Logo: Susquehanna Folk Music Society
Central Pennsylvania's grass-roots voice for folk music and dance!

WXPN Welcomes Buffalo Nichols

Thursday, January 5, 2023 7:30 pm at The Englewood in Hershey

About This Event:

“Part of my intent... is putting more Black stories into the genres of folk and blues. ...I want more Black people to hear themselves in this music that is truly theirs.”

Buffalo Nichols

photo by Jackie Lee Young

“Part of my intent... is putting more Black stories into the genres of folk and blues. ...I want more Black people to hear themselves in this music that is truly theirs.”

Guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist Carl “Buffalo” Nichols combines virtuosic blues guitar playing, rich lyricism and frank observations, offering perspectives that nudge the narrative past stereotypes of culture, color and class.

Nichols has always looked for connection between the music of the past and the people of the future. For him, this is the missing link: Black stories aren’t being told responsibly in the genre anymore. To begin changing that, Buffalo Nichols is telling his own story in the right way. Making space for Black voices, Black stories and Black listeners is a step toward an American culture where "folkways" reflect all folks.

Raised in a predominantly Black section of Milwaukee, Nichols grew up with a fascination for the guitar and for the blues. He spent countless hours combing through his family's music collections, listening to songs over and over, learning the riffs as well as the way the music told stories.

Traveling in Europe and West Africa as a young man, Nichols gained a new perspective on his own place in the blues and on the music's place in America. While often feeling joyful, even triumphant, the blues is an expression of the anger, heartbreak and horror experienced daily by Black Americans. The music of Black Americans needs to tell Black stories. And whether it's an old recording or a fresh new song, the music needs a connection to contemporary life.

Buffalo Nichols
Buffalo Nichols
Buffalo Nichols
Buffalo Nichols

photo by Dustin Cohen

Since his earliest infatuations with guitar, Buffalo Nichols has asked himself the same question: How can I bring the blues of the past into the future? After cutting his teeth between a Baptist church and bars in Milwaukee, it was a globetrotting trip through West Africa and Europe during a creative down period that began to reveal the answer.

Born in Houston and raised in Milwaukee’s predominantly Black North end, the guitar was Nichols’ saving grace as a young man. The instrument captured his fascination, and provided him with an outlet for self-expression and discovery in isolation. While other children chased stardom on the field, court, or classroom, Nichols took to his mother and siblings’ music collections, searching feverishly for riffs to pick out on his instrument.

Sometimes, this dedication meant listening to a song two hundred times in order to wrap his mind around a chord. As a teenager, it even routinely meant staying home from school to get extra practice.

It would’ve required a more than arduous journey across town to find a secular circle to jam with in a city still reeling from redlining and segregation, so despite a lack of a religious upbringing, Nichols went sacred. A friend invited the teenage guitarist to church for a gig and the opportunity proved to be Nichols’ much-needed breakthrough to music circles in the area. But over the following years, he began to feel overextended, and abandoned the demanding grind of a supporting role in nearly ten Milwaukee scene bands, none of which bore his vision as a lead performer. “I was happy with all the stuff that I was doing, and I was learning, but I wasn’t playing anything that was very creatively fulfilling,” Nichols says. “I needed the time and space. I was overwhelmed.”

Stints in college and in the workforce led him overseas, where the appreciation of African-American folkways lit a renewed spark in Nichols. It was the bustling of jazz in places like the working class areas of Ukraine, or in Berlin cafes where expatriate Black Americans routinely treat fans to an enchanting evening of blues, that would lead to his a-ha moment. Nichols returned home to America, meditating on his own place in the music that holds the country’s truest values and rawest emotions between bar and measure. “Before this trip, it was hard for me to find that link between all these blues records I heard and people who are living right now. I figured out it’s not a huge commercial thing, but it still has value. So, I came home and started playing the blues more seriously, doing stuff with just me and my guitar,” Nichols says.

Buffalo Nichols

photo by Dustin Cohen

Nichols admits that anger and pain are realities that color the conversations and the autobiographical anecdotes behind his observational, narrative-based approach to songwriting. However, with his lyricism on Buffalo Nichols, he intends to provide a perspective that doesn’t lean heavily into stereotypes, generalizations or microaggressions regarding race, class and culture.

The album sees Nichols wrestling with prescient topics, such as empathy and forgiveness on the poignant, ever-building melody of “How to Love;” regret and loss on moving, violin-inflected “These Things;” and the pitfalls of lives lived too close to the edge on the smooth, dynamic “Back on Top.”

At the forefront of each song is Nichols’ rich voice and evocative, virtuosic guitar-playing, augmented on half of the nine tracks by a simple, cadent drum line.

On the tender, aching album opener and lead single “Lost & Lonesome,” he gives listeners what he describes as a “glimpse into the mind of that traveler looking for a friend and a place to call home.” Inspired by his years traveling alone, looking for a place for his passions to fit in, even if temporarily, the track is an ode to exploration and the creative ingenuity of isolation.

While acknowledging the joy, exuberance and triumph contained in the blues, Nichols looks intently at the genre’s origins, which harken back to complicated and dire circumstances for Black Americans.

Buffalo Nichols

photo by Dustin Cohen

With this in mind, Nichols says there is a missing link, which he’s often used as a compass: Black stories aren’t being told responsibly in the genre anymore. To begin changing that, Buffalo Nichols gets the chance to tell his own story in the right way.

Tickets

Concert: 7:30 pm Doors: 6:30 pm US Eastern Time

General ticket info

Venues

The Englewood

1219 West End Ave, Hummelstown, PA 17036

COVID Safety Policy

For SFMS events, we follow CDC recommendations on the event date, adding any additional precautions required by the venue or the artist. Details on our COVID policy page.

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