at an Atlanta club during the annual Bubbapalooza Festival, a gathering of fringe and progressive country bands. Turns out there were plenty of record company folks in the audience, and all three bands were signed to contracts.
"It was kind of bizarre," recalls drummer Joe Kross of the night that resulted in the Steam Donkeys' deal with Landslide Records. "We had to drive 900 miles to get into that situation."
For Kross, that journey actually began in Bermuda, where he was living a comfortable life performing on cruise ships before being lured away by singer-guitarist Buck Quigley. "It was an easy decision to make," Kross says about joining the Steam Donkeys. "I started playing with the band because of Buck. I really dug his songwriting."
As lucky as that night in Atlanta may seem, it was the result of a hardworking plan that has Kross, Quigley, fiddle player Doug Moody and guitarist Charlie Quill spending about 75 percent of their weekends out of town performing in North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida and Washington, D.C.
"If you play original music, there are only so many times you can play your hometown before people get sick of it," Kross says. "You have to get in the van and drive around the country. You just can't play Buffalo and go to New York City once every couple of months. You have to play clubs that are influential in the style of music you're playing."
The Landslide Records deal resulted in the re-release of the group's debut CD. "Cosmic Americana" (produced by Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls) is now being heard on at least 40 radio stations nationwide that carry the limited "Americana" format.
"People used to describe us as cow-punk. It was garage rock musicians discovering country music, essentially the Sex Pistols playing Johnny Cash," Kross says. "Now the band has developed a smoother sound that's more radio-accessible."
The Steam Donkeys have become an important part of the Americana community. Kross proudly puts his band on the country side of the burgeoning genre. "We flat-out tell people we're country, we're honky-tonk. It's a lot of dancing, a lot of beer and a lot of good times. We want people to get up and have a good time."
Upcoming: 11 tonight at Mohawk Place, with the Pine Dogs.
For information: Write P.O. Box 1241, Buffalo, N.Y. 14213.
Web site: www.wnywebshop.com/donkey1.htm
LOCAL RECORD PICK
"Hang On," Tom Stahl. There's no denying Tom Stahl's strengths as a sensitive solo acoustic guitarist. But the singer-songwriter's decision to work with a band allows him the flexibility to take his music into places he couldn't reach alone. He gives the fan favorite "Ignorant" a surprisingly rambunctious treatment in a pop-punk vein. "Hang On" may start out like classic Stahl, but guest violinist Geoffrey Fitzhugh Perry adds a delicate mournfulness to the already touching number. A song made for dancing goes by the unlikely title of "Hitler Inspired Satan Song." Stahl's love songs to his family are tender, heartwarming pieces.
-- Toni Ruberto