Strangefolk, Waterfront Park, Burlington, VT- 8/11
When It Rains, It Pours
“I think we’re going to be all right”… Nervously watching the weather reports on TV, with my cell phone and wallet tucked away in plastic bags under my raincoat, I didn’t really believe my friend’s optimistic weather prediction. Mother Nature was allegedly set to demolish the Northeast with heavy rains, and as we waited out the storm in the bar at the Burlington Sheraton I must admit I didn’t have much faith.
After catching their reunion shows in the spring, I bought a ticket not soon after it was announced that the original lineup of Strangefolk would be playing at the Lake Champlain Maritime Festival. After performing at Gathering Of The Vibes, I (and many others) were eagerly anticipating the band’s return to Vermont for The Edge Of Eden. Although I am too young to have attended any of the original Garden Of Eden festivals, I was looking forward to a weekend of “great” in Vermont: Great friends, great music, great scenery, and great beer. Even though the Alchemist had tweeted on Friday that they had run out of Heady Topper, and the weather maps looked frightful, I was still insanely excited and optimistic.
As the announcements came that doors and showtime were being pushed back (and back, and back) to try to accommodate the weather, I sipped my beer and prayed to the music gods that the ferocious rain pounding the ground outside would subside. Long story short – it did, and as we made our way into Waterfront Park, there was an electric assortment of energy pulsating through the crowd as the skies cleared up, and the instruments were tuned.
First of all, what an amazing venue. To see a great band in front of you, and an amazing view of Lake Champlain behind you is really very surreal. The crowd was definitely a bit more on the mature side – the average age appeared to be low thirties, with many people bringing their families. The walk into the show had various tents, tables, and activities set up. On the way in, we were approached by a local farmer who was giving out samples of his latest crop of carrots (In his own words, “Free, of course!”). It was a nice change of pace from some of the larger shows I’ve been to. There were no pie eyed maniacs desperately searching for various acronyms pre-show…just friendly people of all ages, fans both old and new, getting ready to hear some Strangefolk.
It looked like the storm had just missed us – for now anyway – as the band took the stage. The show kicked off with a high energy rendition of “So Well”, with some especially inspired playing by guitarist Jon Trafton. The lyrics “We came to Burlington/body, soul and mind/We came to Burlington/to find ourselves to find” got a large response from the crowd. As shouts of “We will remain!” echoed through the audience and over Lake Champlain, the band then went into “Utterly Addled.” A fun song with catchy lyrics with an equally catchy riff, this one was stuck in my head for days after the show. Utterly Addled ended not with silence, but rather a beautiful segue into “Burned Down.” Again, great playing by all four members, and some nice vocal harmony by Trafton and bassist Erik Glockler under the lead vocals of Reid Genauer. There was also some interesting “call and answer” playing going on between Trafton and drummer Luke Smith. Trafton would through a guitar lick out there, and Luke would respond with a volley of drum beats.
Up next was “Like You Anyway.” As Glockler took the reins on lead vocals, Reid and Trafton backed him up, keeping the vocal harmony going. Around the 3:20 mark, Glockler and Luke get locked into a groovy interplay that Trafton eventually joined in on. It was interesting to see each member start with a separate musical idea that ultimately ended up in the same place to construct a defined groove. After announcing that they were speaking with the Burlington Airport to keep tabs on the weather situation, and that it “might get gnarly” a little later in the night, we were told that in the interest of properly rocking out, the band would continue playing and not take a set break. I was in the bathroom line when the announcement came on – but could still hear it perfectly. There were very few places in Waterfront Park where you couldn’t hear the sound coming from the stage, another benefit of such a small and intimate venue.
After the previous rippin’ and roarin’ “Like You Anyway,” Reid and company relaxed things with “Speculator,” which turned into a giant sing-along throughout the crowd. The lyrics really seemed to capture the essence of summertime New England, especially Vermont. “Sipping beer on aging porches/Crooked walls, built before my birth/Latent heat on the quiet streets and/people sleeping, people talk this evening.” Again, as the lyrics say themselves, “it’s a good song” (and it turned out to be a “fine fine day”). It was at the end of “Speculator,” as the music slowed down and Reid began singing “This whole world keeps spinnin’ round,” I looked from the stage, to the lake, to the hundreds of smiles all around me, and had one of the moments that I can only really describe as a feeling of complete and utter content. There was no place else at that moment I would rather be…and the show wasn’t even halfway done.
