At home in White Bluff, TN, 30 miles west of downtown Nashville but feeling a world away, Daniel Donato cherishes time in his self-described “quiet cosmic cabin.” Buying a home is one of the highlights of his past year—a year that had a lot of notable highlights.

But even in sleepy White Bluff, where Donato laughs that he might be the only person under 50 living there, it’s a conditional relaxation. “I really have kind of surrendered to fact that there’s no time off. It’s just like, it’s time less on,” he says. “You kind of have this time not off, but you have this time where you can get some space and like integrate all of this information that life’s been trying to show you. But there’s never really gonna be time off. Like hopefully there’s not ever. I don’t like stagnant. I don’t do well with it.”

That doesn’t appear to be a problem for Donato anytime soon as he kicks off a string of festivals with an appearance at Rooster Walk in Axton, VA (more on that later). For the past year-plus, he has been a man in constant motion. Since his record Cosmic Country and Western Songs came out in September 2021, Donato’s career has been moving forward steadily. He’s played more than 200 shows, including a bucket-list set with Bill Kreutzmann in New Orleans during  Jazz Fest, and a gig opening for Widespread Panic where he later joined the band for a two-song encore.

A new album, set for late October, is already in the works, with a first single due out June 20th followed by a handful more songs throughout the summer. Social media is absolutely lit up with videos of him shredding. The live music world is starting to take notice.

When Donato is asked if it feels like he is riding a rocket, he compares his recent months to a more classic, manually stoked mode of transportation. “It feels more like a train than a rocket,” he laughs. “I do feel that the train at some point can turn into a rocket, but right now it’s still a lot of work. Pouring coal into the train daily, you know? But we are in motion … so it’s all good.”

The Physical and the Spiritual

The train metaphor works well for Donato because he is actively driving the engine and adding passenger cars as he stops at station after station, picking up new fans. At 28 years old, he has been playing professionally for a dozen years now, and he says he has internalized the natural rhythms of the music business.

“I feel the flow of this now,” Donato says. “When it’s time to write, when it’s time to cut records, when it’s time to tour, when it’s time to do festival season, when it’s time to be home and go hiking and just do all those things. I think that’s what Trey [Anastasio] was always talking about—surrender to the flow. When you play music, like your life literally is just flow on some level.”

Donato is also enjoying the exchange that happens when he puts his heart and soul into the world and the world responds in kind. He has met a lot of famous musicians recently, and while that fulfills his dreams, he’s loving the purity of interacting with his growing legion of fans.

“That’s also a very fun part of the trip—anyone who’s there for the love of it, I’m very happy to meet,” Donato says. “Love is the realest thing. It’s even more real than music. And the music is an expression of that love, and therefore, live experiences are a vehicle for that love.

“These eternal ideals have become very apparent to me in the past year,” he continues. “They’ve always been there, but they, they weren’t as apparent to me, you know? It’s like we’re musically growing, but it’s also a spiritual growth that’s happening in each show, which is like just the biggest gift in the world.”

Eyes on the Prize

While the pleasures of playing music keep him energized, Donato is laser-focused on his ambitions. He’d love to play a couple of nights at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, followed by recording a live set at Robert’s Western World, the legendary venue right across the alley from the Ryman. “It would be so cool to sell out the Ryman,” he says. “That would satiate my dreams that I developed when I was a little teenager busking on the street in front of it.”

From Busking On The Street To The Ryman // A Cosmic Country Story // Daniel Donato

Long-term, Donato can see a future where he plays the sheds spring, summer, and fall, and arenas in the winter. Maybe even hosts his own festival—”Camp Cosmic.” In the meantime, he is continuing to hone his craft with authenticity as his guiding principle. Donato and his band use a workmanlike approach, reviewing videos of their live performances like a sports team watches game film, looking for ways to improve.

It’s the combination of goal-oriented professionalism and a desire to bring light into the world that makes Donato an artist to watch closely.

“Every goal I have that is quantifiable is backed up by this real intention of just wanting to keep growing and aging with grace and truth in my music,” Donato says. “I just want to keep getting truth, beauty, and goodness in my music as I keep growing.”

Rooster Walk: The Dawn of Festival Season

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of summer, better known as festival season. Donato will dive into the season with three sets at Rooster Walk in Axton, VA—two sets with his band and one with Trouble No More. TMN is an Allman Brothers Band cover supergroup that includes (among others) fellow young guitar wizard Brandon “Taz” Neiderauer, pedal steel legend Roosevelt Collier, drumming tour de force Nikkie Glaspie, and powerhouse vocalist Lamar Williams Jr.

Donato played Rooster Walk in 2022, so he knows the lay of the land and he appreciates the opportunity to play a whole bunch of music in just two days. “It’s gonna be a high time,” he says. “I really just feel honored to be taken in and accepted into a community that’s already been established for years. It’s such a welcoming feeling.”

Donato performs with his band at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 26; 2:00 p.m. Saturday, May 27; and 8:00 p.m. the same day with Trouble No More. Tickets are on sale here.