Guster rocks Shelburne with VSO

Courtesy photo
Guster is Adam Gardner, Luke Reynolds, Ryan Miller and Brian Rosenworcel.

Concert-goers to Shelburne Museum are in for a treat this Saturday when the Vermont Symphony Orchestra takes the stage behind indie rock band Guster.

Unlike much of the symphony’s summer schedule, the program is rock ’n’ roll.

For the four-man band Guster, this gig promises the biggest and grandest sound of the monthlong tour that this date kicks off.

“We really don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or what to expect, and that’s what’s so exciting about this,” said VSO Executive Director Benjamin Cadwaller of the unique collaboration. “People who will come to this like good music.”
Earlier this week, a handful of tickets were still available for the outdoor venue that comfortably accommodates about 5,000 people spread out with folding chairs and picnic blankets.

The show is part of the summertime Ben & Jerry’s Concerts on the Green series that draws concert-goers of all ages, ranging from families with small children to aging hippies; all settle in for music ushered in by the sun setting over Lake Champlain.

Photo by Lisa Scagliotti
The lawn at Shelburne Museum is one of Vermont’s most popular summer concert venues.

Hundreds of cars park in orderly rows in the field along the museum’s main drive and the Vermont summer scene is complete with food trucks lining the edges and volunteers assisting with trash, recycling and composting.

In an interview this week, Guster front man Ryan Miller declared that this promises to be the biggest crowd the band has ever performed for in Vermont. Guster has played Montpelier’s Do Good festival and Grace Potter’s Grand Point North in Burlington, but this time, the band is the headliner.

Miller, who said he’s probably seen 40 shows on the green at the museum, said it feels like the band has earned it. “I think it’s the best place to see music in the state,” he said.

Miller compared the spot overlooking Lake Champlain to other iconic concert venues across the country like Red Rocks in Colorado, Wolf Trap in Virginia and the Minnesota Zoo — spots where audiences are a combination of hard-core followers of the headliners, and regulars who show up regardless of the act.
“I would love to convert a lot of these people to Guster fans,” he mused.

Guster’s sound has been cultivated over more than two decades. The band started playing in college at Tufts University in 1992 and has since released seven albums, with an eighth just completed and due out this fall.

The band’s music on its own is melodic and layered with studio recordings that often add in strings and horns. Guster’s lyrics can be haunting, alternatingly optimistic and dark at times. Miller said he thinks Guster’s tunes lend themselves well to involving an orchestra.

“It’s more of an explosion than a breakdown,” said Miller, who pointed out that the band’s  travels have included stages large and small all over the U.S. and, interestingly, collaborations with orchestras on a few occasions, including a date with the Boston Pops.

So the notion of taking the stage in Shelburne with 30 VSO musicians wasn’t far-fetched when he and people from Higher Ground and the symphony were brainstorming performance ideas that broke loose from the nightclub, theater or festival molds.

Because of Guster’s prior concert hall experience, Miller said he was able to pull out a slice of the band’s 25-year catalog already arranged for an orchestra to dive in.

“It feels like you’re the captain of a battleship,” he said of the experience.

The plan for Saturday’s show is for two sets — one just by Guster, the other combined with the VSO. Two of tunes on deck are brand-new from the band’s new record and the VSO’s Matt Larocca took on the task of arranging them for the orchestra.

And while the VSO musicians have had the music for a while and Guster easily has played most of the tunes hundreds of times, the actual collaboration doesn’t happen until Saturday.

Cadwaller compared it to a car assembly where various parts are manufactured in different locations and brought together at the end to form the completed vehicle. “On Saturday, we stitch the whole thing together,” he said.
He’s not kidding. When asked about rehearsals, Miller quipped: “We’re rehearsing at sound check.”

There’s excitement in that level of spontaneity. Even the conductor is new to the scene. Benjamin Klemme is making his VSO debut on Saturday. Klemme recently joined the faculty of the Vermont Youth Orchestra as the new music director. “We wanted to get him in front of our musicians,” Cadwallader said.

For those looking for a hint of what’s to come, Guster’s website has a free download of the band’s 2015 recording “Guster Live with the Redacted Orchestra.”

Don’t bother trying to find out which orchestra it is. They purposefully don’t say. Miller said the recording happened on condition that the collaboration was officially vague to avoid costly royalty entanglements. Nevertheless, the tracks offer a glimpse of what will take shape Saturday in Shelburne.

“We love getting into this orchestra mindset. When it happens, it can be really powerful,” Miller teased.

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