THE GREAT LONG LIFE OF STRANGEFOLK

Strangefolk’s abrupt announcement last summer that lead vocalist Reid Genauer was leaving the band left a lot of loyal fans shocked and confused. Strangefolk’s roots were suddenly unearthed, leaving lead guitarist Jon Trafton, bassist Erik Glockler and drummer Luke Smith unsure of what the future would hold.

But the Strangefolk core didn’t let the wheels rust, and soon after their very successful final gig with Reid at the band’s Labor Day Festival in the Green Mountains of Vermont, they held auditions in Boston and New York City. The three remaining members entered the transition without any preconceived notions about what the next creative addition to the band would be.

"We were thinking about just keeping it open. People could bring whatever they wanted to bring," Glockler remembered. "We even had one guy come in with a didgeridoo."

A variety of musicians hauled their gear up the stairs of a downtown New York high-rise in the hopes of becoming the newest member of Strangefolk. Didgreridoos and acoustic guitars were the easy choice, but future band member Scott Shdeed, a keyboardist from Oklahoma City, felt compelled to take it one step further. "We were just really psyched that he was willing to haul his [Hammond] B3 all the way up the stairs in New York," Glockler said.

It just so happened that Scott's successful tryout was immediately followed by new lead singer and rhythm guitarist Luke "Patchen" Montgomery's audition. Patchen, a singer-songwriter from NewYork City, strapped on his acoustic guitar and sang some tunes for the remaining members. They knew immediately that they had found the perfect fit for the newest incarnation of Strangefolk.

"The tryout was pretty wide open," Erik said. "But after we played with both of these guys it seemed pretty clear to all of us that this would be our new lineup."

Scott added, "Patchen brought his acoustic guitar to the audition. He was trading off and I thought, holy smoke, what in the hell is going on? He was just shreddin’, and I was like his cheerleader... I was rooting for Patchen! I remember that I was immediately thinking that this was it." The Strangefolk core soon brought both Scott and Patchen to Boston to see how the whole sound would fit together, and everything just flowed.

When JamBase reported last December that the "Burlington, Vermont band Strangefolk officially announced the addition of two new members to the established jam rock lineup known for its intoxicating melodies, lush three-part harmonies and energized explorations," a number of devoted fans wondered whether or not that description would continue to ring true. For many, the expressive songwriting and lyrical vocal narratives that Reid presented every performance was the core reason to go see a Strangefolk show.

The band’s debut show on November 4, 2000 in Waitsfield, Vermont was followed by a series of gigs on the East Coast in January and February, testing the new lineup and their ability to string together a wealth of material in such a short period of time. The band found themselves embracing a lot of Strangefolk classics while introducing some new material into the repertiore as well. The past eight months has turned out to be a rapid growth period for the new lineup, who have worked hard to prove themselves.

Strangefolk is now wrapping up their first national tour, still acclimating the new members to life on the road, while locking down the fifty-song rotation and filtering some of Patchen’s favorite originals and preferred covers into the mix. And while it’s clear that Strangefolk is now adding and developing a number of elements that had never been explored in their old lineup, they’re also making certain that they maintain those elements that seem to work. On a recent tour stop at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, Erik explained, "We're trying to keep a lot of our old stuff, a lot of stuff that we co-wrote with Reid... keep that in there, and songs that Jon and I had that were from the old days too."

This tour has seen Strangefolk still nailing a number of the old numbers that Jon and Erik have penned, or that were co-written with Reid providing that familiar Strangefolk sound. They’ve also reworked some of those older tunes to breathe new life into the arrangements.

"You know an old song like ‘Fishin’ we've played so many times, but now Scott plays a solo on it and it just gives it a whole new life," noted Erik.

The band displayed that new vitality right out of the gates during their show on June 14th at the Great American Music Hall, opening with "Rather Go Fishin." As soon as the chorus faded away, both Jon and Patchen strummed rhythm lines on their guitars, and instead of the familiar lead guitar of the old arrangement, the keyboards stepped into the spotlight. Given that generous space within which to move, Scott nimbly led the jam while providing a much fuller Strangefolk sound. Still, some dedicated fans have commented that his lines are often muddled in the mix when he’s not featured in the spotlight of the jam.

