This post was originally published in The Aquarian Weekly.
The thrill of a live music tour is unparalleled. From the fast-paced travel schedule to the grueling tour bus life, there is nothing quite like the literal and figurative journey. Some acts, however, garner the respect and privilege to stay put for a bit. At New York City’s illustrious Madison Square Garden, in particular, there is a music box of history. Led Zeppelin performed three consecutive sold-out shows in 1973. KISS played four consecutive sold-out shows in 1996. And, of course, Billy Joel takes the cake with a record 12 consecutive sold-out shows in 2006.
Selling out Madison Square Garden for the first time is like hitting the jackpot—it’s an iconic venue in the greatest city in the world. So when the rock band O.A.R. (short for Of A Revolution) sold-out there in Jan. 2006 (and twice thereafter), the band affirmed its positioning in the mainstream music realm. And now, six years later, the band (comprised of singer/guitarist Marc Roberge, drummer Chris Culos, guitarist Richard On, bassist Benj Gershman, and saxophonist Jerry DePizzo) is ready for a lengthy NYC stay.
The platinum-selling group will take its live show to intimate venues in Washington D.C., NYC and Philadelphia as part of the O.A.R. Extended Stay Tour. They will be supporting their seventh studio album, King, which was released this past August.
When asked about staying in the same city for a few straight days, saxophonist Jerry DePizzo said it “feels great.” “Instead of going to do standard shows, we want to challenge ourselves,” he continued. “The idea was, go smaller and have it be more intimate, and do it over a long period of time and do a residency, things that I appreciate as a fan of bands. It’s quite an honor and always something that I enjoyed in the bands I listen to. We’re just trying to channel that and show that O.A.R. has a little bit of a different light than people are used to.”
The band handpicked each venue on the O.A.R. Extended Stay Tour to pay homage to significant milestones across the group’s career. The Bowery Ballroom marks the band’s first official headlining dates in the Big Apple since their three previous sold-out shows at MSG, and the first time performing up close and personal with fans at the intimate venue. The 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. is where the band recorded their first live album, Any Time Now, and the last time the band performed at the Theatre Of Living Arts in Philadelphia was in 2001. These unique dates are in addition to the band’s sixteen-date winter tour, which kicked off Jan. 25 in Tempe, AZ.
The luxury to play multiple sold-out crowds is no easy feat, but the band has made leaps and bounds since its 1996 basement inception in Rockville, MD. O.A.R. recorded and released their first independent record, The Wanderer, in 1997 while the guys were still in high school. Focused on superstardom, the band started to build its roots during college at Ohio State, where DePizzo and his saxophone completed the ensemble in 2001.
“I guess I’m coming from a unique perspective in that I was a fan of the band before I actually became a member of it,” he says. “I loved the sound, I loved the guys and I loved the experience of the live show. So I did everything and anything possible to help and after a while it turned into having a saxophone in the band. Other than my marriage, it’s been the most rewarding bond and experience of my life.”
During the guys’ freshman year at OSU, the band recorded and released their second independent release, Souls Aflame. It was in this phase that the band started to accelerate and they put out Any Time Now in 2002, which was later certified gold in early 2006. But it wasn’t until the band’s 2003 major label debut, In Between Now And Then, that the band broke down the door to mainstream success with hit radio singles “Hey Girl” and “Right On Time.”
From their 1996 college campus inception to the 2005 release, Stories Of A Stranger, the band became superstars, garnering more than 50,000 radio spins with the track, “Love And Memories.” Despite being heard on radio stations across the U.S., DePizzo emphasizes the band’s commitment to their live show.
“The live performance is our bread and butter and what we strive to do best,” he says. “I think a big part of what we do and take pride in is that you’re never really done improving. We’re constantly trying to perfect our craft and get better at what we do both as a band and songwriters and musicians. I’m pretty confident that if you’ve seen us over the years—15 years ago and then today—somewhere in the middle you’d go, ‘Wow these guys are a damn good band and they’re certainly improving and getting better over the years.’”
Mission accomplished! The band sold-out a second show at MSG, which drew more than 18,000 fans. During that show, O.A.R. recorded and filmed their second sold-out performance at the prestigious venue for a two-CD/two-DVD set dubbed, Live From Madison Square Garden.
O.A.R. is unique in that they started making music pre-digital age, and had to roll with the piracy punches when the time came. But rather than combating the madness, DePizzo says the band was (and is) committed to innovating through digital channels to reach new audiences and frankly, survive in the trenches.
“One thing that’s really important, really in any business, is to be adaptable to your surroundings,” DePizzo said. “The band has certainly been able to stay nimble with trends and embrace them, instead of fighting against them. Like file sharing and things like that—we were just in college when that started and I think it helped the band early on, and probably hurt us a little later on in our career, but those are things you have to embrace and not try to fight—and figure out how to capitalize on it. We’ve always been good at embracing technology and social media trends, and those ways of connecting with our audience. We felt that it was best to use all these new platforms not only to put our music out there and spread awareness about the band, but also to connect to our audience more, too. That’s the most important thing, to make sure that you’re providing your audience with the best experience you can.”
That said, DePizzo is not willing to take all the changes happening in music by sitting down and doing nothing about it. He recently wrote a letter to his grade school to make a personal plea for them not to cut music funding. When he heard the news of budget cuts, he said he felt the need to get involved.
“The only form of music education I ever had was through the public school system—from fifth grade through high school,” he says endearingly. “I learned through life experience, of course, but at school I learned the fundamentals to be able to build a career on it. I really wanted to show [the school board] the value in music classes.”
Of A Revolution is certainly not just a clever name: This band is clearly for the music, about the music and even trying to save the music.
O.A.R. will play five shows at The Bowery Ballroom in NYC from March 6th-10th. They will also be at The Theatre Of Living Arts in Philadelphia on March 15th and 16th. For more info, go to ofarevolution.com.