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Music, Maine and more - A conversation with Guster's Adam Gardner

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They’re coming from far and wide – thousands of fans of the band Guster, all looking forward to a fun and music-packed weekend in the home state of guitarist and vocalist, Adam Gardner. The band’s second annual “On The Ocean” weekend festival is scheduled for August 3-5 in Portland.

In August 2017, when more than 5,000 Guster fans flocked to Portland for the group’s inaugural “On The Ocean” weekend festival, the band says they weren’t quite sure what to expect, but that any doubts were briskly assuaged by the overwhelming response and reaction from fans.

That initial event featured four unique concerts, each performed at a different location set on or near the water, as well as band-crafted happenings geared toward fan interaction. Guster’s second annual Maine-centered fête will be even more accessible to more people, according to Gardner.

“Last year was amazing,” Gardner said during a recent interview. “It shaped into this destination weekend for our fans which is really what I was hoping for.”

A native of Morristown, New Jersey, Gardner says he instantly fell in love with Maine when he moved to the Portland area in 2005.

“I was like, ‘I’m going to live out my days here happily.’ It was the first time I had moved to a place where I realized ‘This is my place,’” he said.

Planning events for Guster’s first “On The Ocean” festival had Gardner feeling a bit like a tour guide, he says, excited at the opportunity to share his personal favorite Portland-area haunts with his band’s global audience.

“The concerts were the high points, as they should be,” Gardner said of last year’s festival. “But it felt special to be able to share my favorite places with our fans – many of them visiting Maine for the first time. I came up with something similar to what you’d find in a travel magazine: ‘48 hours in Portland,’ by me. ‘Here are my favorite beaches, my favorite ice cream, my favorite beer, my favorite restaurant and coffee stop.’ And we partnered with each of those places.”

Gardner laughed as he compares his band’s festival to a long wedding weekend. “It really did feel like that,” he said. “Friday night was like the rehearsal dinner...” Gardner is referring to the intimate show that his band performed for 200 fans on a booze cruise around Casco Bay on the opening night of last year’s “On The Ocean” weekend.

This time out, Guster will open “On The Ocean” on Friday, August 3, with a show at Portland’s State Theatre, a venue that has hosted the band numerous times over the last two decades, including two shows in December 2003, later released on CD and DVD as “Guster On Ice: Live From Portland, Maine.” Alt-rocker Caroline Rose - a personal favorite of Guster lead vocalist and guitarist, Ryan Miller - is scheduled to open the show.

The main event will be Guster’s huge outdoor show at Thompson’s Point on the banks of the Fore River, scheduled for August 4. The venue is expected to be packed with fans once again when the band is expected to play for a crowd more than three times the size of Friday night’s audience.

Scheduled to appear with Guster at Thompson’s Point are singer-songwriter Kishi Bashi (founding member of the band Jupiter One and a former member of indie-pop band of Montreal), The Secret Sisters (Americana singer-songwriting sisters Laura Rogers and Lydia Slagle) and Rest Assured, a group of young Maine musicians and this year’s winners of the Maine Academy of Modern Music’s “MAMM Slam” competition.

In 2017, the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra appeared on the bill with Guster at Thompson’s Point.

“We loved the kid energy that they brought and we wanted to keep some of that youthful exuberance,” Gardner said. “Rest Assured is going to be a great addition to the show. Supporting kids and music is obviously very important to Guster. If we hadn’t had music in our lives when we were young, we would not be doing what we’re doing today. For these kids to perform in front of thousands of people, including their parents, I think it will be awesome for everybody. Guster fans are so supportive of things like this.”

Of last year’s concert at Thompson’s Point, Gardner says humbly that it almost felt like his band was playing someone else’s festival.

“It was the high point for me,” he said. “It was our first time playing that venue and it was epic. There were so many people there; I couldn’t believe they were all there to see us. It was just awesome.”

On the differences between playing an indoor show for 1,600 at the State Theatre and an outdoor show for 5,000 at Thompson’s Point, Gardner says:

“I’m excited about both. Inside, it’s a little more intimate, a little more focused. You can play with more dynamics and there’s more intimate interaction with the audience because it’s contained. I really love outdoor shows and Thompson’s Point is such a beautiful spot. I think the show we played there last year was one of my favorite shows that we’ve played in recent memory. Having the sun come down and playing during magic hour – then into the sun setting and into nighttime – it’s a really fun transition, especially with thousands of people there with you.”

Guster has long maintained a tradition of mixing up their setlists from show to show, pulling from their rich back catalog of material, including rarities, deep cuts and cover songs (the latter delivered alternately straight or comically, depending on the song and circumstance).

The band has also been known to even create songs in the moment, based on something happening onstage, an in-joke among band members or something funny they see happening in the audience. It’s an integral element of the band’s modus operandi that keeps fans guessing while keeping the band members on their toes.

“We’ll have completely different sets for each show,” said Gardner. “As far as what songs we end up playing, we’ll have some elements in place that will make things a surprise for everyone, including the band (laughs).”

