Strangefolk: A Great Long While In The Making

Knowing that Strangefolk was reuniting for four nights of shows to celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band, I eagerly made plans to attend the entire run of shows. This was the band that I was introduced to in 1996 alongside great friends at Syracuse University and listened to nearly as much as any other band in the past 16 years. Their music has always brought an errant smile to my face, as much now as back when I saw the original quartet of guitarists Jon Trafton and Reid Genauer, bassist Erik Glockler and drummer Luke Smith at Hungry Charlie’s in Syracuse, as well as throughout upstate New York. They were the band that introduced me and many others to the broad genre of jambands, as well the nascent concept of live music. The music was fun, happy, had high danceability and I found it fun to have my hair bounce up and down as I bobbed and weaved doing the funky chicken from side to side. Strangefolk is and will always be my first jam band love.

[Photo Courtesy of Jon Trafton]

Erik Glockler: Last week was great for me in many ways. It was truly awesome to see so many people I hadn’t seen for so long. Many relationships were formed along the way and it was nice to revisit, if only for a short time. I’m always amazed at how strong the community vibe is. I forget that many people all know each other from the past.

But this love was not requited; I loved them, then in 2000 Reid left. I still loved them yet I moved to Florida, well out of their Northeast home base. I came back and they were gone, with Luke having left and a hiatus in effect due to Jon’s cancer diagnosis. I was left with my tapes, discs and the Live Music Archive, I reluctantly dealt with it. In 2007 I caught them at moe.down 8 and although it wasn’t the same four on stage (they had grown to five with Don Scott on keys, plus Luke Patchen Montgomery on guitar and Russ Lawton replacing Luke Smith on drums), the music was the same and I danced throughout the empty pit in the early afternoon sun as though I was back in college.

In 2008 I started making the annual trek out to Boston for the two shows each March and attended with my friend Matt, who had seen them as much as I had during our time in Syracuse and post-college back at home in New England. The annual pair of shows was a shift in step, blending together the old and new perfectly and reigniting my love for this band that started it all. While shows were few in number and spread out over the year, they were that much sweeter and enjoyable. Fewer tour dates continued to make the heart grow fonder.

Jon Trafton: Going to the barn in Vermont for rehearsals was something we did knowing it would set the vibe for the entire reunion run. We’d all been practicing in our own respective woodsheds for months and we’d penciled the first weekend in March as our first rehearsal session but we hadn’t decided where it would take place. Ultimately, the decision to hunker down in our home state of Vermont away from all distractions was a no-brainer. We literally never left the building until it was time to go home.

Fast forward to 2012 and this is still the same band I grew up on in my late teens and throughout my 20s and now 30s. The group always plays their namesake festival, StrangeCreek (né Garden of Eden) as well as Gathering of the Vibes nearly every other year. And then after three months of anticipation and planning, there they were on the stage right in front of me at Brooklyn Bowl, and at Higher Ground and The State Theater over four nights to end an intense March that seemed to last a year.

Luke Smith: There was a lot of teamwork that went into this, each person did their part and there were support systems for us as we worked to make it happen. Andy Herrick, Pete Shapiro, Alex Crothers, the fans who booked plane tickets and took time from work and lives, all were great motivators on that ride, but knowing people and fans put chips into the game, it served as a constant reminder to stay true to the task at hand, to play the best we could play.

Despite lineup changes, the heart of the band is still there and through a month of practice and rehearsals, the band I grew up on hadn’t changed or lost their ability to play their classic songs. The only notable difference among the band – quite a bit less hair, but the same can be said about the crowd, for they have cut their locks and grown older too. The fans that went to these shows were able to get their fill of songs, with few repeats and nearly every tune fans could have asked for was played at some point in the more than 12 hours of music over the four days.

The appeal of the music of Strangefolk is found in their memorable lyrics, riffs and songs that are very inviting to the average ear. At one point on Friday, I struck up a conversation with a fan who remarked that he had seen over 50 shows since the mid ’90s and, like many, was thrilled to be seeing the original lineup again. Then he said something that stuck and made great sense – Strangefolk is campfire music: the songs are easily sung as a group, can be played over and over without getting bored and provide a pleasant and upbeat soundtrack to travel and the outdoors. Certainly, this is due in part to their roots in the music of CSNY, Neil Young, Phish, The Grateful Dead and others of the same ilk, but also in part due to their Burlington and New England roots. If there was a soundtrack to the region, Strangefolk would surely be a great part of it, echoing from Valhalla to Reuben’s Place.

