Strangefolk Brings it Back Home to Gathering of The Vibes!

By Bill Clifford

Rejoice VibeTribe, the ORIGINAL members of Strangefolk have REUNITED, and are returning to the Gathering of the Vibes stage for the first time since 2000. The band will perform with its original line up; guitarists/vocalists Reid Genauer and Jon Trafton, bassist/vocalist Erik Glocklerand, and drummer Luke Smith. This quartet performed at the very first gathering festival — then known as Deadhead Heaven: Gathering of The Tribe, in 1996 — and at subsequent Gathering of The Vibes through the year 2000. This line up of Strangefolk is known amongst its community of fans as “oldfolk,” referencing the original line-up.

Confused? Hasn’t Strangefolk performed at every Vibes festival since it began, you ask? Sure. Allow me to briefly fill you in; Genauer left the band in 2000, choosing to go back to school for his masters degree at Cornell, then formed Assembly of Dust in 2002; and Smith left Strangefolk in 2003. Trafton and Glocker trekked on as Strangefolk, with guitarist Luke Patchen Montgomery replacing Genauer in 2000 and drummer Russ Lawton replacing Smith, continuing to perform on the Vibes stage as well as at their own festivals and theater performances. This line up was known as “Newfolk,” amongst fans, referencing the band that has performed on the Vibes stage since Genauer and Smith left.

Over the last several years however, Strangefolk performances have been few and far between, with Trafton living and working in California, Genauer busy with AOD, and others doing their own thing. But in 2012, the timing for the reunion of the original line-up fell into place with a polite nudge from an old friend. The original four performed a series of gigs in Brooklyn, Vermont, and Maine — all complete sell-outs well in advance. And so, with great pride, Strangefolk brings the reunion of the original band to the Vibes this summer.

Via email, Genauer and Trafton took time to reply to a Q&A and fill in the details for VibeTribe. Read on and share your “Folk” memories in the comments section below.

Bill Clifford – So we understand that an initial “nudge” to play again came from musical impresario Peter Shapiro (Relix Magazine Publisher, Wetlands, Brooklyn Bowl, Capitol Theater). Did it take a whole lot of convincing on his part to bring you guys back together? How’d it come about?

John Trafton – “Pete has an enthusiasm that’s contagious. He’s a real “Big Idea” guy. We were all feeling ready to reunite, so Pete’s involvement was pretty much the spark that lit the fuse. Last summer or fall we had a conference call and I remember Pete was standing outside some raging show at the Brooklyn Bowl. He’d stepped out to make the call at the appointed time. He pretty much laid down his whole idea of how it should go. It was more like a speech. At the end we were all pretty much like, “Yep, I’m in.” Unfortunately, the original idea didn’t pan out. We were to play the re-opening of the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York. By the time the wheels were in motion, we had dates settled in VT and Maine, but the Capitol wasn’t ready. But because Pete was so instrumental in getting the whole thing together we felt it was important to play a show at the Brooklyn Bowl (his other venue). He actually flew there from a family vacation in California to make the show.”

Reid Genauer — “He had first brought it up when he opened the Brooklyn Bowl and we just couldn’t get our act together. When he started finalizing things for the Capitol Theater, he got the four of us back on the horn and basically said, ‘A) You guys have to play together again and B) You have to come do it at The Cap.’ Pete has always been a friend, supporter, and great promoter – good combo!”

Bill Clifford — So, it hasn’t worked out – as of yet – that Strangefolk will be the first band to play at the renovated Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York but you have released a live recording from that venue from a performance of yours recorded back in ’98. Who’s idea was that?

Reid Genauer — “The booking of the reunion performances came prior to the live recording being released. In response to the announcement of our reunion, people started digitizing old DATs and cassettes of our live shows from the 90s and first we said – we should find a good one and release it as part of the festivities. Ben Collette, who now works for Phish and as it turns out used to intern for Strangefolk, has many, if not most of our “official” soundboard recordings. He culled through reams of stuff and felt like one of the best shows, both in terms of performance and sound quality, was from our show at The Capitol in 1998.

So it was Ben’s recording and a good one. We first listened to it as a band in Trey’s [Anastsio, Phish] barn as part of our rehearsal process. The pair of reactions was kind of like ‘Hey, we were better than any of us recall being,’ and, ‘Wow, it’s gonna be hard to pull this off.’ Listening to that recording over nice, studio-grade speakers scared the pants of us. Probably for the better. We practiced hard. Anyway it ties in nicely to our connection with Pete and the reopening of The Capitol.

