By PJ Matson
“I am still having a great time,” replies Strangefolk guitarist Jon Trafton. “I would not be able to do what we do after a decade of playing if I wasn’t having a good time, especially after all we've gone through.” After a tiresome decade forming, reforming and re-defining his band, Trafton seems fresh, rejuvenated and musically reborn. This feat is unbelievable for a band that has sworn off the idea of quitting despite mountains of obstacles it’s come up against in the past few years. “To tell you the truth, I am amazed I have any energy left at all,” says Trafton. “Lately, we have been out on the road constantly. Luckily, for me, the music and the guys keep it so great.”

Trafton is one of the leaders of Strangefolk, which has become a household name for listeners of good music for more than a decade. Originally beginning as an acoustic duo between Trafton and now departed guitarist Reid Genauer, Strangefolk initially prospered under the nurturing blanket of the University of Vermont music scene. After adding Erik Glockler on bass and Luke Smith on drums in 1992, the quartet toured for eight years nationally and internationally while gaining an extremely loyal fan following all over the United States and Canada.

By PJ Matson
The first obstacle to hit the band was the demise of Mammoth Records just before the release of Weightless in Water, as well as a distribution deal for Weightless in Water’s follow-up, A Great Long While. Just after the small, band-friendly independent picked up Strangefolk, Disney bought out the company, fired all the employees and restructured the label. Of the many albums to lose national distribution deals, Weightless in Water and A Great Long While were cut. Just as the sour experience of dealing with the business of major labels sunk in, founding member and contributing songwriter Genauer left the band to go back to school and pursue personal interests in 2000. Since the timing of Reid’s departure and the crumbling of Mammoth records occurred within earshot of each other, Weightless in Water went nowhere. The album tanked and the band was left with one less member, a bitter label experience and an unforeseen future. Consequently, after Genauer’s final show at the band’s storybook Garden of Eden music festival in September of 2000, Trafton, Glockler and Smith contemplated throwing in the towel.

Fortunately, realizing the power of the music and the supportive community behind it, the band decided to hold auditions to see if anyone could fill Genauer’s large shoes. “We were looking for someone who would make us feel that it was worth going back into the Strangefolk mode after Reid left,” responds Trafton. “For a while, I do not think any of us wanted to do that.”

By PJ Matson
Then, Luke "Patchen" Montgomery tried out in New York City. “He came in so prepared that we were surprised. Pleasantly surprised. It was immediately apparent that he would be the man for the job,” reminisces Trafton. Along with that, the quartet decided to add the element of keys after Patchen had joined. Stand-up keys wizard Don Scott was immediately introduced to the band via a mutual friend, and was quickly sworn in as the permanent keyboardist. “In my recollection, it was on a recommendation that couldn't fail. So we met up, jammed and next thing he was on tour with us,” recalls Trafton.

Unlike Strangefolk’s older sound that defines and represents their moniker to a tee, the fresh-faced quintet’s sound explores realms that are more electric, funky and intense. Even though their main emphasis continues to revolve around the art of songwriting, their improvisational style has improved and changed significantly since the arrival of Patchen and Scott. More centered around the fluid and tasteful soloing of Trafton, coupled with the grounding acoustic guitar of Patchen and the funky, dynamic work of Scott, Strangefolk has turned its rockabilly roots into a full-out genre-bridging machine. Mixing rock, funk, bluegrass, cheerful stage antics and good old-fashioned positive vibes, the new sound demands the attention of the listener. “I think our tunes have gone through an evolution of sorts,” says Trafton. “I guess part of the reason was that we changed some members and the other aspect is that our selves and our tastes have gotten older.”

By PJ Matson
Whether getting down to the bluegrass-infused “Get You Movin,” the raucous, country tinged “In Deep,” or the emotional rock roller-coaster ride of “Lucy Down,” ‘Folk’s new material mirrors the band’s energetic and revitalized attitude towards writing and performing. “When you play as much as we do, you cannot help changing a bit. Over the years, I have noticed that our sound has gotten a little less cluttered and busy. We have learned how to play together better,” Trafton says.

Along with a fresh new face on performing and writing, Strangefolk’s dedication and connection to their fans is another facet of the band that puts it beyond most musical acts presently touring. Trafton himself consistently updates and operates a section of the band’s website where he answers e-mails and queries while joking around in a relaxing and comfortable online environment. “I like feeling connected to our fans. The times that I have the most fun and can feel how worth it everything is happens when the crowd at the shows is having a great time and we are all reacting to each other reciprocally,” says Trafton. Along with that, Strangers Helping Strangers, an organization founded by fans, circles around the tours to provide food to those less fortunate by holding drives at specific concerts. The band often contributes to the organization by promoting and stressing its importance at shows and online, which in itself is a humbling example of the band’s relationship with its most important asset.

After a series of opening stints with the legendary Gregg Allman and a successful nationwide tour culminating with their historic 1000th show in Vermont, some downtime will be relished before festival season approaches. “This spring we are taking a little time for some creative breathing because we have been on the road constantly,” Trafton explains. “This summer, we hope to go to as many festivals as we can and try to put a tour around that. Even though that is never an easy task, it is always the goal. After that, we will hopefully wrap up our summer with our Garden of Eden Festival.”

With continued steady album sales, constant touring, heavy fan support and a past that rivals no other, Strangefolk is a case study that is worth delving into. With an experienced and invigorated attitude supporting Strangefolk’s historically acoustic and ever evolving sound, the future looks bright for this band that is always budding to not only get you moving, but keep you moving.

Shain Shapiro
JamBase | Northeast
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[Published on: 6/5/03]

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