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Gardner On the Ocean

Guster guitarist and REVERB co-founder Adam Gardner on longevity, environmentalism, and Portland's music scene

“I was the kid that would still have shin guards on from soccer practice while rehearsing in my basement,” explains Adam Gardner. “I always knew music would be a part of my life, but I didn’t think it was going to be my living.” 32 years after forming the alternative rock band Guster, Gardner is grateful that the group—and its fanbase—is still going strong. “The band has certainly lasted a lot longer than any of us thought it would,” he laughs.

Gardner, who grew up in New Jersey before attending Tufts University (where he met his wife, Lauren Sullivan, and Guster bandmates) is grateful to call Portland home. “I thought I knew Portland from touring,” he says, “but I didn’t realize how wonderful it really is. I’m more than happy to live out the rest of my days here.”

The city’s music scene has changed significantly since Gardner and Sullivan moved here. “In 2005, there weren’t many national acts coming through,” he recalls. “With Thompson’s Point and House of Music, and even smaller venues like Sun Tiki, it’s really come a long way. Same with the city,” he says. “When we came here, the big issue was brain drain. How do we keep young people here in Portland? But now, everyone’s coming here.”

Gardner is doing his part to bring visitors to the city by hosting the family friendly Guster’s On the Ocean festival every August at Thompson’s Point, which is returning next month for its fifth year. He jokingly refers to the three-day festival as “a wedding weekend,” with a Friday night show at State Theater “that kind of functions as the rehearsal dinner,” followed by two full days of music at the Point.

The Portland festival is just one of many supported by REVERB, the nonprofit Gardner co-founded with Sullivan to make live music more sustainable. “When Guster went on the road, it became clear that touring is negative for the environment. I felt terrible about that. We were opening for bands like Dave Matthews and Maroon 5 at the time, and I was having the same conversations with them about the impact of the tour. I told Lauren, and she’s like, ‘Well, why don’t you guys do anything about it?’” Gardner says. “We talked to Bonnie Raitt, who had a sustainability program called The Green Highway. They mentored us until we were able to get our own nonprofit status, and it continued to blossom from there.”

In recent years, REVERB has partnered with artists like Billie Eilish and Harry Styles “It’s sort of a dual-pronged approach,” Gardner explains. “We want to make the tours sustainable, but we also want to take advantage of the fact that 20,000 people are coming together. So, we fold a member of our staff into the crew, just like a sound person, and then we set up an Action Village in the concourse where local nonprofits can incentivize fans to take action on the spot.” (Learn more about volunteering on page TK.)

As for Guster’s longevity, Gardner notes the band has no plans to stop playing. “It’s not easy to keep a band together for this long, but we love what we’re doing. I used to say, you know, maybe three more years. But it’s been 25 years of that, so I’m not going to say it anymore,” he laughs.

“I thought I knew Portland from touring, but I didn’t realize how wonderful it really is.”

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