Strangefolk, Higher Ground, Burlington, VT – 3/30
Life always seems to get in the way of a good time, and back in 2000 when Reid Genauer parted ways with his bandmates to seek higher education the “good times” ended for many of the Strangefolk faithful. I was 20 at the time and trying to decide if I liked the band when I attended a show at the Somerville Theatre in September of that year and (sorry Patchen) it just didn’t do it for me.
I’ll admit that I am not a Strangefolk geek in the way that I am a Phish geek, and at 31 years old I don’t have the same “drop everything” luxuries I did 10 years ago, so I had to pick one show and it was going to be Friday night in Burlington—an easy five hour drive from my home in Rhode Island—but this was a reunion I wasn’t going to miss! And after all, when I bought the tickets this was to be opening night—magic was sure to happen—but we all know now that they opened two days earlier in Brooklyn, I guess after seeing how fast tickets to the first two shows drained they decided to add a couple more stops to their mini tour. And really, who can blame them?
With that in mind, I think the newly reunited band planned to drop a show on Friday night capable of melting the mind of even the most seasoned Strangefolk nerd and it worked. The band hit the stage with gliding confidence that bled off the stage immediately and when they stuck the first moody chords of the underplayed crowd pleaser “Dance” the pent up anticipation in the room released with gushing cheers. I was at the rail directly in front of lead guitarist Jon Trafton, I remember looking from him to Reid to bassist Erik Glockler to drummer Luke Smith and thinking that they all looked so calm, so self-assured and so content. This fostered a very loose and chilled out feel that lasted the whole show—this was that Strangefolk magic that I had heard about from longtime fans and that I had so narrowly missed 12 years ago in Somerville.
“Dance” was to be the first of many songs on the night that I had never heard and even with a too-full belly of “Tiny Thai” I found it impossible to stand still giving in to the whole-body slow groove that was flooding the small, dusty venue. When the band switched gears and landed in the bass-driven Glock shot, “Who I Am” it was immediately apparent to me that the band meant business, it wasn’t going to be all about the novelty of having Reid at the helm, it was about the whole band and that really meant something to me. The well-know “Sometimes” was next, it was near note-perfect and had the whole crowd singing every word.
After the show I was talking to my friend Pelt he was with another group of people for the show, one of them a dyed-in-the-wool Strangefolk diehard and he said when the band launched into the chill textures of “Faces” his buddy glowed with the shimmer of a June bride—the second less-played fan favorite of this special night. And they kept on coming; next up was one of my favorites, the bluegrassy square dance number “Otis” I defy you not to at least think about a do-si-do when you hear this one. The repeated refrain of “It’s alright” seemed to heighten the euphoric feeling in the room, Strangefolk was back together and they were killing it!
What came next was the surprise of the night for me the combination of “Take It Easy” > “Video Game” > Take It Easy” really showed off the band’s technical chops. The band, lead by Trafton, nimbly moved from the relaxed groove of “Take It Easy” to the circus calliope rollercoaster ride through lost memories of Mario Brothers with their aptly named instrumental “Video Game”, with a nod from Trafton, the band launched immediately back into the jam section of “Take It Easy” and the man with the axe took us on a soaring ride through the stratosphere before floating down like a feather back into dancey slow groove to finish out their most ambitious ride of the night—but the most exciting excursion was still yet to drop.
As if sensing that their attempt to please their hardest of hardcore fans was starting to confuse the uninitiated the boys dropped another perfectly-placed feel good sing along in the form of “Mama.” Genauer’s smooth and soulful voice twanged through the verses as the crowd sang along into the dust-coated rafters; and the mood lifted up a few more notches. Set one closed out with a bouncy version of Glockler’s “Like You Anyway” which the ‘Folk crushed with surgical precision and then proceeded to jam it way out before teasing the outro refrain from “Hey Jude” which turned into another full audience chorus. As the band walked off stage, a bearded, rolling and glitter-coated Strangefolk fanatic turned to me and said, “They are playing better tonight than the last two nights, in fact, I’ve seen close to 300 Strangefolk songs and they sound as good tonight as they ever have!” I don’t know if it was the glitter, fourteen beers or the moon rocks, but I could tell he meant it, and by the way they were playing and the confident air they were projecting, I believed him.