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Published: 2014/10/07
by Dean Budnick

Back to Burlington with Strangefolk

Reid Genauer and Jon Trafton circa 1991

This coming Saturday, Strangefolk will return to the stage at the Flynn Theatre in Burlington, VT. This will be the quartet’s first indoor performance since last year’s two-night Thanksgiving run at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. It also will be a special evening as three of the band members [Jon Trafton, Reid Genauer and Luke Smith] graduated from UVM and this will be a 20th reunion weekend for many of their longtime friends. Speaking of reunions, it was in March of 2012 that the original Strangefolk quartet [which is rounded out by Erik Glockler] took the stage together after a nearly 12 year hiatus. The band’s return to the Flynn also coincides with the creation of the Strangefolk Scholarship in Environmental Studies. In the following conversation, Jon Trafton reflects on all of these developments, discusses the band’s early days, recalls a misstep at the Flynn in 1998 and looks to the future as well.

Let’s start with the scholarship. How did that come about?

The credit there goes really to Andre Gardner, good friend, classmate and road manager for many years. His motto was “Be good to each other”—that is how he would always sign off his section of the newsletter. He just wanted to give back, remembering his UVM experience, how we all connected through UVM and what a great time we all had. He wanted to give another person a chance to go there and hopefully have a great time as well. That’s really where it all started—he ran it by us and said he had this idea but wanted to expand it and involve the band because he felt that was a focal point of all of our lives at that time.

Now that is associated with us, we’re going to donate to it and figure out a structure so we make sure it takes off.

It is going to support people who are studying in environmental studies program?

Yeah, that’s right. Luke, Reid, Andre and I were all in the environmental program either fully or peripherally and it was a core for all of us. We were in a lot of classes together and I remember sitting next to Luke in classes, walking around with Reid…

Speaking of which, this seems like an opportune moment to look back on those days. Can you remember the first time meeting Reid, playing with Reid and the same with Luke?

Sure. I remember Reid and I were in the same orientation. I don’t know if we actually fully met then but we were aware of each other because as our first month there was unfolding, we were playing in a lot of guitar circles. We lived in different dorms on different campuses and he would come over with a guitar slung over his back, hunkering down in our guitar circle. He had a great voice and he kind of took over and we were like, “Wow, this guy really has it going on.”

Then the Slade dorm had an open mic and when he played down there, I played separately with a buddy of mine. After that I went up to him and asked, “Hey, would you be interested in making some music together? I think we’d have something cool.” And the rest for us is history. We got together in the dorm and made a recording that I still have.

Meeting Luke is a little different. My recollection might be wrong, I’m sure I met him before this, but what I really remember is Reid and I were playing a little bit on campus as a duo and at parties and stuff and I think he heard us and just set out to join us. He really wanted to play and he was like, “If you guys are willing, let’s hook up, let’s jam together.”

So we scheduled it for one afternoon in a chapel of some sort on the Redstone campus. When I showed up Luke was there already, all set up with his drums. I walked into the room and Reid hadn’t shown up yet but Luke had this guy in a half nelson on the floor and I was like, “What, what the hell is going on here?” Apparently when Luke had come in he caught some kid trying to steal the stereo system out of the room. Luke fully busted the guy and he ran for it but Luke tackled him to the ground and held him in submission. I think it was a kid from town, a young kid maybe 17 or 18 with a look of absolute terror in his eyes because Luke has some authority. I was like, “Wow, that’s really awesome.” [laughs] It was such a bizarre first encounter and the kid was so scared and Luke let him go. I think the kid learned his lesson, I don’t think he went around trying to steal any more stereo systems [Laughs].

And then Erik of course I met him in third grade and we have been best friends ever since but that was obviously not UVM related.

How long had you and Reid been performing together before that time when you first played with Luke?

I want to say the meeting with Luke was in the spring of our sophomore year. I think the open mic thing with Reid might have started the spring of our freshman year. Then we kind of loosely got together and did a little jamming in the fall and decided to formalize it. But I could be completely wrong with my dates. [laughs].

So to complete the story of Strangefolk, at what point did you suggest, “Maybe we should try things as a quartet with my friend Erik”?

There was definitely a formal “Okay, now we are a band” moment and I want to say that it might have been during the summer of our sophomore and junior year. I remember SAE, Luke’s fraternity, was empty during the summer time so they would let us practice there. I also remember all of us being like, “I don’t know if this is even going to work.” It wasn’t quite clicking at first and we just kind of kept at it.

It was around that time that Erik moved to Vermont and it was just like that: “I’ve got this buddy, we go way back. We’ve got a couple of songs we’ve written together. He is a great musician and a guitar player but he can play anything, so I’m sure he will be happy to join on bass,” And that’s exactly what Erik did. Up until that point I kept thinking of Eric as a guitar player and then he switched to bass. I think that was ‘93.

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