Strangefolk, Higher Ground, Burlington, VT – 3/30
I moved off the rail for set two, settling in a spot about 20-feet back from the stage, still head-on with Trafton. As the band took their positions, their anticipation was palpable as they prepared to lay out something they seemed to know was going to be big. Isn’t it amazing how music has the power to give you goosebumps? As the heartbeat bass groove of “Pooh Bear’s Mistress” began I could feel a flutter of emotional excitement rising in my throat and by the time they hit the first three-part harmony I was in full-on chills. One of the things that is so special and so striking about Strangefolk’s music is that it waits—it just feels so patient and tender, couple that with great harmonies and the unexplainable charm of Reid’s voice and you have the makings of that magic I’ve been talking about. Before long I felt myself giving in to the hypnotic jam and Jon Trafton again carried the band further away with every note—do not underestimate the guitar mastery of this man, he’s not about speed and awe he’s a student of musical moods, knowing how to weave segues between soaring peaks and low emotional melodies into his solos—each one a journey that stands on its own. A smooth return to the verses melted away slowly into high-flying and spacey jam that decayed 17 minutes after the first note into a brief “Norwegian Wood” ending.
As is so often the case when a band drops an emotional bomb like that one—and not unlike when someone makes a joke to stave off the water-works during an tearful goodbye—Strangefolk opted to crank it up to 11 with their playful ode to the angler “Rather Go Fishin’”. The room immediately turned into a sea of bouncing heads and all of the introspective emotions of “Pooh Bear’s Mistress” blew out the door. This was an old-fashioned barn burner of a jam session that had the whole room in hoe-down mode.
It was a brief visit to typical those typical Strangefolk euphoric heights though because within seconds we were whisked down into the dire mood of “Songbeard” which would become the big moment of the night. This song is like being locked in a car with a bipolar pit bull. The quite parts invoke a feeling of earnest mystery—almost concern—while the chorus and jam bring on an uncontrollable gush of elation that makes you feel like your skull might give way under the pressure. And when the chorus returns it’s a face-melting moment—instant perma-smile!
In keeping with the ups and downs of this amazing second set, we were all carried down and treated to another heartstring-tugging opus in the form of “Crest of my Wing.” The band absolutely blew this song out of the water as Reid’s repeated refrain, ‘you can ride on the crest of my wing’ echoed off the walls and by the end of the song the band was really selling the weight of the song as Reid elevated it with his vocal power.
After a head-bobbing rendition of “Come On Down” we were treated to an old favorite that I think a lot of people were waiting for from day one of the reunion run. “Woman Child” has always been one of the songs that really seemed to exemplify the perfect collaborative mix that existed between Trafton and Genauer during their earlier years and it was a real treat to see live. To close the set, the signature drum intro of “Reuben’s Place” rang out though the venue and was met with an explosion of cheers. This song has been a favorite of Strangefolk fans since their earliest years, available on the hard-to-find 1994 release Strangefolk, also known to the fans simply as “Demo” this song has been with the band almost as long as the original members and to be playing it 18 years later in Burlington, the band’s birthplace, really seemed like a special moment. As the jam quieted, Reid spat the lyrics to “You Lay the Dust” over the “Reuben’s Place” groove and then lifted it through the rooftop with Reuben’s famous refrain. The whole room again erupted into a chorus of “ever lonely’s” as the band capped off what I believe will be the most remembered set of the reunion run.
The original four; Jon, Reid, Luke and Erik returned to the stage looking like they were really feeling the strength of their old foundations. They launched into “Roads” which was the only song that, in a room swollen with hope and high spirits, could carry the mood further. After “Roads” the boys ended the show on a hilarious note, offering their take on the theme song from the early-1990’s Juicy Fruit commercials, yeah you know the one—if you’re over 24 that is—“Juicy Fruit, is gonna move ya!”
As we walked out of the show, with the damned Juicy Fruit theme song stuck in our heads there was a lot of hope in the air. Hope that they would stay together for a while and maybe play a few more shows. They killed the whole show—my wife put it best saying that, “they played every song like it was an encore.” As we made our way through the small crowd to the lot, I had little doubt where many of them would be the following night. I wish I could have made it to the next show—well, didn’t I tell you… life always gets in the way!
Here’s hoping for an original lineup Strangefolk Summer Tour—fingers crossed, dollars saved.