Staring at the sky, I was brought back to reality with the familiar riff of “Walnut” kicking it. Ascribing my own weather related meaning to the opening lyric “I’m feeling optimistic.” I realized that — my earlier weather related pessimism aside – the night had turned out pretty damn well. We were still dry, and the band was on fire from the opening note on. Something I really like about “Walnut” was the way the pace of the music would slow down just the tiniest bit to match the speed of the lyrics, and on a dime pick back up into the main riff. Trafton and Glockler’s accompaniment to Reid’s lead vocal also made for a great layered harmony.
At the conclusion of the song, Trafton asked the audience how we were doing, which was met with a loud cheer before taking over on lead vocals for “See To.” This one starts as a rocker, but as it progresses it evolves into a more chilled out tune. Luke complemented Trafton’s nice patient playing around the midway point with some light playing of his own on the drums. Ethereal, airy notes by Trafton fade away with the conclusion of the song.
“Poland” is one of the songs I believe really displays Reid’s ability to write lyrics that are not only catchy and sound good, but really paint a picture in your mind as well. They tell a story. With a nod to the Grateful Dead classic “He’s Gone,” Reid belted out “Steal your face, Steal your face right off your head” inspiring the crowd to erupt and the band responded with one of the most high energy jams of the night. Quick notes exploded from Trafton, Reid attacked the acoustic, Luke slammed the drums, and Glockler dropped into a series of slides on his bass neck that brought it all together.
The energy that built up during “Poland” would not decrease, as one of the highlights of the night came via a “Cabin John”>”Neighbor”>”Cabin John” sandwich. Perhaps one of the most appropriate songs of the night, and a nod to the waterworks earlier on in the day, the lyrics “When it rains, it pours” were sung beautifully by Reid, Trafton, and Glockler. As Cabin John started to get airy, Luke began lightly playing the cymbals, which on the recording you can hear someone in the audience respond to by excitedly exclaim “Neighbor! Neighbor!” Sure enough, they were right.” “Neighbor” was full of energy, and seamlessly segued back in “Cabin John” right where it left off: Luke lightly on the cymbals, and dream-like notes coming from Trafton. It built up steam, as the song finished with a good amount of energy.
As I said in my previous review of the Assembly Of Dust show on 12/30/11 at the Mercury Lounge, there are pros and cons to going into a show without knowing the whole catalogue of the band (which I didn’t at the time). You discover new amazing songs, but you also aren’t aware when something cool happens. (In that case, it was “Lone Tree” lyrics over “Westerly”, and vice versa). Well, this time I was ready. The crowd was game for the always welcome “Westerly”, and as it began my friend Dan said “Get ready for the ‘Lone Tree’ Lyrics.” He was right. Another fan favorite, “Faces” was executed very well by the band and featured some cool Reid/Trafton interplay.
Trafton would take lead vocals again on “Chasing Away”, which included arguably the most exploratory jam of the night. Great use of effects by Trafton helped drive this jam to outer space and back down to earth with flawless execution.
With an exclamation of “This is ground control to rock and roll…it looks like the storm is gonna miss us!” Reid assured us that they were going to keep rocking. Luke signaled the beginning of the next song with a 1-2-3-4 drum stick count off, which would turn out to be “Elixer”: A well-played version of another fan favorite.
Another highlight of the night was on deck, and it was a tasty Reuben sandwich. The familiar drum boogie got the crowd ready for “Reuben’s Place”, but instead the band launched into “Whiskey River.” Written by Johnny Bush and made famous by Willie Nelson, it segued perfectly back into “Reuben’s Place.”
After a brief break (the only one that the band had taken all night), they came back and started a personal favorite, “Roads.” The refrain of “I don’t know where I’m going but I’ll get there/Sometimes I’m wondering where will it be?” seemed to resonate with fans of all ages in the crowd. The band took a bow and thanked the crowd, and what was refreshing was that it felt so genuine. This wasn’t a band that said it because it was the customary conclusion to a concert – I honestly feel they were just as grateful to have us listening to their music as we were to listen to it, something that you don’t see too often these days.
We made it out of the show with only a few raindrops falling all night and after listening to the show a few more times, I feel truly blessed to have been a part of such an amazing night of music. I don’t know how much longer the Strangefolk Reunion will continue, but if the amount of energy and fun displayed on stage that Saturday night is any indication, we will remain…optimistic.