Buffalo Galaxy: the Limitless Far Reaches of Bluegrass
by Kara M. Bachman
When we think of the music of space, our minds instantly go to electronic music. It’s usually composed of soothing but altogether inhuman tones from New Age music or Space Music of the 1970s. We don’t usually connect the imagery of the cosmos to something as earth-rooted, organic, and emotive as bluegrass.
Minneapolis-based bluegrass outfit Buffalo Galaxy has redefined the space theme and used its spirit of expansiveness to describe the group’s work, which is highly human and firmly rooted in things of this immediate world.
For Buffalo Galaxy, the celestial references in their name and imagery aren’t about the universe’s endless, unknowable nature but about the infinite, unknowable possibilities of music.
Zach Tauer, the banjo player for Buffalo Galaxy, explained that the unique moniker arose when an image from “historic Americana music” – the buffalo – was combined with an acknowledgment of how much the band loves reaching far out and experimenting within the genre.
“The word ‘Galaxy’ describes the expansiveness, or potential, for the music,” Tauer said.
The unfettered possibilities of music first hit him hard when he picked up his first banjo about ten years ago.
“There was one Christmas when I asked for a banjo or mandolin,” he reminisced. His parents gave him a “cheap” instrument bought from Amazon. He loved it, but a final step needed to get him truly hooked.
“Then I bought a used Recording King banjo…and whoa!” It was much, much more fun. “I remember falling in love with that specific instrument,” he said.
The band’s current roster includes several significant festival dates this summer. Their debut record “New Escape” premiered in 2020, and they’ve built up to a schedule of approximately 60 dates a year, which isn’t bad considering how Covid-19 has decimated touring for most performers. They generally perform in the American west and midwest but are looking forward to perhaps adding some European dates in the future.
Tauer has the pleasure of plucking and strumming with a group of fellow instrumentalists, of which he thinks quite highly. Johnny Kovarik, on guitar, sings lead on most songs and is the primary writer for the group’s original music. “He’s a lefty and plays banjo, too,” Tauer added. Jacob Rohde provides the mandolin. “He used to be a drummer,” Tauer explained, “so it influences the rhythms.”
Bass player Pete Whiteman used to be in a jazz group, which Tauer said “spices up” their songs.
Buffalo Galaxy hopes to record new material before summer gets going strong and their days fill with travel to festivals and other gigs. They’ve got some studio dates on the calendar for early April at RiverRock Studios in Minneapolis. They hope to record 6 to 8 new songs for an album similar to “New Escape” with one main difference.
“Some parts will be more orchestrated; a lot of the instrumental spaces will be more figured out beforehand.” So the sonic space will embrace not a celestial emptiness but an expertly organized universe of sound that will stretch the limits and maybe push new boundaries for these young musicians.
Tauer hints at what the tone of some new music might be. When asked how the band’s Minneapolis home influences the music, he said there’s certainly a connection between this chilly season we’ve just had and upcoming new output.
“This winter’s been really cold,” he said. “And dark. And bleak. Some of that has come out in our songs …the introspective and dark period of winter.”
Buffalo Galaxy does what it can to warm all spaces it enters with the human touch of music, whether it’s the cold of a Minnesota winter or the wide freeze of space.