John Trafton — “It would have been cool if it had worked out that we were going to play The Capitol, but we knew that wasn’t happening when we were working on the release. A moment of serendipity came when we lost our rehearsal hall in Connecticut and had to scramble to find one prior to the New York show. Pete stepped up and offered The Capitol to us. So, we got to rehearse there for a few days. In a sense, we are the first band to have played the newly renovated theater.”

Bill Clifford — Were you all surprised at how well the reunion concerts did and how fast they sold out? How did the reactions to these shows influence your decision on playing more shows with this line up and specifically, into playing at the Vibes again?

John Trafton — “Yes, I was very surprised. We all were. I knew there would be interest and hoped we’d sell the shows out eventually. I was genuinely shocked when the first Higher Ground show sold out in minutes. When they all sold out so far in advance at first it felt great, then I started to get nervous. It’s not like we planned to phone it in, but for me anyway, the pressure was on. I think we were all a bit freaked out. We worked our asses off to get it together for those shows. In the end I think it all paid off. What a fun time. Ken [Hays, Vibes Festival Director] from the Vibes reached out to us with an offer to play. Prior to the reunion shows, we had gotten a lot of offers from all over the place, but we decided not to decide on anything until we’d finished the reunion run of shows. We hadn’t spent any real time together for over ten years so we wanted to be sure that we could still play together, hang out together, get into that intense space again. We realized getting back into this was like getting back into comfortable slippers. And we all enjoyed diving back into the music. There are so many songs we didn’t even play, not to mention that only playing most of them once or twice was hardly scratching the surface. There’s lots of exploring yet to do. So we knew pretty much immediately after the first show that we were interested in accepting some of the offers. The Gathering of The Vibes makes perfect sense. We were one of the bands that played the very first Vibes, when it was the Gathering of the Tribes. We go back a long way with Ken.”

Reid Genauer — “As soon as we booked the first four shows we started getting inquiries (to play) and I think, in a couple instances, offers to play others [festivals]. We all felt like we needed to get through the first four shows and assess from there. There was a bunch of intimidating unknowns (like, would we suck?) After the first couple shows, we felt confident that we could summon the gods of rock with conviction and at a level of quality we felt good about. In terms of doing the Vibes, it was an obvious choice. Much like maestro Shapiro, Ken has been a fan, friend, and huge supporter from the get go. I remember getting booked at the first incarnation of the Vibes, Deadhead Heavan: Gathering of The Tribe, and feeling like we had made it. Seems so appropriate to “make it” again at the heart of our scene and in a place that feels so familiar, comfortable and welcoming.”

Bill Clifford — You guys each have a great history with the Vibes festival – having played with the original band line-up at the first five festivals, and then succeeding events as Strangefolk or as AOD. Might you have any fond memories of Vibes events from years past? Why do you feel this particular festival been so welcoming to each of you and your respective groups?

John Trafton — “It goes back to the fact that we played the first Gathering. We became friends with Ken and it really blossomed from that. He’s always looked out for us over the years. There are too many memories from that festival to recall a specific one. For me, it’s always about seeing our friends in other bands, hanging out, and watching a ton of music.”

Reid Genauer — “As you mentioned above, Stangefolk and Assembly of Dust in all incarnations are bands spawned from a rich musical scene happening in the 90s in the Northeast. We have deep roots to New England as people and musicians. Gathering of the Vibes has been a tent pole event for our ilk from the beginning. We feel a part of the fiber that makes up the community and the event and conversely Gathering of the Vibes is part of our lineage. As such it’s hard to take the bands out of the festival or the festival out of the bands. I have lots of great memories. I remember one Strangefolk set that we opened with The Dead’s “Feel Like A Stranger.” We had never performed it live. In fact we had never rehearsed it. We just learned it in a van by the side of the stage before the set. The notion of opening our set in front of 10,000 people with a song that we had never played scared the hell out of me. In the end it was exhilarating and from what I recall, we pulled it off. I remember a set with AOD where we did a similar thing. We were under the lights, massive crowd and we started with what was at the time a brand new song called “Truck Farm.” Again I was scared. I remember finishing that song and feeling AOD had officially arrived. I also played a solo set before Gathering of the Vibes. Mule one year. That was really rewarding. Same theme: utter fear, warm crowd response, and warm glow. Memories come in little indelible stamps typically, rather than long fluid streams; those are three moments stamped on my brain. I will carry them to my grave.”

So now let’s here from you, VibeTribe! What are your fond memories of Strangefolk performing at the festival? Anyone remember the band performing at the first five festivals? How about in later years? Are you excited about seeing the original line-up together again? Or will this be the first time you’ve seen this incarnation of the band? Now’s the time and we want to hear what you have to say about Strangefolk. Share your thoughts and comments in the space below.