Guster soars under the radar toward Vail |

Guster soars under the radar toward Vail

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
Guster plays at Checkpoint Charlie in Vail Sunday

VAIL -The guys in the band Guster met on a camping trip, which would be pretty standard in Vail but is arguably surprising for Boston.

It was the ’90s, and they were at a freshmen orientation for Tufts University. While riding a bus back from an ice-breaker camping trip outside the city, three guys struck up a conversation about their respective high school bands.

Two of them – Adam Gardner and Ryan Miller – played acoustic guitar while Brian Rosenworcel played the bongos.

The sound they formed by cobbling those instrument sounds together became a trademark of sorts.

“At the time, it was the only things we knew how to play,” Rosenworcel said in a phone interview. “We were friends first so we just tried to make it work.”

Guster will play a free concert Sunday to close out Spring Back to Vail.

The band emerged on the music scene in the late ’90s, around the same time as alternative rock groups like the Flaming Lips and Wilco, said Tom Robbins, owner of Eagle Valley Music in West Vail.

Guster fell into the alternative rock genre, but the band’s quirky lyrics and infectious quality made its sound harder to define – and perhaps harder to shoehorn into structured radio playlists, Robbins said.

“I think that’s part of the reason they’re not huge rock stars like Flaming Lips or some of their other contemporaries,” he said. “I think it was difficulty in categorizing them or finding airplay.”

Although a few of Guster’s songs like “Fa Fa,” “Careful” and “Amsterdam” made it onto the Adult Top 40 charts, the band’s fanbase grew mainly because of word of mouth, Robbins said.

As Rosenworcel put it, “We fly under a lot of people’s radar and yet we’ve managed to sustain our operation for half of a lifetime.”

After graduating from Tufts in 1995, the band members started touring full-time, first in Rosenworcel’s Chevy Nova, and later in an actual bus.

Rosenworcel, now 36, graduated from Tufts with a degree in American studies, while Miller majored in religious studies and Gardner specialized in psychology. Music seemed like the obvious post-college career choice.

“What else were we going to do when we graduated?” Rosenworcel said.

Radio play nudged the band into the spotlight, but Guster’s grassroots self-promotion won more fans. The band staged makeshift concerts on the street in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, leaving a guitar case open and asking tourists to sign up for their mailing list, Rosenworcel said.

College shows were and continue to be the bulk of Guster’s tour dates. Along with their music, the band is well-known for its environmental activism.

Gardner started a nonprofit called Reverb that helps musicians like Coldplay and Red Hot Chili Peppers make their tours more environmentally friendly. Reverb helps outfit tour buses with biodiesel, plan recycling at venues and stock buses with things like bowls made from potato products, Rosenworcel said.

As for the Vail show, it’s not part of a larger tour so the band’s biodiesel bus will stay behind.

“We’re just flying in. We don’t have a private biodiesel aircraft – yet,” Rosenworcel said with a laugh.

Since Guster broke into the mainstream music scene, it has picked up member Joe Pisapia and diversified its sound with a bass guitar and standard drumset. The band has put out five studio albums and a variety of live recordings and EPs. Its next album is due out in September. Whereas the last album did some “genre-hopping” and detoured into a seven-minute Pink Floyd-like epic, Rosenworcel said the new album will have a different tone.

“It’s a real up-tempo record for us,” Rosenworcel said. “This time we honed in on writing really great pop songs.”

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

Support Local Journalism