Buffalo Strange has been consistently bringing a bouncy blend of folk, reggae and jazz to watering holes, festivals and venues, such as Skipper’s Smokehouse, in and around Tampa Bay for several years. Formed in 1999 by flutist, guitarist, songwriter Rob Pieniak and his wife Taju, the band now boasts a strong local following and mailing list of 400 people. Since the release of their 1999 self-titled, independent debut disc, Buffalo Strange has undergone several personnel changes. Pieniak and wife Taju are currently supported by lead guitarist Al Morgan, bassist Howard Shirley, drummer Jack Frederick, and saxophonist and keyboardist Juan Montero.

“The CD is old, it’s a little more mellow than what we are in a live presentation” said Pieniak at The Undertow in St. Petersburg.The clean-shaven, 33-year-old father of two is sporting leather sandals, a purple bandana, cargo shorts and a v-cut print shirt straight from The Summer of Love. He pulls out a chair for his wife of six years as she approaches the table. Neither appear old enough to have two children or more than three decades of living under their belts.

The couple and their musical cohorts will play for approximately four hours, just as they do every Saturday night, at this crowded bar that faces the warm, Gulf of Mexico waters. Along with positive-message laced originals, the band will also attempt to boost the crowd’s spirits with Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Grateful Dead covers. One of the highlights of the band’s performances is Pieniak’s flute solos.

“A friend of mine actually had a flute on his wall as decoration,” Pieniak said. “I was like, ‘Don’t you ever use that?’ He sold it to me for $35, and I just taught myself how to play it.”

In addition to the band’s inspired playing, audience members are also treated to Taju’s belly dancing.

“A friend who was staying with us taught me,” Taju said. “She had six sisters that all were belly dancers. I’ve just always loved to dance and see music (performed live).”

The band’s following is made up of an eclectic congregation of individuals. Homemade jewelry, clothes and glass “tobacco” pipes are regularly sold at shows. Rob and Taju said people are drawn both to the music itself and to the message they espouse on stage through their lyrics and upbeat melodies.

“It’s the vibration presented, the combination of both the music and message,” said Pieniak. “You have to have a vibration that is coming from the stage to the people. The music we’re playing is positive, which is why we attract a wide gamut of people: old young, alternative, conservative … (our music) caters to everybody.”

One of the major problems they would like to see their music help alleviate is the expanding gaps between races.

“What has happened since Sept. 11 has created more racism,” emphasized Pieniak. “That’s a big issue that needs to be addressed. We need to open our consciousness to the fact that because someone is Muslim does not necessarily mean that they are evil. There’s all kinds of religions that have all had their bloody day.”

Pieniak sees music as a way of connecting with people and having a positive effect on them.

“True leaders are not voted into office,” said Pieniak. “True leaders just exist. Ghandi and Martin Luther King are prime examples of that. I look at musicians as those leaders as well – they are presenting a vibration that is healing to the planet and the great ones like Bob Marley, John Lennon, Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan attract thousands of thousands of people show after show after show.”

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  • Buffalo Strange will be playing the Rainbow Gathering Benefit with Strange, Southern Lights and Positively Feb. 5, at skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, 8p.m.; $5 ($3 with donation of food or camping gear); (813) 971-0666.