Past Guster concerts have seen the band employ a large game show-style spinning wheel (AKA “The Wheel of Songs”).

“You spin the wheel and whatever song pops up, we have to play it,” Gardner said with a laugh. “I think we’ll be doing a variation on that in Portland and it will keep things unpredictable for everyone, including us. It keeps us focused and makes it weird and special.”

In 2004, Gardner, along with his wife Lauren, founded REVERB – a non-profit organization dedicating to utilizing the power of music to create measurable positive change for people and the planet. REVERB works directly with artists, management, fans and venues by promoting new ideas and techniques to ensure that tours are safer for the environment. Since its inception, REVERB has worked on well over 250 concert tours by artists ranging from Phish and Dave Matthews Band to Willie Nelson and the Zac Brown Band, reaching more than 30 million fans through more than 5,000 concerts to date.

Prior to the start of the concert at Thompson’s Point, Gardner will lead a group of concertgoers on a REVERB service project in conjunction with Portland Trails, a non-profit urban land trust responsible for maintaining 70 miles of hiking, walking and biking trails throughout the Portland area. Fans interested in joining Gardner for this project may register via Guster’s “On The Ocean” weekend Facebook page (linked in the news section of Guster.com).

“Internally, we’ve been referring to this REVERB event as ‘service and suds,’” Gardner joked. “Last year, we partnered with Allagash Brewing Company as a way of thanking the volunteers after they did their work.”

This year, Guster is partnering with Mast Landing Brewing Company of Westbrook. The collaboration will include a post-work celebration of fan-service at the brewery and tasting room, with food donated by Otto Pizza to thank fans for their contribution to the community.

A special “On The Ocean” IPA has been created by Mast Landing Brewing Company to honor Guster and their fans. According to Gardner, he met representatives from Mast Landing while making a REVERB call at a Dave Matthews Band show in New Hampshire.

“I was just there saying hello and checking in on the tour,” Gardner said. “The Mast Landing founders were there and I’m not sure who was more excited – them or me. I told them Green-to-Green (Mast Landing’s rotating hop IPA) is my favorite beer ever. They said ‘Well, we love Guster – let’s do something.’ We were literally sharing art files with each other the same night.”

Gardner was present at Mast Landing Brewing Company earlier this month when Guster’s “On The Ocean” beer was brewed.

“We are super-excited to have a special brew just for our festival,” Gardner said. “The Maine craft brew scene in general is insane. People all over the country who are really into beer recognize that Maine is particularly killing it in terms of great craft beers. I wanted this weekend to be more than just a concert and about more than just Guster. I wanted it to be about celebrating Portland and celebrating Maine in general. To partner with a brewery like Mast Landing is exactly the kind of spirit we’re going for here – supporting local businesses.”

The final day of Guster’s “On The Ocean” weekend is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. on August 5 at Portland’s Hadlock Field - home to the Portland Sea Dogs. The team has announced “Guster Day with the Sea Dogs,” with the band expected to be on the field playing catch before the 1:00 p.m. game and even throwing out the first pitch.

“Brian (Guster drummer and percussionist Brian Rosenworcel - fondly referred to by fans as ‘Thundergod’) is the best baseball player in the band so I’m hoping he throws out the first pitch,” Gardner said. “He’s done this before. If they insist that I do it because I’m the local kid, I’m not opposed to that. But I need to know soon because I need to practice (laughing).”

Expecting the unexpected is always a safe state of mind to maintain when walking into a Guster show. 2017’s “On The Ocean” weekend brought that motto to life with its assortment of special concerts and fan events that have since become hallowed Guster lore.

Last year, the band paddled out to an island to perform an acoustic set. There was the cruise around Casco Bay and a free Sunday pop-up show in the gazebo on Portland’s Eastern Promenade. There were afterparty events at Bayside Bowl and Empire, where the band acted as live karaoke musicians, allowing fans to take a crack at the lead vocals.

One thing is (almost) certain: Fans are likely to hear Guster introduce some brand-new material the set. The band has been hard at work putting the finishing touches on their eighth album – their first since 2015’s “Evermotion.” Mixes were finalized in Nashville in May.

“We’ve been working on this one for quite a while,” Gardner said of the next record. “The writing process was spread out over more than two years. We all live in different towns and we all have families. We would get together for three or four days, write some music and then go live our lives or go on tour and come back for three days. Spreading the work out like that provided us with great perspective on the music. A lot of the writing was done here in Maine. During the warmer months, a buddy let us use his cabin on a lake which was perfect. We wrote some things in Portland too. We’re very excited about this next album.”

“I love Maine so much and I really wanted to share that with our fans; to have them come to Portland in its prime, in August,” Gardner said of his band’s decision to stage their annual festival in the state he calls home.

“This is the state I fell in love with and I’m never going to move anywhere else. I’ll live here until I’m no longer alive,” Gardner said with an infectious laugh. “I love being able to share this experience with fans and knowing that many of them will be experiencing Maine for the first time.”

(For tickets and more information on Guster’s “On The Ocean” weekend festival, visit www.Guster.com.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 July 2018 20:22

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