by Alana Noelle Black
The band 10,000 Maniacs has existed for 35 years. Surely there is a secret to the Maniacs’ longevity. Is it a binding contract among its members? A lot of compromising? Heck, some kind of magic spell? For bassist Steve Gustafson, the answer is simple.
“We like playing our music, and we still enjoy each others’ company. There’s no fighting or bickering….We’re all committed to the notion that when the fun stops, it [the band] stops. It’s still fun, so we keep going! … There isn’t a job better than one where you get a standing ovation when you’re done working. We also get to create and that’s still fun, too. That’s what keeps us going, you know? That and people still want to see us.”
Not bad for a band that its founders – including Gustafson, keyboardist Dennis Drew and current touring member and guitarist John Lombardo – started with the primary goals of meeting women and getting drinks.
10,000 Maniacs was formed in Jamestown, NY. To say that the city and its environs are important to the band (which consists also of singer and viola player Mary Ramsey, guitarist Jeff Erickson and drummer Jerry Augustyniak) would be an understatement, to say the least. All of the Maniacs live in or near Jamestown, with many of them raised in the area and the farthest-flung among them living about ninety minutes away in Buffalo. It is only fitting that the band recorded its latest album, Playing Favorites, at a concert in Jamestown.
“It was recorded at the old Palace Theater, a beautiful old vaudeville theater, now the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts,” said Gustafson. “We thought it would be a good spot and a good time to record a set. We’ve performed there many times. I’ve served on the local arts council and board of directors for the theater. Dennis Drew runs a community radio station through the arts council that runs the Reg Lenna. We’re really quite attached to the building, and to downtown. We try to raise money for the center to keep programming going and things like that.”
When asked whose favorites 10,000 Maniacs played on their most recent album, the band’s or the fans’, Gustafson said it was a mix of both, and that their only real limit for the songs they chose for the album and their tour is time, noting that “we can’t play all night and play every song,” as much as they would like to. Especially at the Birchmere, which is where they will be performing this Friday.
“When we play The Birchmere, it’s a sit-down audience, so everyone’s paying really close attention. In a situation like that, we can play a lot of different things. We really dig into the bag of tricks.” The “bag” of potential songs on the Maniacs’ current tour includes their most popular songs as well as deep cuts, and some covers that the band thinks the audience might like. With regard to the set they chose for Playing Favorites, Gustafson called those songs “our greatest hits, but electric.”
“‘MTV Unplugged’ [the show on which the band performed in 1989 and in 1993 and recorded a popular album] was sort of a greatest-hits thing, but it was acoustic, and that was a long time ago,” he said. “So we wanted to get those songs out and show how we represent them now.”
And fans of 10,000 Maniacs, many of whom who have been following the band for decades, are attending the Playing Favorites tour in droves. Gustafson said that the first six or seven shows had sold out.
As of press time, there are tickets available for the show. Anyone attending Friday’s concert will have the honor of seeing 10,000 Maniacs on one of the band’s favorite stages. “We love playing The Birchmere,” said Gustafson. “It’s one of the great music venues in the country, and we’ve always had great audiences there.”
• For more information about 10,000, visit maniacs.com.