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Published: 2013/11/25
by Dean Budnick

A Thanksgiving Reunion with Strangefolk

A Thanksgiving tradition in the making continues this coming weekend as Strangefolk returns to the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. The quartet will perform a two-hour set on Friday, November 29 and Saturday, November 30 before Blues Traveler takes the stage each night. This marks the second year that the Folk have assembled at The Cap after T-Day. It’s altogether fitting as the original group—Reid Genauer, Jon Trafton, Erik Glockler and Luke Smith reformed—after Capitol Theatre owner Peter Shapiro spoke with them in late 2011 and invited Strangefolk to headline the venue’s re-opening night. While that gig didn’t happen due to construction/scheduling issues, thanks to the call, the band did reunite, kicking off their March 2012 four show run at Shapiro’s Brooklyn Bowl. Strangefolk later performed at the Capitol Theatre over Thanksgiving weekend 2012 and most recently came together for four more dates this past September. In the following conversation drummer Luke Smith reflects on all things Strangefolk old and new including a tantalizing hint of what is yet to come.

Let’s walk back through your own history in Strangefolk. You continued to perform with the group after Reid departed but then you decided to leave a few years later. Can you talk about the growth of the band as well as your eventual decision to depart?

The four of us started playing together in the spring of ‘92 while we were still at UVM. It was fits and starts as we got moving and by our senior year, which was the fall of ’93, we started playing parties around Burlington. We decided to give it a go as a band and we figured we’d give it a year. We graduated in the spring of ‘94 and by then we were playing most every weekend. And then in February ‘95 I quit my job as a ski instructor because and I believe we had 22 gigs that month. So we were a full-time band in my mind in February ‘95. We then had that history of the next five or six years before Reid left the band [in September 2000]. That was a really huge deal in our world. I never totally recovered from that and it was so sudden that I couldn’t imagine stopping. Reid knew what he would be doing [Genauer entered grad school at Cornell] and when I found out I was heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine stopping at that time. We had that huge record we had just made that we were about to release, and I was totally committed. We were all totally committed. It was what I imagined we would do for the foreseeable future.

The three of us decided that even though Reid left we didn’t have to quit and first we had Scott [Shdeed] and Patchen [Luke Montgomery] and then after Scott left Don [Scott] came in and we were touring hard. There were some things in there that happened musically during that three year period after Reid left that we thought was the best music that we ever made, although it was a totally different band. It was called Strangefolk and there were parts of it that were the Strangefolk that I had gone all in for but it wasn’t the band that I had put my heart and soul into at the beginning. It was a painful process for me and I know I made it painful for other people just the pulling out but it was something that I felt I really had to do. My heart pulled me other places. My last gig with those guys was New Year’s Eve ‘03-‘04.

The final album you recorded with Reid, A Great Long While, was produced by Nile Rodgers, who has been back in the public eye as of late first through his autobiography and then through his collaboration with Daft Punk. What are your memories of working with him?

When I was in second grade “Rapper’s Delight” came out and I have older siblings and cousins and it was cool to learn the words. And I remember after I finished second grade my mom said, “I want to buy you a little a present,” so I asked her to take me to the record store and I bought Sugarhill Gang “Rapper’s Delight.” That was my first record. And that’s Nile’s riff they sampled. The tune is “Good Times,” That’s Nile and Bernard [Edwards, recording as Chic].

I first met him at Bowery Ballroom. Peter Shapiro was behind it, of course. I remember it was after the first set and it was very rare for me to ice my arm but something was going on and it was bothering me, so I had a bag of ice on my arm and this dude walks in and he has his dreads all flying around and a wild look in his eyes and he says, “I want to meet the drummer” and he came over and gave me five. And for me it was almost like I could have hung up the whole music thing after that. It was so cool that Nile Rodgers just came backstage, the guy who played guitar on the first record that I ever had, just said he wanted to come backstage and talk to the drummer. That was the coolest thing ever.

And then a year and a half, two years later he’s in my freaking house in Vermont. I made him a sandwich and the next thing I knew we were in my garage jamming. My brother came over and played bass. We were laying down this groove and Nile was just in his own world playing the funkiest music. It was just so cool and my brother Will and I were giving each other a look like, “Can you believe this is even happening?” He was playing and I’ve never seen anyone else do this, his guitar was almost levitating. On his upstroke he was letting go of the neck and the guitar would be just suspended in air above his torso.

Looking back do you have a favorite Strangefolk record?

It’s got to be the first three. The demo, Lore and Weightless in Water . I love those and the others I like a lot. There are some jams on [2001’s] Open Road that I like a lot. “Go To A Show” is one that I remember I really like.

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