Daniel Donato: 24-Hour Cosmic Country

Alex H. Krinsky on June 10, 2022
Daniel Donato: 24-Hour Cosmic Country

“The first song I really loved on the guitar was ‘Jessica,’” Daniel Donato says, while thinking back to his nascent days learning how to play his axe in Nashville. “I remember thinking to myself: ‘If I could play that song, it would feel like I’m flying. It would feel like I can do something that humans can’t naturally do.’”

These days, the 27-year-old, Music City-based guitarist has been given quite a few opportunities to have those elevated, out-of-body experiences—in front of thousands of fans no less. In March, Donato assumed guitar and vocal duties in Trouble No More, an Allman Brothers Band tribute act organized by the group’s longtime agent and C.J. Strock that features a new generation of ABB-adjacent musicians: Donato, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Dylan Niederauer, Jack Ryan, Lamar Williams Jr., Nikki Glaspie, Peter Levin and Roosevelt Collier.

“Here, we find ourselves, 13 years later, with Trouble No More dates in my Google calendar,” Donato says over a Zoom call from home—a few weeks after taping a Twitch session with his band at Relix’s New York studio and two hours before he is scheduled to head to the airport to make an appearance with Trouble No More in New Orleans around Jazz Fest.

Over the course of that decade-plus journey, Donato has had quite the ride. By age 16, he became the youngest musician to regularly play the iconic honky-tonk Robert’s Western World, gigging with the Don Kelley Band.

“They only did covers, but they were hyperintense and hyper-accurate. We would do a super fast, hard, clean style, like ‘The Old Home Place’ by Phish,” Donato says of the gig, which he scored after busking on lower Broadway in Nashville as a teenager. “It was a hundred-plus songs. So I got that gig, and we would play four hours a night, four nights a week. We would take two 15-minute breaks. And I played like 464 shows, to be approximate, with that dude.” 

Donato went on to perform with The Wild Feathers and Paul Cauthen, before forming his current outfit, Cosmic Country. “It’s both the light side of country and the dark side,” he says of the group’s moniker. “It’s a long black veil, which is miserably sad, but then it’s also ‘On the Road Again’ by Willie Nelson. It’s all simple—a hit straight to the heart. And the ‘cosmic’ side started emerging from my spirit as I got older, and I experienced a world outside of Robert’s.”

Donato then pulls out his guitar and shows what “cosmic” means without words. He quietly ponders the question in front of him, hums a tune and answers by playing. “If I’m hearing it and I don’t know where it’s coming from, then I can bring it here,” he says. “In Long Strange Trip, Jerry was talking about how the Grateful Dead was 24/7 for him. Cosmic Country is 24/7 for me, too. I have dreams of it; it’s fully in all layers of my being. It’s in my heart, my soul and my unconscious. It’s everywhere.”