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Published: 2001/08/20
by Trevor Emmitt

Revisiting Reid Genauer

After nearly a decade as founding member, lead singer, and rhythm guitarist of the Burlington, Vermont based jamband Strangefolk, Reid Genauer left the band last fall. Since then Strangefolk has added two new members and toured without Reid, and Reid has performed a handful of shows on his own. Reid now attends the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, got married a couple of months back, and generally seems to be enjoying the life of a non-rock star. Reid played a solo gig at the Stone Church in Newmarket, NH on the 13th of July, and sat down with us beforehand in his attic to talk about his thoughts on leaving the band, what he’s been up to, and where he is going. Obviously, he has no idea where he is going, but as he has screamed on stage over the years he’ll get there. The following excerpts are part of a joint interview by Sunday’s Midnight Musings and Still Moving Pictures.

Genauer will play four shows with a four-piece band in August. His quartet will feature bassist John Leccese (Percy Hill), drummer Andy Herrick (Moon Boot Lover) and guitarist Adam Terrell (Groove Child). The group will play August 22 at Higher Ground in Winooski, VT, August 23 at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA, August 24 at The Skinny in Portland, ME and August 25 at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA.

“I started feeling more like a politician than an apostle.”

To many, Reid Genauer was an apostle, a bard and a sage, and his pulpit was Strangefolk. Night in and night out, Reid sang the songs of life and love, and in truth, every little thing that we were thinking of. He brought our subconscious to the forefront with his words, and he sang about the way he felt because he believed that’s all there is. With Strangefolk, Reid brought spirituality into the jam, and while he might mention religion, the songs he sang really dug deep into the spirituality of the soul.

But the apostle fled the pulpit to follow his own direction. He wanted a few things that Strangefolk could not bring him a normal life, security, and continuity. He wanted a wife, a life, and a family, not to mention a serious recharging of the battery. Put simply, he wanted the little things, like “knowing the name of the man who makes your turkey sandwiches.” And while Strangefolk fans and music experts love to argue about the “real” reason why Reid left the band, Reid’s take on the whole thing is really quite simple:
“I think I’m like anybody else. I just never felt a hundred percent comfortable with where I was in my life. For me, I felt like I had been paying a high cost for a long time to live a dream, and, I don’t know really what it was, I just got plain old tuckered out, you know, like my soul was just tired is the best way I can explain it.”

And though he had been paying an extremely high cost for living his dream, it angered me exponentially when I heard he was leaving the band, because the dream he was giving up was one that inspired so many of his fans indeed his songs had influenced so many people and filled so many voids, and indeed he was the man whose constant bearing of his soul was the initial inspiration for me to put pen to paper in the first place. But I now know that it was selfish for me, or anyone else for that matter, to blame Reid for making a decision that he believed would make him happier in the long run.

One of the key things to remember about performances is that, though they are all “genuine,” they are still simply “performances.” So, on any given night, you never know the feeling behind the performance you are seeing. If Reid’s emotional expressions were what drove his fans and indeed what drove him, the scariest thing that either Reid or his fans could possibly imagine would be contrived emotions or a lack of feeling while he was belting out lyrics and bearing his soul. Reid revealed to us that towards the end of his run with Strangefolk, he began to “not feel it anymore,” and that scared the hell out of him. He was on stage screaming, for example, the end of “Reuben’s Place” (a fan-favorite Strangefolk song with an intense vocal climax), and just not feeling it.

“I started out getting into music and willing to pay that cost because it felt so fucking awesome to feel that night after night. And when I stopped feeling the same intensity, it made me second-guess myself.”

The question then must be, why would the fans want to have Reid continue in the band when he had moments where he simply didn’t feel the emotion that was supposed to be behind the songs? To my mind, the fans should realize that Reid was not trying to screw the band when he left, but instead trying to find himself. A long way from the stage, Reid seems to have achieved that goal . And so , nearly a year removed from Strangefolk – is he happier?

“I’m dealing with a whole other set of other miseries in that I’m not doing it right now (playing with Strangefolk). But the tired soul’ aspect at least is gone. I feel rejuvenated in that I kind of pulled my head on straight again. And so for that I’m glad and for a lot of other stuff, I’m not glad. I’m certainly not glad to have disappointed people and in some ways having disappointed myself.”

At first Reid disappointed me, as well as thousands of other people, by leaving Strangefolk. But when you think about it, he was doing what had made us love him in the first place following his soul. If attending grad school for business and getting married to a wonderful woman was what following his soul meant, well then why not? This should be inspiration to those that used to look at his performances with Strangefolk as prophetic. He is still adhering to the desires of his soul and not allowing the pressures of the public to make decisions for him.

