Pete Lanctot, '09, and his band, Pete and the Stray Dogs, performed together on Friday, Nov. 16th, 2018, at Zoellner Arts Center. Lanctot was involved in Lehigh's Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choral Arts and the Very Modern Ensemble during his time as a student. (Courtesy of Pete Lanctot)

Pete Lanctot returns to preform in Zoellner with The Stray Dogs

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When Pete Lanctot, ’09, and his bandmates first started playing together, they would tour across the country and take gigs with local artists whom they hardly knew anything about. The name “Pete and the Stray Dogs” emerged from the idea that they are a roving pack of musicians. 

Before taking on the city and folk music scene, Lanctot was a music composition major at Lehigh, where he returned Friday, Nov. 16, with The Stray Dogs to perform an on-stage cabaret at Zoellner Arts Center.

Music has always played a significant role in Lanctot’s life. He trained as a classical violinist when he was six years old. At 12 years old, he taught himself how to play the guitar and in high school, he began writing his own songs. In college, however, was when Lanctot fortified that hobby into what he wanted to pursue.

At the beginning of that journey, Lanctot was heavily involved in Lehigh’s Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choral Arts and the Very Modern Ensemble.

“I actually sang in the university choir with (Lanctot) for four years,” said Deborah Sacarakis, the artistic director of Zoellner Arts Center. “It’s great to see how he used the knowledge that he acquired here at Lehigh to develop this wonderful and completely different art.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in music composition, Lanctot began telling his own narratives through folk music, playing at the Wildflower Cafe and open mic nights at Godfrey Daniels while exploring what the Lehigh Valley’s music scene had to offer. He also gigged with The Hot Sardines — a now nine-piece band whom he met in Bethlehem. 

“That was my first memory of feeling like ‘OK, I can really do this,’” Lanctot said. “I can make this music thing works.”

As Lanctot and The Hot Sardines eventually went separate ways, Lanctot met Ginger Dolden, his wife and band mate, almost immediately after moving to New York where they were working at music school together. The two now run a program for adults learning to play musical instruments for the first time. 

“Between all those things, it will always be chaotic,” Lanctot said. “But it’s very rewarding having someone whom I can share these incredible experiences with.”

“No Sign of Love or Farewell,” is the band’s 2016 debut full length record and a momentous milestone in Lanctot’s career. Every vignette was written to elucidate the band’s experience with love, heartbreaks and longings. Lanctot’s personal favorite song on the record is “The Only Love I Know.”

“It’s a love song that I wrote for (Dolden),” Lanctot said. “It’s the most direct personal reference on the album.”

Lanctot’s approach to writing music has always been somewhat solitary and personal, but the support coming from band mates Dolden and Adam Brisbon has become vital in their working dynamic. Brisbon comes from the jazz world, while Dolden has a robust background in experimental music. 

“It’s easier to for me to commit to things that might not work, being the person who writes the songs,” Lanctot said. “(Dolden) and (Brisbon) bring valuable perspectives to the table and contribute so much sonically to what we’re doing.”

Jessica Yang, ’22, was moved by the performance. 

“I almost cried actually,” Yang said. “They were really special.”

For musicians, Lanctot said, there is no handbook for how to do their jobs, so it is always a challenge to figure what they will do next or how they will find their food. Still, he feels very lucky to be where he is today. 

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