The Strangefolk Story: Part Two

In 2001 Don Scott officially joined Strangefolk as the band’s keyboardist.

Don Scott: Strangefolk is my only musical gig and when I joined up in 2001, the keys brought a new sound to the band – a spacey sort of jam was worked into the existing songs. I write a lot at home and keep a playing schedule that is beneficial to all. We keep generating new material, which is difficult due to all the locations we are in, although I live close to Luke near the Tappan Zee Bridge. I need the sanity of music and Strangefolk to a certain extent because it balances me out and I need it this way. You’ve got to have an art form in your life to stay healthy, for the benefit of the right brain.

Original drummer Luke Smith left the band in 2004. Strangefolk tapped fellow Vermonter and Trey Anastasio Band drummer Russ Lawton to replace Smith later that year.

Russ Lawton: How I joined Folk was through Jon. I had met him at Gathering of the Vibes and also at Garden of Eden. We talked about doing some gigs, maybe in the alt-country vein. I have always been a big fan of Steve Earle, so the next time Jon and I talked, he asked if I would be into doing three dates with Folk. At that point Luke Smith had just left the band. It was April 2004 and the guys sent me tons of songs so I went into hyper practice mode and put everything in order the best I could. The gigs went well and we have been doing it for the past seven years. They are all great guys and that to me is just as important as the music. When I’m playing with TAB [Trey Anastasio Band] I usually know my schedule enough in advance to make it work.

Glockler: We call Russ “The Clock” because he’s professional and has an inspiring attitude and lives for music. He is always striving to be better and takes the weight off of us.

When Genauer left Strangefolk, he took a detour on his musical journey, arriving at Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

Genauer: I was pretty lost. My departure might have seemed like a very purposeful decision or at least a very decisive one. The truth is my decision was really a long and somewhat painful reaction to an uncomfortable situation. Strangefolk was my life for nearly a decade, everything I wanted to be, my total identity was wrapped up in the group, including my personality and a lot of hard work. It took years to figure it all out and find the way forward after losing that compass. Going to school didn’t give me a true sense of north but it helped me get there.

Genauer received an MBA from Cornell in 2002 and soon after began playing music with a few musician friends in what would come to his new band, Assembly of Dust.

Genauer When I was living in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area after Cornell, I knew a bunch of musicians. It was a great music scene in the Northeast at the time. There was, and probably still is, a strong tie between the seacoast and Burlington. For us the most concrete connection was our relationship with the Percy Hill guys.

Assembly of Dust wasn’t really a conscious effort to start a band. I just wanted to record an album and I wanted to keep writing and to have some sort of musical life. Making a record sort of forces you to keep your musical-self alive and prospering for a few reasons. One, it puts pressure on the songwriter (in this case me) and the band to come up with a collection of songs for the album that you feel good about. Two, it gives you a vehicle to spread the news and share music with the world. And three, it creates a financial obligation that ties you to your art, whether funded by label or not.

As I talk about it I am realizing I didn’t understand all of those things at the time but I knew that there was something powerful about making a recording. If nothing else there is a chemistry and a bond that occurs by just focusing a group of musicians around the challenge of conceptualizing and making a record. Assembly of Dust was born out of that process. There was a mutual affinity among us and we enjoyed the process and frankly, the collection of personalities.

At the same time it was unnerving too, I kind of had my sense of musical perspective ripped out from under me. I also had pressure not to suck. I wanted the music to be comfortable and familiar and I definitely called on elements of Strangefolk that I was proud of, but I didn’t want [Assembly of Dust] to be a cheap replacement. It’s quite a process to find a musical voice it took Strangefolk years and frankly it has taken AOD years as well.

I’m a collector of language and will take quotes from anywhere and anything – movies, books, street signs, even funny names for towns. Names like Cabin John, a town near Washington, D.C, Mud Spring Draw, a town in the Midwest and Speculator, a town in Upstate New York all made their way into my music. When I was trying to come up with a band name I was rummaging through notes taken with intent of finding a name and saw ‘Assembly of God’ scribbled out.  I thought of it as a particularly powerful phrase. I didn’t want to make a religious reference so I actually tried to make it as un-religious as possible. What’s the exact opposite of God? Dirt? Earth? Dust! So we became Assembly of Dust.