To be sure, he is still the same old Reid, only happier and more well-rested. Amazingly, to me, the most exciting aspect of Reid’s present situation is that he performs solo shows. . I have seen two Reid solo performances (Wetlands and the Stone Church). I was impressed with his commanding stage presence, his ability to make a crowd dance like crazy with simply his voice and a guitar, and his uncanny passion for playing his songs completely obliterate any sense of a missing band behind him. He understands that he has filled a void and touched many people’s lives, and he hopes to continue to do so:

“Back in the day and certainly to a large extent today, people feel a void and they look to fill it with spirituality. And that includes art and religion. For so many of us, rock music is a combination of both. Music is a quasi-religious experience, and so my whole time in Strangefolk feels that way. It’s like you struggled every day to make sense of your life, and you read a book, or you look at a painting, or you hear a song that captures some moment, some aspect of your experience accurately, and it strikes a chord. And I’m glad to know that I have hopefully struck that chord in people and that we have as a band, and I hope to continue to individually and I hope that they do as well.”

The Reid Genauer solo experience also includes a number of new tunes that we never saw when he was with Strangefolk. There are a number of new tunes that Reid performs that were written after he left Strangefolk, which, of course, answers the age old question of whether or not former jamband superstars turned business school grad students can still write brilliant songs.

“As far as songwriting goes, it’s something that I just do, it just happens to me more than anything,” Reid explained.

After the interview Reid put on quite a performance at the Stone Church. The place was filled to capacity and, more to the point, with smiling faces. Faces grinning from ear to ear was the standard, while Reid played a first set worthy of comparison to his best performances with Strangefolk. Again pure, unadulterated Reid Genauer.

Reid had this to say about performing on his own and without Strangefolk: “It’s like an awesome responsibility. How the hell am I going to make this sound legit without the gang? It’s more of a responsibility because keeping the pace of the song and keeping the momentum and having it be a substantive experience for someone all rests on your shoulders when you’re up there by yourself.”

While Reid pulled off this “awesome responsibility” in the first set, the second set is where the real fireworks occurred, as guitarist Adam Terrell joined Reid, along with a familiar face on a makeshift drum kit Luke Smith. Luke is Strangefolk’s drummer and his appearance at Reid’s Stone Church show was completely unexpected not only to the crowd, but to Reid himself. Strangefolk had played earlier in the evening (opening up for moe.) in nearby Gilford, NH, and upon hearing about Reid’s solo show from a fan after the Strangefolk performance (in a convenience store, no less), he decided to surprise everybody and show up for Reid’s performance not to watch, to PLAY. All of a sudden the concert had turned from “An Intimate Evening With Reid Genauer” to “Live At The Stone Church The Reid Genauer Trio!”

This was the first performance by any Strangefolk member with Reid since he left the band last fall. In my mind, it was inconceivable that one of Strangefolk’s original members would simply “stop by” and join Reid for a set, if only because the best way to separate amicably (as with any relationship) is to spend as much time away from your former partner as possible. But there Luke was, and there the chemistry between him and Reid was as if it was meant to be. I know that it was impossible for me to stop smiling not only was I enjoying the music immensely and allowing it to conjure up extreme emotion in my heart, I was recognizing the importance of Luke’s appearance with Reid.

The chemistry between Reid and Luke immediately made me ponder the reaction of Reid’s bandmates when he informed them that he was to leave Strangefolk. It must have been horrifying for them to learn that their founder, principal lead singer, and heartblood was leaving. As Reid put it:

“There had been conversations throughout the history of Strangefolk about is this forever?’, but they were in a state of shock. And I was in a state of shock and in some ways I still am. They were definitely shocked and disappointed and hurt, as you’d expect. It’s still kind of mending itself.”

Reid said this before the concert and before knowing that Luke would show up, and the fence that he jumped over when he left Strangefolk, has obviously been mended in more ways then one and not just symbolically by Luke’s appearance at the Stone Church. Not only are they still friends, but they can still perform together. Hopefully this will not be the last time Strangefolk and Reid Genauer visit each other on stage. And if Reid has anything to do with it, it probably won’t be:

“Strangefolk has been such a disproportionately large part of my life that there’s no way I want to lose that experience to the sentiment that came afterwards. Because the core of it was awesome.” And Reid obviously wishes the best for the “new Strangefolk” or Newfolk, as I like to call them even though he might have jumped ship before the Strangefolk cruise ever hit shore:

“I felt like we were just really hitting our stride as far as our songwriting and our improvs and I really was most proud of some of the stuff that never even made it to disc. It wasn’t a natural ending. There is no natural ending. This definitely was a life cut short; we had a lot more in us. Thankfully they’re carrying the torch and continuing to create, and I hope to in my own my way in my own pace at my own pace. I hope to do the same.”

The obvious moral of this tale is that, though Reid Genauer is not as visible to the public eye as he was when he was in Strangefolk, the intangibles are still the same: he is writing, he is performing (however intermittently), and he is emotionally-driven to continue to inspire his fan base and to fill that elusive void. Revisiting Reid Genauer is fun and inspiring.

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