Going Out Westerly: Guitarist Jon Trafton Talks Strangefolk’s Terrapin Crossroads Debut & More
Words by: Chad Berndtson
The heyday of Strangefolk, one of the great New England jambands of the 1990s and early 2000s, has long past, but to see the reunited band now is much more than a nostalgia trip. Reid Genauer, Jon Trafton, Luke Smith and Erik Glockler still clearly enjoy each other’s company and foster a deep musical rapport such that when they get on stage together it’s more than just a show, it’s an event.
The so-called “original Strangefolk” first reunited in 2012 — more than 12 years after Genauer departed the band — and in the five years since, has continued to come back together. They’ll play Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads club in San Rafael, California, for the first time this weekend, and Trafton, who lives not far in Sonoma County, was gracious enough to share a few thoughts ahead of their TxR debut.
JAMBASE: So it’s been five years now since original Strangefolk reunited — you guys seem to be in a good groove of it happening when it can happen.
JON TRAFTON: That does seem to be the way it’s been rolling out. With everyone’s schedules it’s tough to get it together, so we do it when we can. It’s always good when we have a chance to get together.
JAMBASE: Does it feel any different than it did in the old days?
JT: It doesn’t really. We’ve all gotten older and wiser I think. It just feels good. It’s easy, like getting on a bike. When we played together [in 2012] after all that time, we felt it all snap back together. There’s a chemistry when you play in a band like that that doesn’t go away, like anyone having a long term conversation. We work together well.
JAMBASE: Are you guys in regular touch?
JT: We are, mostly via e-mails. We go into dormant phases as people get involved with other things, but we always seem to catch back up.
JAMBASE: This will be the band’s first time at Terrapin Crossroads. You’ve been there though, I gather.
JT: I have. It’s awesome. I first went shortly after it opened, my wife and I went down to have brunch. It had sounded like a cool thing, catering to local food and a mission to make it a place to be, and our first time walking in there, Phil’s just right there, sitting at a table, and Jill [Lesh] is there setting up flowers. It has such a great vibe and ambiance to it and it’s a very welcoming place, so it’s really cool to get a chance to play there.
JAMBASE: Turning back to Strangefolk history, do you think the post-Reid lineup of the band will do anything more?
JT: You know, I saw Don Scott fairly recently and we hadn’t talked for quite a while. I doubt there is a possibility. It was a negative breakup and it didn’t survive so I don’t think there’s much hope for that particular lineup. But hey, I never thought the original Strangefolk would line back up again, either. Time passes, perspectives change and people move on. I would welcome it if it came up. It was a great group of guys. I really loved that band.
JAMBASE: Are you, Reid and the guys working at all on new material?
JT: I do think we will. We made a push last year to get some stuff ready for our Eden show, and it was leftover stuff from a backlog of just little snippets and riffs and things we wanted to look at. I certainly hope we can create new stuff, but I also love playing the old stuff — I find a lot of new inspiration in it.
JAMBASE: What else have you been working on, musically?
JT: It’s funny, I’ve been playing a lot of keyboards lately — that’s been my thing. Lap steel as well, and just playing around on different instruments, looking at different textures and getting into the mindsets you have to be in to play them.
JAMBASE: Does any of that make it to the stage with Strangefolk?
JT: No, no, it’s sort of behind closed doors. It’s mostly for learning and for expanding my horizons. I’ve always been picking around on it.
JAMBASE: Do you think you’ll ever attach yourself to a touring band again, full time?
JT: If the right opportunity arose, I would seriously consider it. But it’s been so many years, and after I got sick [Trafton was treated for rectal cancer in 2005], that changed everything. The aftermath of that made touring tough. I can get my act together for a few days in a row, but a long-term touring scenario would be difficult. I’d certainly consider it.
JAMBASE: How is your health these days, if you don’t mind my asking?
JT: It’s good, thank you. It’s been 11 years. Going through it, it was like, I just want to make it through a certain window. Back then, it was waiting to turn 40 to know I’d gotten into a safe window with it. Now I’m 46, and I’m just happy to be here.