Whatever Happened To Rusted Root?

The 1990s were a unique time, musically. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana introduced a new form of music, grunge, that redefined how the world thought of hard rock, and in the process, basically destroyed radio-friendly heavy metal, as Loudwire reports. Gen-Xers like Alanis Morisette and Mary J. Blige came into their own musically. And, as The Atlantic reports, the early 1990s were when rap/hip-hop started experiencing wide-ranging commercial success along with consistent radio airplay.

During this time, another form of music became big, according to UDiscoverMusic: alternative. This type of music crosses multiple genres and refers less to a specific style and more to a specific spirit or energy in the music. And one alternative band, in particular, to find success as an alternative band was Rusted Root, formed in Pittsburgh in 1990, according to AllMusic. If that name doesn't ring a bell, you may remember a 2014 Enterprise Rental Car commercial that featured their song, "Send Me On My Way." By that time, the song was 20 years old, and Rusted Root hadn't had widespread commercial success in over a decade. Nevertheless, the band had been continuously touring for decades by that point, although it appears that, as of June 2022, they've taken an indefinite break.

Pittsburgh Beginnings

Rusted Root got their start in Pittsburgh, according to Musician Guide, when Michael Glabicki and Liz Berlin got to know each other a little bit better after a political rally. Specifically, the two came to realize that they each had a fondness for musical instruments not always used in pop music — like the mandolin or the pennywhistle — as well as beats and rhythms from all over the world, instead of just traditional Western rhythms. Further still, the bandmembers can all switch instruments when the need arises. "Switching instruments can give you a feel for how people perceive what you're doing, and help you understand what they need from you, and give everyone else an understanding of what you want out of a song. It's healthy to change things up like that," said Giblicki, whose band could play as many as 60 different instruments during a single show. "(We're) trying to create something we couldn't hear elsewhere. (We were) just trying to make sounds that I wasn't hearing that I wanted to hear," said Berlin.

The band's first album, "Cruel Sun," did okay but not gangbusters, finding success mostly on college radio. Their second album, "When I Woke," exploded, thanks in large part to its hit single, "Send Me On My Way."

'Send Me On My Way'

Rusted Root's only real commercial, Top 40 hit was "Send Me On My Way," a screenshot from the video of which is pictured above. However, to call the band one-hit-wonders isn't exactly accurate, as writing radio-friendly commercial hits wasn't really their thing. 

Watching the video for "Send Me On My Way," you get the sense almost immediately that Rusted Root isn't your typical popular band. As they dance about in the desert, wearing Boho clothes, they play a wide variety of instruments both common and unusual, while lead vocalist Michael Gablicki scats and patters and goes in and out of falsetto, rendering some of the lyrics borderline unintelligible. It's definitely one of the more unusual songs to become a Top 40 hit, to put it mildly.

Nevertheless, the song has had enduring staying power. In addition to becoming a commercial jingle, the song has been used on "New Girl," "Ally McBeal," and in "Ice Age," according to the band's website. "It's this thing that lives next to us. Everyone has a great memory or connection with the song. The song grew up and now has a life of its own; it's bigger; we get to sit back and watch it," Gablicki said of the song, via Greenville News.

A Grateful Dead-Style Jam Band

What do Rusted Root and the Grateful Dead have in common? Two things actually. Both had exactly one commercial hit song ("Touch of Grey") in the case of the Dead, and both weren't in the business of writing commercial hits anyway. Rather, both bands are jam bands, geared more towards their live shows and the experience of band and crowd sharing the performance together. In fact, Rusted Root has even opened for the Grateful Dead, according to The Berkshire Eagle.

The connection between the band and its fans became apparent on their 2013 album, "The Movement." As Gablicki told Relix, when the band jammed before a live audience, the music was essentially taking shape in front of the fans. And, the band decided to give back to the audience in a unique way: The group sold "packages" to fans. In exchange for the fees they paid (which helped fund the album), the fans were brought into the studio to help out. Some sang, some shouted, and some clapped. "It's getting back to the days of us starting out with our fans being up close and a part of the process," Michael Glabicki said.

An Indefinite 'Hiatus'

As mentioned above, Rusted Root has, since the beginning, been less about writing radio-friendly, commercial hits and more about touring and jamming. According to the band's website, they spent a few years in the 2010s doing almost nothing but touring. "The past few years have found Rusted Root on a never-ending tour," noted the band, although when that was written remains unclear. The same paragraph notes that they toured with Bob Marley's band, The Wailers, for a while in 2014 and 2015. Further still, the home page on the site seems to suggest that their last live shows were in 2017; they have no active tour dates scheduled, according to their website.

In 2019, Gablicki told the South Bend Tribune that the band was on "hiatus." "But there are no plans to get back together, though," he said. At the time, Gablicki had been touring with his new project, Uprooted, which he started with some members from Rusted Root. The band is, as of June 2022, still touring; according to Gablicki's website, the band had a few dates here and there scheduled through July.