On the Road Again with Strangefolk
Photo by WGK
The first rumblings came, as most rumblings nowadays do, through Facebook. A purposefully vague status update here, a suggestive comment there… something was clearly afoot in the Strangefolk community.
A few well-placed texts would bring back the news my husband and I (and thousands of others) had been waiting 12 years to hear: the original members of Strangefolk — Jon Trafton, Reid Genauer, Erik Glockler and Luke Smith — were going to play together again. The official announcement would come in the next couple of days (it did, along with the new Strangefolk Reunion Facebook page).
Having been relocated from Vermont out to Washington State when Microsoft recruited me five years ago, I had been decidedly out of the Strangefolk loop since then as trips to the west coast were not in the cards for “Newfolk”*. I was happy to find that out of sight was not out of mind; as word spread about the reunion, we were inundated with questions about whether or not we’d make the trip from the Seattle area back to New England for the shows. Given that our family is in the Boston area and our friends are spread out across the northeast, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take that long overdue vacation where we could see everyone we love over the course of two weeks; one on the road with Strangefolk, and one back home with the fam.
Set I: Poland, Bus Driver, Valhalla, …As, Pawn, Chasing Away, Alaska, Stout-Hearted
Set II: Speculator (w/ Comes a Time lyrics), All the Same, Oxbow, Elixir, China Cat tease->Rather Go Fishin, I Tell Myself, So Far Gone, Westerly
Having never been to the Brooklyn Bowl before, I do have to take a minute to say how much I love this venue… what’s not to love about a place where you can see a show, bowl and get a fried chicken dinner? I was impressed with everything about it: the layout, the décor, the atmosphere — a great experience all around. If we lived within driving distance of it, I could absolutely see it quickly becoming our regular weekend hang out place. But I digress…
In the weeks leading up to the run, occasional check-ins on the new Strangefolk Reunion Facebook page would make it clear that there was one question that lingered for many fans: what does this reunion run mean? Is it just a shooting star moment in time that will mean little more than a collection of recordings and cherished memories, or could it be something more?
While I was tempted to ponder that little quandary myself, I knew it would be wasted energy until after the run was over; it still remained to be seen whether the magic was still there. 12 years is a long time and a lot has happened.
Would Jon still have those face-melting tension-release solos at the ready?
Would Reid still have both the pipes and stage presence he used to (AOD was good, but never lived up to the bar that had been set with Strangefolk for me)?
Could Erik still bust out those Beatle-esque harmonies?
Would Luke still be on top of those perfectly-placed signature fills and tasteful cymbal work that we all know and love so well?
I walked into the Brooklyn Bowl show making a conscious effort to not think about any of that. I just wanted to enjoy whatever we’d get for what it was without thinking about what I wanted it to be. You could say I was trying to keep my expectations low to avoid disappointment.
While the show was solid and the set list far better than I had hoped, I walked out with the feeling that the crowd’s energy just wasn’t high enough to kick the floodgates open. Some might have chalked it up to shaking off the rust after so much time had passed, and that’s probably true to a certain degree too, but I really felt like the show could have been better if the crowd had been better. Having been to over 300 Strangefolk shows (prior to becoming a responsible, “settled down” adult and parent), there isn’t a question in my mind that the band’s performance is directly tied to the crowd’s energy level. I’ve seen that energy/performance loop happen with other bands too, but to me, it always seemed especially pronounced with Strangefolk. That’s not to say the crowd’s energy was low — it wasn’t — but it wasn’t as high as I expected it to be for the first show of the run.
For me, “So Far Gone” was and continues to be Strangefolk’s bell weather song… if they can pull off a killer “So Far Gone,” then all is right with the world as far as I’m concerned. The one from the Brooklyn show was better than I had hoped for considering neither AOD nor “Newfolk” had ever touched it — I expected it to sound like a song that hadn’t been played in 12 years (there were some “Oldfolk” songs that each band continued to play, others that have lain dormant since the last time “Oldfolk” played them… So Far Gone was one of these).
I’m happy to report that it didn’t sound rusty at all. Perhaps not as adventurous as it had been back when they played like a well-oiled machine, but not at all lacking. It was much like a So Far Gone I’d expect to hear during a festival set: solid, but not as experimental as the ones you’d hear when it was their own show with a sold out audience full of confirmed ‘folk freaks. That’s not to say they disappoint during festival sets, but there’s a discernible difference in their playing when listening to a festival set where they’re trying to balance a good mix of their most well-loved songs with some of the jam vehicles that they could only take so far given the abbreviated length of time they have to work with.
Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and was even a bit surprised at my own reaction to being there again, seeing a sight and hearing the sounds that played such a large and looming role in my life, once upon a time. Having broken down in tears when Jon joined Reid on stage at the State Theater for an acoustic duo opening set to an AOD show many moons ago, I expected a similar reaction that night in Brooklyn, but it didn’t come. I didn’t choke up, I didn’t shed even one tear… from the moment they took the stage, it felt like they hadn’t skipped a beat; as though we had just seen this same group of guys play a show like this only a few months ago. I was also relieved to hear that Reid’s voice was exactly the same as it had been. I had heard a few studio-produced AOD songs on Pandora that had me feeling some trepidation at the thought that it wasn’t just the production that made him sound so different from what I remembered (I actually had to go look at the computer to double check that it was his voice… there was enough familiar, but enough different to make me question it too).
All in all, I’m glad we made it to Brooklyn, but at the same time, I don’t think anyone who wasn’t able to make it missed out on anything monumental — the best was indeed yet to come.