Iconic Buffalo Springfield Stampedes Into Bonnaroo

Richie Furay knows a little something about miracles in his new career as a preacher.

A Buffalo Springfield reunion may not strictly qualify as a one. But like most folks he’d written off the possibility when the band famously flamed out in 1968, ending a short but incandescent run that would ripple through music for decades to come.

“People have asked me did I think The Buffalo Springfield would ever get back together again, and my answer was a short, ‘Never, it’s not gonna happen,'” Furay said in a phone interview last Saturday before the band’s soundcheck in Los Angeles. “That old saying, ‘Never say never,’ is true.”

The surviving members of the California quintet – Furay, Stephen Stills and Neil Young – will make their only festival appearance this year on Saturday at Bonnaroo, serving as a focal point for an event heavy on bands influenced by the folk- and country-rock pioneers.

Young first broached the idea of a reunion in a song, “Buffalo Springfield Again” from 2000’s Silver & Gold, and finally reached out personally last year to invite Furay and Stills to join him at his annual concert in October.

Fans cheered the reunion and, more importantly, the band enjoyed it. Over the years their relationships sometimes bore the lingering strain of that 1960s breakup. But not this time. Things were so much fun, they made plans for a six-date mini-tour in California to warm up for and have since announced a fall tour.

Photo: AP Photo
Day one of the Bridge School Benefit, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, Calif.

There’s a harmony these days that didn’t exist during the band’s revolving-door run from 1966-68.

“Nobody’s looking for a career move or anything,” Furay said. “This isn’t a career move. This is just a bunch of guys who played music together 40 years ago having fun, readdressing the music that we played, and there’s no agendas. … Man, it’s so much more relaxed and I am going to speak for Neil and for Stephen, we’re just having fun. There’s no reason to be doing this if everyone isn’t having fun and everyone’s having fun. We knew that back at the Bridge School. It was like stepping back in time.”

And it’s an exciting time to revisit. Buffalo Springfield held together just long enough to record one album together, one album apart and enough leftovers for a third.

In these few dozen tracks is a large portion of the DNA for today’s thriving folk- and country-rock scenes. Buffalo Springfield alongside groups like The Byrds helped meld sounds no one really thought belonged together at the time. Folk purists felt rock ‘n’ roll was abusive, and rock purists didn’t want to fluff up their music. And the country guys had no idea what to make of it all.

Buffalo Springfield – which originally included bassist Bruce Palmer and drummer Dewey Martin, who have both passed away – had just one big hit in its short run, but its commercial success was inverse to its influence. Tension in the band between Young and Stills and legal problems for Palmer led to the band’s split. Young and Stills went on to success as solo artists and together in Crosby, Stills, Nash & (sometimes) Young. Furay formed the influential country-rock band Poco with latter-day Springfield member Jim Messina before forming the nondenominational Calvary Chapel in Bloomfield, Colo.

The band entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Songs like the band’s biggest hit “For What It’s Worth,” ”Bluebird,” ”Mr. Soul” and the iconic “Broken Arrow,” performed live for the first time during the reunion, with their topical themes and open-hearted intent, still resonate with listeners today – perhaps as much as ever. The band lived during a politically tumultuous time and reappears in a time that feels just as stormy.

“Just the faces have changed,” said Furay, who now lives in Colorado.

The ideas and influences of Buffalo Springfield can be felt every year at Bonnaroo, an all-genre event that nevertheless has a soft spot for roots rock.

You could easily call bands like Mumford & Sons, My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, Ray LaMontagne, Old Crow Medicine Show and many others in the festival’s four-day lineup distant descendants of Buffalo Springfield.

Organizers of Bonnaroo, which kicks off Thursday, think it was a coup to land the reunited act’s only festival date. It also was another chance to look forward by looking back.

“I think Bonnaroo has always been about presenting not only sort of what is current and breaking but also artists that have influenced a lot of the music that our audience is listening to,” Bonnaroo co-creator Rick Farman of Superfly Productions said. “And there’s always been a thing within sort of the rock world of looking back at the sort of predecessors, the ones who created the pathways for the new artists and sort of putting them up on a pedestal to be experienced in that way.

Saturday night’s performance will be Young’s first return to Manchester since a scorching 2003 solo show that Farman and his friends place among the top five performances in the 10-year history of the festival.

“That was a transcendent moment for the festival for I think a lot of us who produce it personally and I think for the audience,” Farman said. “So, you know, having him back and having him in this configuration is really exciting.”

Photo: AP Photo
Fox Theater, Oakland, Calif.

Furay says it’s an exciting prospect for the band as well and perhaps just one in a long line of steps these old friends will take together. No one has committed to anything beyond the fall tour, but there are songs being written.

“We haven’t discussed, you know, ‘Hey, we’re going to sit down and we’re going to write 10 new songs,'” Furay said. “Neil’s so prolific anyway. Stephen told me the other day he had a song. I’ve been writing music. So I just think it’s obvious that something may transpire like that, it may come to pass.”