With thick fog swallowing Jay Peak’s ski lifts and light rain in the forecast, Strangefolk took the Stateside Amphitheater stage at 8:15PM to a somewhat sparse crowd. The early start took many guests by surprise, but it was a short distance to the venue from the Stateside Hotel next door. Fans rushed to fill the pavilion as the band kicked off the show with “Sometimes.” Reid Genauer’s distinctive vocals warmed up the audience and with almost everyone in the die-hard crowd signing along, smiles boosted the mood of the first stanza.
Drummer Luke Smith’s tempo set the pace on “Mudspring Draw,” but the real excitement came from the surprise of Jason Crosby’s fiddle offering. Crosby should be a new member of the group (if he isn’t already), because the dynamic between his musicianship and lead guitarist Jon Trafton works very well. “Westerly” kept the energy going with a great build from Genauer’s lyrical addition of his “Lone Tree” work. Reaching a peak, it’s fun and ironic that the band harmonizes with the lyrics, “settle down.”
Strangefolk’s song lists are a journey through a rich catalog of music. Their audience knows these songs well and can bring a lot of energy into the show when they match move for move with the band. A funky version of Trafton’s “Diary” was punctuated by perfect piano playing from Crosby and timely wood block sounds from Smith. When bassist Erik Glockler played the opening notes of “Neighbor,” it began to look like any typical first set would be abandoned. The thick, dim tone of this never recorded fan-favorite soon had fans shouting “I, I, I don’t like you!” before a wonderful space of delicate and interesting interplay found the band making a nice section of music that featured a vocal jam pleading, “Don’t forget to breathe!”
With an exciting guitar solo effort on “Walnut,” Trafton took his yellowish-red Gibson Les Paul for a fun ascension. An honest version of “Rather Go Fishin’” preceded “Woman Child,” the latter being played with careful and intentional changes in pace and tempo. The band chose its signature anthem to go into a set break with a strong fifteen-minute performance of “So Well” that included brief “Funkytown” teases during a spaced-out jam. After three consecutive songs from their 1995 album Lore, and without any new compositions in their renewed formation, Strangefolk continues to demonstrate how some of their oldest songs still can be centerpieces of their show.
With no more shows scheduled, the second set of Strangefolk at Jay Peak Saturday night was something to savor. After the house lights went off, Reid included the old-school fans in the band’s backstage conversation asking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we reinvigorated the Garden of Eden, and we did it here?” It’s been a long time since Vermont hosted Strangefolk’s Garden of Eden festival, and the response from the cheering crowd suggested its been long enough. Crosby appeared on stage behind Genauer and the duo performed a beautiful surprise cover of Gillian Welch’s “Look At Miss Ohio.” But really, everyone including Trafton just wanted to hope for Eden, “Fuckin-a, lets do an Eden here next year!” Then, before the full band started “Blue and Gray,” and with a light rain falling Genauer beckoned for fans on the Stateside lawn to join the hundreds of fans inside under the pavilion.
“What Say You” finally got the crowd grooving again and everyone was feeling loose. Smith filled a void with a brief “Go! Cats Go!” beat that expanded into the familiar “Rapper’s Delight” groove and demanded Smith’s microphone be set-up for some fun vocal greetings from the drummer. When “Roads” began to huge cheers and the last few fans from the lawn filled the covered space, everyone enjoyed perfect sight lines and sound for this Strangefolk classic that proclaims in unison, “I don’t know where I’m going but I’ll get there!”
“Mama” and “Utterly Addled” gave Genauer a chance to showcase his lead vocal strengths, because each song applies a contrasting style that he handles expertly. The “Songbeard” placement ultimately served as a launching pad for the rest of the stellar set as it was stretched out nicely and contained some impressive finger work from Jon Trafton. At this point the audience was soaking in every highlight. “Speculator” did not disappoint as Genauer took full command of the sonic space before Crosby’s delicate and flowing fiddle offered some adventurous moments. Next, “Chasing Away” revealed a band completely in sync. The interplay between Trafton and Smith was featured in large part to more cracking wood block.
When “Poland” started, fans sensed the set would be closing and fed any remaining energy into the shared experience. Another high-energy peak celebrated with pumping fists and high-fives under the pavilion. After being called back out for an encore, Trafton recounted the band’s most recent impromptu gig two-nights prior. Charlottesville, Virginia’s Whiskey Jar hosted a free evening with Strangefolk after the band’s scheduled set at LOCKN’ was cancelled due to strong storms causing damage at the festival site. Genauer (with a smirk), then mentioned how the band has performed in every state beginning with the letter “V” state on this tour, “Every one of ‘em.”
Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River” has been part of Strangefolk since the beginning. At Jay Peak, it served as part of the ending. The second part of the encore was another cover, and this being the year of the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, “Althea” was picked to add onto the celebration. The band members convened in the middle of the stage for a well-earned bow, and waved their appreciation to the adoring crowd. Strangefolk clearly felt very, very much at home performing a stellar show at Stateside Amphitheater. Fans hope there will be another opportunity to be reunited, because it feels so good watching this band make their music!
Strangefolk – 9/12/15 -Jay Peak Stateside Amphitheater -Jay, VT
Sometimes, Mudspring Draw, Westerly, Diary, Neighbor, Walnut, Rather Go Fishin’, Woman Child, So Well
Look At Miss Ohio*, Blue & Gray, What Say You, Rapper’s Delight** > Roads, Mama, Utterly Addled, Songbeard, Speculator, Chasing Away, Poland
E: Whiskey River*** > Althea#
*Gillian Welch cover (Reid and Jason Crosby only)
** The Sugar Hill Gang cover (Luke Smith on vocals)
*** Willie Nelson cover
# Grateful Dead cover
Photos by Andrew Francke