The Core: Strangefolk
Photo by Rob Chapman
Founding guitarists Reid Genauer and Jon Trafton on the original lineup’s first shows since 2000
Plundering the Vaults
Jon Trafton: By the time we all got to [Trey Anastasio’s] barn to rehearse, we had done so much homework that we actually didn’t have to relearn any songs. We spent more time hashing out arrangements because we were listening to stuff on archive.org or old CDs, and Strangefolk would play songs differently over the years. But as we were going along, we weren’t jamming at all. Part of me wanted to save [the jamming] for the shows, which is ultimately what we ended up doing. Strangefolk had this one half that’s a good songwriting band and this other half that’s a good live band.
Reid Genauer: Our mission critical was, “Let’s make sure we know the changes and the progression of these songs.” So there was a nervous energy about making sure that we got through these 60 songs we relearned. We put in 10-12 hour days. Many of these songs represent a certain place or perspective that I had—they’re a musical diary or musical timeline of the course of my life. And many of those moments were shared with those guys. They were references to things that happened on tour or places that we’ve been together.
RG: We first arrived musically during the second set [of our first reunion show at New York’s] Brooklyn Bowl. The first set, we were so heady and in our own minds. And then, the second set you could feel the band collectively take a deep breath and we were playing in the moment. There are songs we approached this time around with a confidence and intensity that we didn’t 12 years ago. And those tunes were not the greatest hits. During “A Great Long While,” it felt like we were on train that was chugging.
JT: There was a maturity in the sound of the band circa 1999/2000—we were writing on a much higher level. I listened to a bunch of shows from that period [before Reid left] and I was really struck by the songs coming from Reid and the presentation of the band. We were really learning to take the space and run with it and let it breathe, rather than cramming so much sound into every space like we did when we were younger.
RG: When we took the stage in Portland, Maine [on the final night of the run] people just went bazonkers. We learned how to play music together, so there’s a Lego-like effect of putting Strangefolk together. I don’t think any one of us could replicate that sort of comfort zone—we have our own language. It’s not necessarily musically literate or endorsed by [the prestigious] Berkelee School of Music, but it’s Strangefolk and I think the quirkiness of it is part of what makes it unique.
JT: [At a friend’s wedding a few years ago], we had the water under the bridge talk: “Here’s what bummed me out” and “I’m sorry.” So it organically came together over the course of quite a few years until we got to this reunion state. Before the rehearsals, I told my wife that I really hope that Reid and I get some one-on-one time to catch up. [Due to complications from my successful battle with cancer], sometimes my stomach stops working and I start puking. So the last day of rehearsing at The Barn, that kicked in [during] the middle of the night for me. Everyone thought I was dying and it ended up being just me and Reid in the emergency room. He hung out with me for hours and hours. So I guess we had our conversation under a strange “be careful what you wish for” pretext.
JT: We promised ourselves that we wouldn’t even consider any future options and offers until we got through this self-powered wind. But everybody had a good time behind the scenes and in front of the scenes. And by Portland, we felt like, “Let’s not exploit it but let’s not shut it down either.” We have some more reunion shows coming up and Reid and I have been talking about [doing some writing together]. He’s certainly more of a songwriter than I am but there are a lot of great vibrations between us because we work well together. It’s something I’ve always missed—we had a neat chemistry and created something enduring.
RG: The songwriting and creative process has always been a big part of the buzz for me. And I enjoy collaborating with others even more than I do writing by myself. Jon and I did it successfully numerous times. I think it would be fun to explore and see exactly how those songs play out.
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