Strangefolk of Vermont to perform Saturday in Unity

Posted Nov. 20, 2008, at 5:36 p.m.

We really appreciate it here when bands make a point of working a stop in Maine into their tour schedules. So that’s why Strangefolk, even though they’re on semi-hiatus from touring and recording, still have a huge fan base here in Maine. If you come play for us, we’ll come see you. Hence their show at the Unity Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday night — one of the band’s few gigs this year.

“It still amazes me that we can go months and months without playing, and then we’ll get together for a few shows and it’ll sell out,” said Luke Patchen Montgomery, guitarist for the Vermont-originating jam band. “Maine is like that. So is Boston. Our fans rock.”

Strangefolk came out of Burlington in the 1990s, playing a bouncy, melodic brand of bluegrass-influenced rock that immediately caught on with the booming New England jam band scene. Fans of fellow-Vermonters Phish enjoyed the band’s tight-but-loose sound, and they attracted a major following, gigging all over the country, but especially the Northeast. University of Maine students from the late ’90s most likely remember their many shows in the area. A major label deal came and went, and by 2003 they had released five albums, an EP and two live discs.

Strangefolk was struck by a crisis a few years back, when founding member John Trafton was diagnosed with cancer. By 2006, he was in remission, though he still takes it easy and only plays when he’s feeling up to it, moving to California from New England for the favorable climate. While their band mate was recovering, Montgomery and bassist Eric Glockner, keyboardist Don Scott and drummer Russ Lawton formed a side project called the Windfalls with Boneheads guitarist Steve Jones.

“We all have little side projects. The Windfalls are songs we don’t play with Strangefolk,” said Montgomery. “Eric plays with Al and the Transamericans, and I just went out to California to do some recording with John. You can’t stay away from music. We do as much as we can.”

Like many of their compatriots in the jam band scene, Strangefolk is a band that has a strong, often very personal connection to its fans. So strong, in fact, that groups of fans decided to use their mutual love of Strangefolk and do something to help people. Those fans founded Strangers Helping Strangers, an organization of mu-sic fans dedicated to holding food drives at concerts throughout the country. Starting with Strangefolk, the group now works with bands such as Moe, Zen Tricksters and Assembly of Dust, the latter of which features former Strangefolk member Reid Genauer.

“It’s a testament to how great our fans are,” said Montgomery. “We feed off that energy that they give us, too. We play better because of them.”

Most of the members of Strangefolk are now scattered across the country; Trafton is in California, Montgomery, New York City; Eric lives right here in Maine, near Waterville, while Russ still holds down the fort in their home state of Vermont. But despite many miles between them, the members of Strangefolk don’t find it strange at all that they still share a deep musical connection.

“Our focused changed when Jon got sick. But we still are Strangefolk, even if we can’t tour all the time,” said Montgomery. “We’ll never lose that.”

Strangefolk plays at the Unity Centre for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22. Tickets are $24, and are available at the door or by calling 948-SHOW. For more information, visit www.strangefolk.com.

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