Genauer and Assembly of Dust continue to perform and record. They released a live album, Found Sound, in March of this year.

In 2005, Trafton was diagnosed with cancer, delivering a blow to both the guitarist and the band. Now five years in remission, Trafton is thankful for his recovery and ability to continue leading the band.

Trafton: I originally moved to California in 2001 and spent those early years on a pretty steady diet of touring with Strangefolk. In fact, it was a tour we lined up with Gregg Allman around that time that inspired me to get some health insurance. For some reason I felt it was suddenly important to have coverage. I’d just turned 30 and it felt like the responsible thing to do. At that time I envisioned an insurance policy coming in handy if I smashed myself up in a wreck on the road. That was the luckiest move I’ve made in my life to date.

[Photo by Andrew Wyatt]

I was diagnosed with cancer in February of 2005 while living in Chico. I spent the next 11 months in treatment which included chemo, radiation, surgery and more chemo. I got out of the hospital after my last surgical procedure on my birthday, December 13, 2005. What a day. It was a rebirth. My future wife and I had arranged to house sit for my sister in New Hampshire for the next three years so we wasted no time packing my truck and driving east in January 2006 thinking New England was our new home. After eight months in New Hampshire we learned that the house sitting situation was going to end prematurely. We needed to make a major decision: stay and start over with health insurance or go back to California where I had access to top level care within my insurance plan. The giant X factor was that I was only one year cancer free.

After researching the insurance options and doing a lot of soul searching we decided the only sane decision was to return to California. During my year of treatment I received top notch care. It was like the red carpet was rolled out. My insurance policy delivered for me when I needed it, when I was knocked on my ass by a major medical problem, living all by myself, in the most vulnerable state. I didn’t feel like risking losing that if I had a recurrence of cancer. I needed to know I was covered if it came down to it.

In New England it was complicated. The state I wanted to live in wasn’t the state where I wanted to be covered if disaster struck. Crossing state lines with health insurance means red tape and often times things aren’t covered fully or you have to fight the system. I didn’t have the energy for that and it’s why we moved back. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made because I was enjoying being back near my family, back near my band, back where I come from. The first time I left my home turf was to pursue an adventure on the west coast. The second time it felt too risky not to do it, which wasn’t a good feeling. However, I love California and have since my first visit when I was 10 years old. I love Sonoma County and am happy living here. I’ve come to terms with my cancer experience and how it’s affected the rest of my life. I’m lucky to be here, period.

After that, everything is icing. Every gig that I get to play with Strangefolk is a bonus for me. I’m so thankful that we get to keep playing, even just a few times a year, and that there’s still interest. We are blessed to have the community that we’ve got. I feel so lucky that after all these years I can get onstage, turn my amp up and play under the Strangefolk banner to an enthusiastic crowd. We’re quietly just rolling along. There’s some satisfaction in that.

In January 2011, Erik Glockler was diagnosed with congestive heart failure which resulted with a stint in the hospital. Upon release, he has been following doctor’s orders and is on the road to a full recovery.

Strangefolk continues to play regular shows each March in Boston and now Burlington. Each May, the band’s annual StrangeCreek festival continues to thrive in western Massachusetts.

Trafton:  I love coming back in March, there’s something about getting together with the other four and playing [in Boston], it’s a nice destination and a highlight weekend of our year. We get to play full sets, two shows and more music. I prefer playing indoor shows because I just like the sound and feel better. But I love StrangeCreek just as much.

[Photo by Andrew Wyatt]

Glockler: I would love to play more, but being scattered, having families and kids – this is the first time in a while we’ve been able to play together. It’s not as easy to go on tour, especially since we have real jobs now and don’t have as much freedom as we once did. We all love playing together, it is still fun.