Reid Genauer: In terms of excitement, preparation, the “collective think” the days and even months were like a long ramp. It started with a simple phone call and the commitment to do some shows. The shows were booked and announced. Emails flew around. Long hours locked in my rehearsal space unfolding tunes or at least parts of tunes that had gotten dusty. Rehearsing the material with the band and solidifying the forms. Writing a set list! BAM – taking the stage! It was like one little milestone after another that really culminated at the State Theater in Maine with a few good hours of Rock and Roll. It was a really intense and in some ways condensed journey from the private preparation to public display. From dormant to live!

The Shows

Brooklyn Bowl is nearly three years old yet already has a certain mysticism about it. Pete Shapiro doesn’t just own the venue, he brought Strangefolk to play there the night prior to the three other announced shows and let the band practice for the shows at the soon to be reopened Capitol Theater in Portchester. Flying back for the shows from vacation in Florida, his encouragement was instrumental in getting the band to pick up where they left off 12 years prior. His effort paid off with a great first show back, starting with Poland, which referenced not only Brooklyn but hinted at the elephant in the room of their breakup and reuniting after all this time. “I was thinkin’ about my life, thinkin’ where I’ve come; things he might have said, things he might have done.”

The first night back started off strong, with highlights of As… being short and sweet, Pawn stretched out into a highlight of the night jam, the lone version of Alaska of the run, this lyrical odyssey and sing-a-long was classically jammed and extrapolated as though they had never stopped playing. Crowd favorites Rather Go Fishin’ and Westerly elicited the greatest cheers and dancing from a crowd that although slightly smaller in number after setbreak, were nonetheless appreciative of the band as the night progressed. This reunion was apropos for the timing, being the band’s 20th year and they were both well-received and well-rehearsed.

3/28 – Brooklyn Bowl

Set 1: Poland, Bus Driver, Valhalla, …As, Pawn, Chasing Away, Alaska, Stout Hearted

Set 2: Speculator, All The Same, Oxbow, Elixir, Fishin, I Tell Myself, So Far Gone, Westerly

Encore: Roads

[All Four Setlists via Strangefolk Reunion]

Erik Glockler: It feels like Strangefolk is just the catalyst for this community to get together and laugh, dance and share some time together. It was also very fun to play those old songs again. It didn’t take long to get back in the groove and find some of those elusive notes. And lastly, it was great making music with three friends again, who started out on this road nearly 20 years ago. It felt the same as it ever did. Well, maybe it was a little more exciting this time.

Venturing up to their original haunt of Burlington, Vermont, the crowd was even livelier, with some having made the trek from the Brooklyn show and parts all around the country for a show where it all started. Opening up with Lines and Circles, the lyrics again beckoned deeper meaning, “Am I asking forgiveness?” as well as discussed the paths taken by the band members: “Some people follow lines, some people follow circles” and was interspliced by a surprising spoken word piece of CSNY’s Find the Cost of Freedom that brought the crowd to near silence as they focused on Reid’s passionate rendition. Two Boys, the first Strangefolk song written by Reid and Jon, was played while friends rekindled old relationships, laughed and hugged over Long Trails and Heady Toppers. Versions of Neighbor, Cabin John and the classic So Well added up in total to more than 45 minutes of pure rock and impressive improvisation. A unique encore of Things That Fly, another of the first Strangefolk songs written by the original duo, was patient, smooth and left the crowd anticipating Friday before they were even out of the venue.

3/29 – Higher Ground

Set 1Lines and Circles, Rachel > Walnut, Shift My Step, Fountain, Blue and Grey, Two Boys, Burned Down

Set 2: Furnace, Sinner, What Say You, New Glock II > Whatever, Far From yourself, Cabin John, Utterly, Neighbor, So Well

Encore: Things That Fly

Reid Genauer: It was a dreamscape in some ways – elevated reality. We really enjoyed seeing each other. Having so many friends and family members around lent to the glow. It was like a warm bubble of personalities, places and musical color. The energy of the crowd could not have been higher. It felt like a high school reunion times 100. We were happy with how we played as well, which was a question mark until it actually happened. Kind of a harsh comparison but its like war – you can train all you like but you don’t know how you’re going to hold up until you are under fire. I think we held the line! We’re still processing what went down but I can say for sure it was a special few days for all of us. We are still coasting on the glow…

PAGE TWO = Higher Ground Night Two and State Theater + Videos

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One thought on “Strangefolk: A Great Long While In The Making

  1. James wing Reply

    Great article- thanks for the write up on what would have been just a whirlwind of mixed memories for me! Kudos.

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