Strangefolk: Return to "Reuben’s Place" with Jon Trafton
On Wednesday night at Brooklyn Bowl, Jon Trafton, Reid Genauer, Erik Glocker and Luke Smith will come together and perform their first show as Strangefolk since Genauer’s departure from the group in September 2000. The Brooklyn Bowl locale is fitting because the catalyst for this reunion was Bowl owner Peter Shapiro, who first approached the four about returning for a gig at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY which Shapiro will re-open later this year.
Just days before the band’s return to the stage, Trafton took some time to discuss how this all came about, what fans can expect over the four shows and what the future may hold. The conversation began with some reflections on craft beers and fine wines (Trafton’s day job involves the wine industry) at which point Trafton introduced a musical analogy, comparing his beverage affections with the “lasting musical loves of my life, the Grateful Dead and Phish. Some days I’m in the mood for one, some days for the other.” With those thoughts on Trafton’s musical inspirations (and potable preferences), here’s what he has to say about Strangefolk.
After their performance at the Bowl, the original Strangefolk will then go on to play two shows at Burlington’s Higher Ground on Thursday and Friday, followed by an appearance at The State Theatre in Portland, Maine on Saturday night.
Stop by Relix.com for an interview with Reid Genauer about the group’s return.
So let’s start with the Capitol Theatre, which is how this all first came together. You’ve commemorated that connection by releasing your show from 12/27/98 at the venue. What do you remember from that evening?
I remember a really special night and knowing the history of the place going into it. I knew the Grateful Dead had played there a bunch and I felt tapped into the energy of that room, although memories of the actual show itself…I recalled Luke did a poetry spoken word thing. I remember that we played well, although for some reason I don’t remember being on stage or looking out at the audience. I think I have mental picture of the place but I doubt it’s going to jibe with the real image because we’re going to stop there and do some rehearsals. So I’ll be interested to see if the image in my head matches what the physical room is.
So you’ll make it there anyhow, which seems fitting, given that the Cap played such a role in all this.
Pete Shapiro was the person who got us talking to each other and ultimately got us going where we’re going this week. He reached out to us and said, “It would be special if the first show back would be you guys, would you do it?” We said, “Sure” and that was the first time that we had an actual reason to get off our asses and do something together.
It ultimately didn’t work out due to timing issues but we had another place slated for rehearsals this coming week which fell through at the last minute. So Pete rose up and being the gallant knight that he is, came and saved us and gave us a place to work out for the next couple of days.
We’ve had some of the nicest rehearsal spots that a band should ever have for such a venture [Strangefolk’s initial rehearsals took place at The Barn outside Burlington, Vermont].
Speaking of those sessions at The Barn, when you guys showed up on day one, plugged in and counted off, what was the first song?
It’s so funny you ask because I don’t even know…I want to say “Valhalla.” It all just kind of morphed. We were sitting around sipping coffee and Luke was banging on drums, taking some time to get everything screwed in and adjusted correctly, so we all kind of meandered over to our instruments. I think we were all just jamming and noodling around and then we had to stop ourselves,: “Okay, let’s look at the list and see what we want to do.” So I don’t remember the first thing we played, which is kind of sad.
Well on flip side some people will say that there’s a beauty to that because it’s not about that one song but the totality of it all.
We came into it really organized with a mission in mind. We had this list and we really stuck to it. I know the first song on the list was “45 Degrees”—since it happens to start with a number it rose to the top of the list. So that might have been the first one where we buckled down and said, “Okay let’s tackle this.” We were very systematic in our approach.
It was very organic in the way it all came together. The whole thing flowed. We recorded the whole thing and Ben Collette, a friend of ours who was engineering the sessions, sent us the audio. I listened to it and there’s stuff, I don’t even remember playing. I felt like we were in the zone the whole time. We covered our list backwards and forwards a few times and it’s a pretty substantial list. So we played a ton of stuff and it all became a blur.
As I understand it, there were about 60 songs on that list?
That’s right. The list is about 60 songs and we discussed a few others but we had a working list of about 60.
And that list focuses exclusively on songs written and performed by the four of you through September of 2000?
Yes. In an effort to keep everything organized, I created a doc on Google Docs with a song list. I scoured the web a little bit, found a couple lyric sites and we have a database in the Strangefok.com back end. So I stuck the song list up there and gave everybody their own column and said, “Let’s vote one to three on all of these, with one being ‘I really want to play it.’ Then I sorted out the ones and twos and that became our list of 60.
Were there songs on there that might not feel right to you in 2012 but you suspect that Strangefolk fans from that era might to hear?
How did you approach those tunes?
I was very cognizant of that in my voting because at first when I did it from the gut there were songs that Erik and I have played fairly regularly after Reid left that didn’t feel as necessary to me, so I might have given them a lower vote. Whereas Reid hasn’t played those since then and Luke as well. But as fans of music in general, we tried to put ourselves in the shoes of what we would we want to see if we went to a show like this.
There’s the obvious list of the greatest hits, so to speak, and you’ve got to have deep cuts too. There are songs that we all really missed and couldn’t wait to play and then there’s a song like “Two Boys,” one of our early songs that we probably didn’t play after 1997 but is important to the history of the band. So some songs are on the list for reasons like that. It wouldn’t be complete without tipping our hat to some of the early stuff.