Buffaloes on the Road: Berklee Band Plays Major Canadian Festival
In July 2015, a band van rolls into the Osheaga Festival in Parc Jean Drapeau, a small island with vistas of where the Montreal skyline meets the St. Lawrence River. This site has, for the last 10 years, been home to this three-day music and art festival that draws well over 100,000 attendees.
The van pulls up to the artist-only entrance to let out Cordelia and the Buffalo, a band composed of current Berklee students and alumni who, from this moment on, will experience life as artists at a major festival: VIP passes, trailers, backstage schedules, festival swag, and, most importantly, a performance slot on Sunday, Osheaga’s final day.
On the way to Montreal, the band members’ excitement is palpable, but they are surprisingly calm when asked about the upcoming performance and sharing a bill with some of their favorite, established bands—the likes of Weezer, Kendrick Lamar, and the Black Keys. “We’ve been preparing for this for months now,” says singer Cordelia Vizcaino ’16, a dual major in electronic production and design (EPD) and professional music. The other band members look on from their respective van seats, nodding as she continues, saying, “It’s like that feeling of being fully and completely prepared for a test. At that moment, you can turn it on and relax and enjoy the moment.”
Bassist Dan McCallum ’15, who majored in performance, chimes in, saying that it’s about reaching that “perfect harmony between having a total blast and also being extremely serious about really giving this 100 percent. But you can’t have one without the other.”
Hearing the Herd
The band is the brainchild of Vizcaino, and its anthemic indie rock sound comes with a distinct international flair (the band’s five members’ international roots extend to Japan, Mexico, the U.S., Venezuela, and Norway). Vizcaino has a deep connection to her Mexican heritage, particularly native cultures, saying that Aztec and Mayan tribes used music to “portray their spirit and their life.” She seeks a similar symbiotic relationship in her own music, which combines rock instrumentation with traditional Olmec and Aztec instruments such as the ayoyotl (a jingling instrument made from seed pods) and huehuetl (a type of drum), a fusion of styles that can be heard on a track such as “Take It Up a Notch.”
Listen to Cordelia and the Buffalo's "Take It Up a Notch."
The road to Osheaga was much longer than the 300 miles between Boston and Montreal. In fact, it began almost a year ago when Jeff Dorenfeld, professor of music business/management and founder of the new Berklee Popular Music Institute (BPMI), chose Vizcaino’s band as a featured group for the 2014-15 academic year on Heavy Rotation Records (HRR), the student-run label Dorenfeld has overseen for the last 17 years. In years past, Dorenfeld has taken standout acts featured by HRR, paired them with music business students, and sent them to major concert festivals such as Lollapalooza, CMJ, and South by Southwest (SXSW). With the recent addition of Jeff Apruzzese ‘08, the former bassist for Passion Pit, as media and operations manager, the new institute seeks to formalize—and maximize—that immersive experience by sending pairings to six major festivals each summer.
BPMI is essentially built around an annual cycle that begins by putting artists together with music business students and booking performance slots at major festivals. Between the pairings and the festival date the following summer, each student puts into practice what they’ve been learning at Berklee, from contracts and the craft of performance to website/digital presence work and recording.
In the past, Dorenfeld has noticed that artists tend to feel daunted by the prospect of going out onto the festival stage, but he says, “Every band has become better from the whole experience. They step off the stage with more confidence, better playing, and the realization that this is something they can pursue.”
Beyond Living the Dream
Certainly, Dorenfeld’s observation rings true in the case of Cordelia and the Buffalo. By the time of the Osheaga performance, the band draws hundreds of festivalgoers, some of whom the band had already met in its short time at the festival, and many other intrigued passersby are drawn into the whole set. After hours of riding in a van (with Apruzzese driving and sharing bits of wisdom he has gleaned from years of touring) and logging its biggest show to date, you can sense that the members have already reached a deeper understanding of what it means to be a band at an internationally significant festival. And while a typical fan might see a festival band and think that this is the culmination of a childhood dream, the players themselves have a longer vision. “When I was a teenager, all the things I thought would involve being a professional musician have already happened,” says guitarist Rodrigo Gramitto ‘17. “And I’m so grateful that they have, because now I have much bigger goals…far greater than I ever thought I would pursue.”
Watch Cordelia and the Buffalo perform "Free" live at Berklee.