Words // Keith Morrill
Photos // Vermont PBS
Ryan Miller, front man of the alternative rock band Guster, had serious reservations about moving to Vermont. But Miller and his wife Angela, like many New York urbanites with kids, found themselves crammed into too little space with too many people. The move to the Green Mountain State was inevitable.
Still, Miller feared the migration would leave him culturally bereft and he’d end up some sort of slack-jawed yokel devoid of culture, music, movies, and people. He had grown accustomed to a certain type of the latter, whom he dubs high functioning weirdos. “There are lots of people that do [stuff], and there are lots of people that are crazy, but the crazy people that do [stuff]—that’s my sweet spot,” Miller says.
It wasn’t until a few years later during a chance conversation with Hilary Hess of Vermont PBS that Miller was presented with the opportunity to track down some of the state’s very own high functioning weirdos. Hess, the station’s digital media director, had been charged with creating fresh regional programming—something a little less Downton Abby and a little more uptown funk.
The result was “Makin’ Friends with Ryan Miller,” a five to ten minute web show in which Miller interviews and befriends his creative kin. Makin’ Friends premiered in May of 2014 and has since run for two seasons. The show is light-hearted, quirky, and outright silly at times, much like Miller himself. For each episode, Miller ventures throughout the Green Mountain State to meet unique personalities on their own turf, to see how they live and learn what he can from them.
And, of course, to make friends.
He’s juggled with Circus Smirkus founder Rob Mermin, ridden bikes with Ello co-creator Paul Budnitz, and licked tree bark with Wild Gourmet Food owners Nova Kim and Les Hook. “I just wanted the show to be fun and interesting for me,” explains Miller. “I mostly do it from a selfish point of view of helping [myself] to understand Vermont a lot better.”
Moving forward, Miller hopes to expand his entourage of weirdos. A third season is being planned, though a few things remain in limbo. “We’ve still got to figure out what it is,” says Miller. “There’s not much about the show I’d want to change. I like the format.” There has, however, been talks about going national with PBS, but a staffing shakeup at the national level has cast doubt on whether that’s possible.
While Guster’s touring schedule would certainly provide an opportunity to take Makin’ Friends on the road, Miller stresses that he isn’t looking for a career change anytime soon. “I don’t have ambitions; this isn’t a gateway job to being the host of a TV show. I just kind of like this.”
Five years post migration and many friends later, Miller has achieved a greater understanding of Vermont. “I get now that you can be crazy and creative even though there’s only half a million people in this state.” Miller explains that his views were a bit provincial in regards to creative types, that a metropolis may not be the only habitat for high functioning weirdos. “Sometimes, people just need their space.”