Trafton: Strangefolk is the longest relationship of my life and I can’t imagine it going anywhere – there is a certain commonality to it. It goes up and it goes down, sort of like life itself. We put a lot of effort in to do this and I can’t remember not having Strangefolk around. The word Strangefolk has meant something to me for exactly half of my life at this point. I can’t believe we’ve been making music under that name for 20 years. I love it so much. Getting sick was a huge factor in stepping back, both financially and health-wise, although I’d much prefer playing music fulltime. If I was able to fully make a living playing music though, I would do it for sure.

Dirigo is the latest in the StrangeFolk family of projects. The band was started in 2010 and is scheduled to play shows throughout New England during 2011.

Patchen: The name Dirigo is from the state motto of Maine, Latin for ‘I lead’. Dirigo is myself on guitar and vocals, Erik on bass and vocals, Ginger Cote on drums (although Russ sits in sometimes) and Steve Jones, a local Maine legend who is a monster and the sound of the band. It is an Americana experiment and we play original, countrified sounds. Steve plays guitar like Jimmy Page and we love playing with him.

Dirigo has the potential to fill the gap Strangefolk has left. We can play more, see the same places and get out there. We played with Assembly of Dust on [in March 2011] in Portland and that has led to seeing more of the same faces we have seen over the years as well as brought out a more countrified audience. We hope to play festivals, go on tour in the future and see what happens. Dirigo is a side project with the opportunity to make it a real project. We’ll be recording an LP in the fall, including some of Erik’s songs and new music. We try in Dirigo to keep it fresh and over time we want to phase out Strangefolk songs and try to keep the bands separate and have Dirigo be a standalone entity.

A Strangefolk reunion featuring the original lineup, including Genauer, becoming reality remains to be seen. At this point in their collective careers, the band members – both past and present – appear willing to entertain the idea.

Trafton: I would say the door is open, but we’re not sure about the future. It has been discussed internally and with Reid, and we are leaving it open-ended, although we have discussed the potential. Would it be all old guys? New guys? A mix? Since we [Jon and Reid] have talked about it in the recent past, there is definitely potential, and it would be fun to celebrate everything and keep it from being exclusionary. It is definitely nice to consider the questions, especially since the breakup was tough. But time has passed and it’s nice to be in touch with everyone again, on good terms. I think we all agree it would be fun to do some playing together. I know I miss some of those songs – it would be fun to resurrect some of them.

Genauer: I’m open to it and I think it would be fun. I think the reason it has taken so long is that there were some hard feelings at first and a desire to re-establish and redefine Strangefolk in my absence. Then from my perspective, I was pretty determined to establish myself and a track record beyond Strangefolk. After some eight or nine years with AOD I feel like I have checked that box.

There are a litany of new milestones I’ve achieved, like playing Carnegie Hall and Bonnaroo, recording Some Assembly Required, which lead to the realization of the long road. Having some of my friends and favorite musicians on that album – Richie Havens, Mike Gordon, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Grace Potter, Al Schnier and Keller Williams – is one of my most proud moments and in my mind anyway, notable achievements. All of that said, playing with Strangefolk is something I would be open to. Jon and I talk fairly regularly and I wouldn’t rule anything out.

Whether the original members of Strangefolk will reunite remains unanswered. A few weeks ago Dirigo opened for Assembly of Dust in Portland, Maine, during which Genauer sat in with Dirigo while Glockler made a guest appearance with AoD for the Strangefolk song Rachel. StrangeCreek 2011 takes place at Camp KeeWanee in Greenfield, Mass. over Memorial Day Weekend. Tickets are available through Wormtown.com.

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4 Responses

  1. Soooo curious where Luke Smith is in all of this … interestign that he did not constribute at all to this article of offer any quotes —- sour grapes?

  2. Please PLEASE continue to discuss a reunion show. I know many loyal Strangefolk fans would travel far and wide to be at such an event. What an amazing experience that would be!!!!

  3. Yes to Reunion shows!!! That is, a reunion of the original four members. No offense to Patchen, Don or any of the AOD guys, but what most folks who followed the band from 94-00 want to see is Genauer, Trafton, Glocker and Smith.

  4. Luke Smith was unavailable for comment. I tried to get in touch with him through all means possible, but there was no response before we went to press. Believe me, I wanted to hear his input as well. Perhaps a follow up down the road…

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