The 10,000 Maniacs, an alternative rock group, which played its first show on Sept. 7, 1981, is looking forward to celebrating its 30th anniversary next year.
But before that, it will wow Norwalk Seaport Association's Oyster Fest attendees at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday.
The ability to change with the times has contributed to the band's survival, and having a variety of influences has also helped the 10,000 Maniacs thrive.
"You have to have a good catalogue of music in order to survive," said bass player Steve Gustafson, one of the band's founders.
"There are so many different categories of music and it's hard. I guess we were more concerned with longevity than stardom. We'd rather play good music and have good concerts instead of being famous, and we feel we're able to do it. We're looking forward to our 30th anniversary next year and we hope it will be a good year for us."
Over the years the 10,000 Maniacs have rocked many venues. A favorite was a USO show after Desert Storm for the US troops in Northern Kuwait, 15 miles away from Iraq.
"It was one of the most exciting days of my life," Gustafson recalled.
More recently the 10,000 Maniacs enjoyed playing a free show in the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun.
"I like playing at intimate shows where the audience is close to you and you can see them," Gustafson said.
"It's nice to play for thousands of people and there's nothing wrong with it, but it's also nice to play in front of a small crowd and meet them and say hi. You can play more intimate songs in this setting."
He is psyched to play outdoors at the Oyster Fest.
"I think we have a lot of fans from Boston to Washington D.C. and we're excited to play at the Oyster Festival and see our fans and pick up more fans," Gustafson said.
The band didn't begin to play until 1981, but its evolution started back in the 70's when Gustafson met 10,000 Maniacs keyboard player Dennis Drew -- also an original member of the band -- in high school in Jamestown, N.Y. Later, Gustafson shared an apartment with Drew and worked as a DJ for a radio station at Jamestown Community College.
"We wanted to figure out a way to make money without working and decided to form a band," Gustafson recalled.
"We worked hard at it, but it didn't feel like work because we enjoyed doing it and it was exciting. Each step kept us engaged and we were looking for new opportunities."
Some of the music he played at the radio station included tunes by The Talking Heads, Gang of Four, The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Gustafson also liked Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bob Marley and reggae music, which helped shape him as a musician.
"The new wave of music was inspirational to all of us," Gustafson said.
Gustafson was approached by Robert Buck, a guitar player for the band Obsession, to play on campus. He had been working in a factory at the time, and was thinking about going back to school. Buck invited Gustafson and Drew to play with him at the campus gig.
Gustafson was asked to play guitar but he preferred bass.
"I figured it was easy to learn [playing bass]," Gustafson recalled.
Although Still Life performed cover tunes, it started to become more comfortable writing original material.
Shortly thereafter, Gustafson invited Natalie Merchant to do some vocals for the group and he also invited John Lombardo, a guitarist for The Mills band to play occasionally with Still Life. Lombardo became a full-time member when The Mills dissolved.
In July 1981, Cardinale and Newhouse left the band, which had changed its name to Burn Victims, and by September, the band became 10,000 Maniacs with Merchant as its lead singer.
"We hoped to continue down the road and felt the key was to write new music," Gustafson recalled.
In the beginning, 10,000 Maniacs played in bars near colleges before an agent started booking it for bigger venues in 1983. Although the band's focus is on original material, its first notable American hit was covering "Peace Train," which was originally composed by Cat Stevens in 1971.
Between March and July, they recorded songs for the Secrets of the I Ching -- their debut full-length album. The song, "My Mother the War," turned out to be a minor hit in the United Kingdom.
Many record labels considered signing the band before it signed its first contract with Electra Records in 1985 and released the album, The Wishing Chair. In July 1987, 10,000 Maniacs released the album, In My Tribe, a more pop-rock oriented record, and it remained on the billboard charts for 77 weeks, peaking at No. 37, and establishing a large following for the band in the United States.
Two years later, it released the album, Blind Man's Zoo, which went gold. Songs off of Blind Man's Zoo were played on the "David Letterman Show," "The Tonight Show," which was hosted by Johnny Carson at the time, and on the radio.
"It helped us gain momentum and we were able to sell 1,000,000 records," Gustafson said.
The band continued to gain notoriety when it released Our Time in Eden in 1992. "These Are Days" was a hit song on the album and 10,000 Maniacs also played at President Bill Clinton's inaugural ball. It also recorded and released the MTV Unplugged album in 1993.
The year 1993 brought some changes. Merchant decided to leave 10,000 Maniacs that because she wanted to have a solo career and was replaced by Mary Ramsey.
Before replacing Merchant, Ramsey had opened up shows with Lombardo, who left 10,000 Maniacs in 1986. They played under the name, John & Mary.
Because Ramsey was familiar with the 10,000 Maniacs before joining the group, the band didn't miss a beat with the changing of the guard at vocals.
"Mary's a delight and a wonderful person and we enjoy playing with her," Gustafson said.
Although many members have come and gone from 10,000 Maniacs, they are all still treated like they are a part of the family. Lombardo and most of the living former members make guest appearances.
"The band continues to evolve and change and you have to go with it," Gustafson said.
In 2000, Buck died and Jeff Erickson took over as lead guitar player. Erickson was a friend of Buck's and learned how to play the guitar from him.
"I like keeping a piece of Rob with me and I speak to Rob in my dreams," Gustafson said. "I still feel Rob's presence when we play. Jeff feels like he's channeling Rob when he plays, but he uses his own style."
In honor of Buck, 10,000 Maniacs released a song on You Tube, titled "Gold." The message of the song is, "Every moment is a piece of gold, don't spend it on the wrong thing."
Teamwork has always been the name of the game for 10,000 Maniacs, and appreciation for the music it creates will always take priority over making money.
"We enjoy each other's company and love the songs we play," Gustafson said. "Our fondness for each other hasn't changed and we consider each other family. We enjoy the songs we write together.
"It's not a matter of how much money we make but the pay day is the applause we receive at the end of the show. Very few people get applause when they leave work at the end of the day. Getting the audience to applaud is rewarding. When you bring them to their feet and they give you an ovation, you are doing something right."
Because the band members are emotionally invested in creating their music and songs, sharing the final pieces with the public is that much more rewarding.
"When you release a song, it's a cathartic feeling and no one is there when we do it," Gustafson said.
"Once we're ready to release it, it's an amazing feeling. Songwriting is like raising a child in that you nurture, clothe it and feed it. You try to mold a song into something that's good and honest and meaningful," Gustafson continues.
"Then, like a child, you have to kick it out the door and send it to the rest of the world. It can be disappointing or meaningful. You are exposing yourself when you write a song because you are honest. It's frightening because it exposes some inner thoughts, feelings and emotions, but when other people like the song, it feels so good."
A new album is in the works and the 10,000 Maniacs hope to release it for the 30th anniversary.
"We are obviously much more mature than we were 30 years ago," Gustafson said. "Dennis and I are both married with kids and it affects you. We don't pretend to be 23-year-old kids, we're mature adults and our priorities have changed."