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Published: 2013/11/25
by Dean Budnick

A Thanksgiving Reunion with Strangefolk

After you left the band at the end of 2003 how much communication did you have with the other guys?

When Jon was sick I communicated with him some while he was fighting cancer. I had very little contact with Erik, and Erik can be a hard guy to reach even when you are in contact. With Reid we exchanged a small number of messages but he was busy doing his thing and I was living my life.

It was painful. I really internalized that implosion of Strangefolk. For a lot of those years I would think, “We should get back together, I know we can get the band back together.” Even though I had my hands in a lot of different things I thought, “We should get the original band back together, I know we can patch it up.” and nobody was really biting on that the few times I put it out there. So when I finally let go, the cosmic wisdom, the Zen of it is that when you finally let go there it is on your doorstep. That really is the way it went down. By the time I totally let go and I was, “God bless them all, it’s all good, maybe one day but it’s fine if it never happens again,” that’s when things started happening again.

Jon was kind enough to extend an invitation for me to play with the second incarnation of that group. Russ [Lawton] had a gig, I think he was playing with Trey, and he couldn’t play Camp Creek. So Jon called me six weeks in advance and asked if I would be up for it. He had talked to the guys in the band and they said sure. To me it was a huge deal. I told him I don’t think I can cut that because I am not in shape to play in front of people and he was very encouraging. I said, “Can I think about it for a day or two?” and he said, “Absolutely.” I hung up my phone and my wife immediately said, “Go for it.” She’s been just awesome through this whole thing. We got together not long after Reid left so she’s been with me through a lot of it. So she said go for it and I needed her support because we’ve got kids and it means a lot of hours practicing.

What it turned out to be was a lot of carrying around sticks with me. I got the biggest drum sticks I could find. I would go into music stores and say, “Show me the biggest drum sticks that you have,” and eventually I found a pair that was huge. I figured I’d do what the batters do in baseball- “I only have six weeks so I’ll just train with these logs.” That was Memorial Day 2011 and then, the call from Pete came in late August/early September 2011.

Can you share you memories of that call?

So we get on that conference call for about a minute and we all say hello and then boom! Shapiro comes on and it was just awesome. He just came in a time machine, the way he sounded the last time we were hanging with him at Wetlands, just super energetic and enthusiastic about life and music and live music and our kind of music and Strangefolk. He was talking a mile a minute. I look at it as one of the momentous conversations of my life and he’s like, “I got to step outside.” He was seeing a show in Philadelphia.

He had a spiel about The Cap: “We’re going to have the best sound system in the world, the best lighting system in the world,” and he lays it all out and I’ve already got my money’s worth of the Shapiro Show at 60 seconds and he hasn’t said a think about Strangefolk. I was just like, “This is awesome, he bought The Cap,” and then says, “This is what I want to do, the first week I want you guys to get back together and open the room and then you’re going to be followed by Steely Dan, The Allman Brothers, Black Eyed Peas…” He threw out some ridiculous names compared to us. And he’s like, “I want you guys to open the room.” He lays this gig out and says, “So that’s it” and he stops talking. I remember there was this long silence and then I said, “Thank you Pete” because it was nothing but goodness. And then when he got off, of course, Reid is the one you’re going to listen for. I was listening to what Reid was going to say and Reid was in, so I was like, “Okay I’m in.”

After those initial shows, you’ve kept it going, most recently over four nights in September. What’s your take on those shows and band’s ongoing development?

Oh man, I’m just so pleased about the run, it was just so fun. We had couple of days to get together before the run and put in a solid 8,10, 12-hour work days of hanging together, playing together, running through tunes, working through ideas and just being together. There’s a trust, an intimacy level there when you’re in a group of friends, of brothers who have known each other since let’s face it we were kids. The years are stacking up. It’s not like I’m some grand old man or anything but we’re getting older and the evidence is all around us and people were getting honest and that just seemed to facilitate strength and love. When there’s trust and love there’s going to be more patience and compassion and when all that’s in play, your gateway to fun is just huge.

So for these shows I just felt great playing, things were good and I’ve been working my ass off. I’ve had a completely different approach to drumming since that phone call with Pete. I have this simple garden shed with no heat in my back yard and I practiced through that whole winter after the kids went to bed with my gloves, hat and parka tapping a drum pad, working my high hat, just freaking out in the shed from 9:30pm until 12:30, 1am in the morning. I know that I’m better than I’ve ever been in my life as drummer and that’s a really darn good feeling.

I think the statement’s been made. I feel like I can hang my hat on the entire reunion on the “Black Peter” from the last night [9/28/13 at the State Theater in Portland]. If this is the end of the movie and the credits are ready to roll then I’m walking over to the “Black Peter,” I’m hanging it on that hook and I’m walking away.

This band can play together. We’re not everybody’s cup of tea but for us and the people who enjoy our music we have absolutely demonstrated that we can get together and play real music. In October of 2000, 13 years ago, I couldn’t tell you that. This band was broken. And it just feels incredible to be able to tell you that we’re alive. And I don’t know where it’s going. We’re going to record another record, and we’re talking about new things and we’re just talking, which is a big deal. We love the music and as long as we love the music it’s alive.

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