Briana's Album Cover
As a Supernatural fan, I'm pretty fortunate. I live within driving distance of Los Angeles and the local Supernatural cast members like to create cool opportunities for us to come together. I have attended a book reading by Misha Collins, an album release party by Louden Swain, and a charity walk with Lauren Tom and Osric Chau. I am deeply appreciative of those opportunities. That being said, I don’t drive out to Los Angeles on weeknights. Jesus Christ could show up in Culver City on a Monday doing a water walking demonstration and I’d be like…meh. I’ll watch the livestream. However, last night was an exception. Last night’s was Briana Buckmaster’s first solo show in support of her first album, Begin.
Briana plays Sheriff Donna Hanscum on Supernatural and is one of the driving forces behind the Wayward AF fan movement. Wayward AF is a movement that encourages fans (women fans in particular have championed the movement) to value themselves, express themselves, and work towards their dreams. So I wanted to be there when Briana made one of her dreams come true. So after work, I made the trek to The Hotel Café in Hollywood. Spending the evening with Briana onstage and my Supernatural family in the audience turned out to be a great decision. I rode out sleepiness the next day at work with a smile on my face.
Let’s start with Briana’s stage presence. If you have never met Briana, here’s the best way I can describe it:
Briana Buckmaster is the kind of woman that reminds you of your lady queerness. She walks into the room, and you’re like…oh right. I’m super queer. Brianna has confident, comfortable in her own skin, grownass woman swagger. Combine that with her huge heart and irreverent sense of humor, and you have a potent combination of outrageously sexy. When my straight sister saw Briana for the first time at a Supernatural convention, she messaged me something like “Holy Lord I’m in love with Briana Buckmaster. Wait am I gay?” To this day if you bring it up she'll wax poetic about how Brianna looked in jeans.
If you only know Briana as Donna Hanscum, it might take you by surprise at first. Donna Hanscum is an endearingly sweet, brave, and goofy character, but she was not meant to be sexy. That is evident in her first episode in season 9, called The Purge. When we meet Donna, her confidence has just taken a hit. She is still smarting from being dumped by a boyfriend who was critical of her weight. She runs into the boys at a spa where she is taking part in a weight loss program. Now, Briana is a very thin woman by our mortal standards, but you know, Hollywood. Fast forward to season 13 in the Wayward Sisters episode, the show has let some of that sexy badassery shine through. When Sheriff Hanscum pulls up in her pickup truck to save the day in jeans and a pony tail carrying a cache of weapons, a wink, and a smile, gay women everywhere swooned.
But regardless of what you have seen on screen, nothing really prepares you for full strength Briana. She’s a force of nature. That makes her a charismatic stage presence, which served her live show beautifully. But what about her voice? Singing one or two songs sporadically at Supernatural conventions is one thing. Doing an entire set and being able to carry the show is another thing. Briana, with a little help from her friends, did just that. Briana has a bluesy voice that is powerful and vulnerable. She calls it a ‘whiskey voice’. Think Alannah Myles crossed with Bonnie Raitt. I’m no Rolling Stone reviewer, but they would probably categorize her as ‘blue eyed soul’.
Briana opened with the scorching, “Do I Move You”, which was originally written and performed by Nina Simone. Bold move. Nina Simone is one of the greatest musical artists of our time, and there is risk inherent in covering someone like that. We’ve all seen singing competitions where perfectly talented singers try an iconic song by an iconic performer and it ends up feeling like karaoke. Briana avoided that pitfall by not trying to copy Nina Simone. She tweaked the song and made it her own. She pulled the straps of her blouse off of her shoulders to riotous applause, and poured her entire self into a mischievous and spirited version of the song. It was a great choice to warm up the crowd.
From there, the show was consistently engaging and filled with songs that reached out and grabbed you. Better Than That, written by Suzanne Santo, was one of the standouts of the night. It was the kind of song that makes you ache and remember falling in love. During that entire number, the audience was eating out of the palm of Briana’s hand.
Olive Branch, a duet written by and performed with Rob Benedict, was another special one. Rob plays the prophet Chuck / God on Supernatural. He is a musician’s musician, having performed for over twenty years with his indie rock band Louden Swain. He can write, arrange, produce, play multiple instruments, sing his ass off, and perform like a boss. He is the real deal, and Olive Branch is a folksy, catchy as hell song. We were all stomping our feet and having a great time.
Briana did another duet later, but this time with Jason Manns. Jason is a solo artist, member of Station Breaks, and producer of Briana’s album. Briana explained onstage that she had felt the album needed a nineties power ballad duet. And that is what Have a Little Faith in Me was, which means it was a soaring crowd pleaser.
Another noteworthy performance was “How Will I Know”, originally performed by Whitney Houston. Again, when you cover legends like Whitney Houston and Nina Simone, it is critical that you don’t try to copy their arrangements or styles. Briana’s arrangement of “How Will I Know” was a yearning ballad. It was bittersweet and moving, and did its own wonderful thing.
And rounding it all off was the delight of being in an audience that is happy to be there together. Notable Supernatural family that came out to support Briana included Kim Rhodes, Ruthie O’Connell, Gil McKinney, and Bobo Berens. It was heartwarming to see the friendships that have formed among the cast members. It also felt good that our fandom has played such a critical part in something this special.
I think it is safe to say that Briana’s album was born at Supernatural conventions. Supernatural conventions typically consist of two nights of music: karaoke night on Friday, and a Louden Swain concert on a Saturday. Cast members show up to sing with the fans on Fridays and to sing with Louden Swain on Saturdays. Our riotous support has resulted in several cast members saying that they have recaptured or refocused on their love of music. Also, they get to share their love of music with each other and meet the experienced and kind musicians of Louden Swain. Undoubtedly the enthusiastic fan support of Briana’s singing paired with Rob Benedict/Louden Swain’s generosity of spirit, encouraged Briana to record an album. She started a Kickstarter to support the album and it was funded in twenty hours. It eventually took in over double its original goal of $20k. We all got to accomplish something beautiful together. What could be better than that?
The last song featured Briana with Station Breaks singing a rousing rendition of the Beatles ‘Come Together’. People all over the dark bar had arms around one another and were shouting the lyrics together. It was a sweet moment and the perfect way to end the night. I know we have a lot more to look forward to from Briana as a singer. I for one, can’t wait. And if you have a chance to see her live, you won't regret it. You can buy her album ‘Begin’ on cdbaby, itunes, amazon, and pretty much everywhere else you buy your music. You can find Briana on twitter here.
And to talk fandom with me, join me on my closed Facebook group for Supernatural and Wayward Sisters fans or catch me on the podcast, Geeky Girls Night In. I’m also on twitter shouting about Supernatural among other geeky stuff.
Photo from Briana's Kickstarter for Begin