It’s clear that the band isn’t content just to stick with the old standards like "Fishin," and riding that wave through. Patchen’s affinity for songwriting is currently proving itself as a powerfully creative force within the band. Strangefolk told JamBase their current onstage favorites include "Rubber Band" and "Escalator," a pair of Patchen tunes that debuted earlier this year and are now working their way into the repertoire.

Continually introducing new material is an ongoing challenge, though. "I feel so busy just trying to maintain being on the road and these guys live far away, so it’s kind of hard to always be [writing]... before all four of us lived relatively in the same area and it was easy to get together and try to get some stuff going," Erik said.

"Right now we're just getting all of the songs that we already have... the over 50 songs in our repertoire. Just to get those as a band down and now we’re on the road. That's been a hurdle to get over, it's kind of wide open as far as how things are going to go. I think it could be any combination going on, and I think we’re all pretty open minded."

While Strangefolk still embraces the sound that made them so popular with the bulk of their fans, that open mindedness shone through when they stripped away that acoustic shell to have Erik step up to the mic for the ‘80s groove cover "Electric Avenue." This arrangement features Shdeed’s keys filtering in a wealth of sound effects over the chucka rhythm guitar from Patchen, and some pointed power chords from Jon while the first verse is introduced. As the jam filters in, Scott’s electronica feel washes over the electric lead from Patchen, letting him show off some chops while Jon keeps the groove down with Erik. The two electric guitars wind up the scale together, culminating in a wash of sound, then break down, letting Scott taper the jam off by filtering in extended waves of ethereal keyboards before Jon rounds it out by strumming that power chord once more to bring the theme full circle and lead back into the chorus, "Oh we’re gonna rock down to, Electric Avenue, and then we’ll take it higher!" It’s an energetic cover like this that really shows you the new lineup’s potential to eclipse the jams of the old Strangefolk, using a monster groove-jam to create an auditory texture within which each band member can find their own colorful additions to the sound.

At the same time, the new sound is less strained and flows better, because each musician has the freedom to lay down their lines without the pressure of filling holes just to make the arrangement fuller.

"The newest thing, the really different thing is to have keyboards in there. It’s such a new world to have keys going on in there, that’s been a lot of fun just to have that, it just really makes the sound so much bigger in a lot of ways. We work less because it’s so much part of the glue so that everyone can [play] so much smaller parts than we used to." Erik said.

"Now Jon can sit back and let these guys solo. They can do so much more and, he doesn't always have to work his ass off all night long." Although it will take some time for the quintet to be fully aware each other’s space and optimize the onstage interaction, both the fans and band members notice that their sound is congealing quite well given their limited time together.

Even though the sound is coming together well, many fans still can’t get past the absence of the heartfelt lead vocals that Reid splayed out for the crowd every night. However, if these fans open their ears and their minds, they will certainly find a similarly emphatic lead singer/songwriter in Patchen, who is prone to singing those soaring vocal leads that aptly fit into that same repertoire and range, phrased with his own original vocal stylings and twists of the lyrical dialect. Throughout his onstage performance, Patchen can often be seen cocking his head to one side as he belts out the verses with his own distinctly animated style, providing his own endearing personality that’s often expected of a lead singer.

The band is currently rounding up their National Tour, but will not be resting anytime soon. Luke stated "[We’re touring] a little in August, then we have our big Vermont Festival Labor Day Weekend. And we're definitely going to spend a lot of time in the woodshed getting a bunch of new stuff together this fall."

Erik continued, "Our next goal is to sit down and learn a bunch of new songs, because we want some new material for ourselves. Fortunately we still have enough songs where we can change the set up, it’s just that we'd like to have a lot more..."

Strangefolk will also head back to "The Old Playground" in Colchester, Vermont where their recording experience began seven years ago. A young Strangefolk churned out their self-entitled demo CD there in 1994, and subsequently, Lore in 1995. Following those projects, they released Weightless in Water (1998) and A Great Long While (2000) with Nile Rodgers from Mammoth Records. The band will be producing their own album this time around. "Now we’re back to square one where we started. Which is exciting because we produced the first two albums by ourselves, but now we feel that we're experienced and a bit more savvy," Erik commented. And once they round that project up, you guessed it, Strangefolk will be looking to hit the road running once again, planning for another National tour in the Fall/Winter of 2001. Stay tuned...

Lee Bouyea
JamBase San Francisco Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 7/15/01]

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