(A Crazy Game of) Music

O.A.R. brings the sounds of summer back to Cleveland

O.A.R.'s sax player, Jerry DePizzo, is caught in the middle of a Chicago shitstorm. He and the band are warming up at Northerly Island as the city erupts in a parade for the Blackhawks, recent winners of the Stanley Cup. It's bedlam riddled with joy, and DePizzo knows that the band can capitalize on that emotion. He says the summer tour, about four weeks in at this point, has fulfilled all the promises enshrined in O.A.R.'s legacy: exciting music, a vibrant sense of community, and flights of freedom and fancy.

O.A.R.'s dedicated fanbase quite typically finds its origins in classics like "Black Rock" and "(That Was a Crazy Game of) Poker." There's all sorts of good stuff immortalized in those early years. The Wanderer is certainly a desert-island album for many. But in the decade-plus since the release of those choice cuts, the band has gone on to grow up and expand both sonically and personally.

Speaking to Scene via phone from backstage at Chicago's Charter One Pavilion, DePizzo says that the band has been working out the kinks to "Tragedy in Waiting," a 2005 cut that doesn't get too much play these days. Earlier that week, they rolled out "Daylight the Dog." DePizzo says there's a noted push from fans to keep the sets diverse. The classics will find their way into each show — there's never been a question of that. But O.A.R. continues to maintain that vision of keeping things fresh and holding true to the spirit of summer tour.

It's a ritualistic thing for the band's followers. In the weeks ahead, fans can catch a number of shows: Columbus on Saturday, Cleveland on Sunday and, next week, Lewiston, New York (outside Buffalo), Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Jumping on tour for a few days makes a tidy little getaway for O.A.R. devotees. Regarding Cleveland, in particular, it's also a killer cap to the long holiday weekend.

"Everything in our world is based off our summers," DePizzo says. "O.A.R. should be heard outdoors in the summertime, hanging out with your buddies and having a good time."

Good times, indeed. Nothing is done by rote at an O.A.R. show. The band knows how to do justice to its catalog, continually dusting off entropic stasis and breathing new life into each tune.

"We're not ones to play a song the same way every time. We cut our teeth on the road, and it's how we keep things interesting and challenging," DePizzo says. "We have no idea how it's gonna go before we play the song. The brotherhood of being in a band comes into play."

Way back in the late '90s, the band members met at the Ohio State University. They honed their chops early on playing fraternity and sorority houses and soon embarked on local and regional runs. Of course, the band's Ohio roots are obviously front-and-center whenever it crosses into the Buckeye State. Sunday's show promises to continue that tradition.

"Spirits are high. Everyone feels good. It's a great tour, it really is," DePizzo says.

Even better: There's talk of an eighth album. Keep an open ear for new stuff at Sunday's show. Deep cuts from the new album are popping up on summer set lists, DePizzo says. "Peace" is an acoustic number that's made many appearances in set lists so far. He adds that there are several longer jam-based tunes that have been given exploration time in recent shows.

Andrew McMahon and Allen Stone, as the special guests of the tour, further bolster tour cred and the band's sense of family. They often make appearances during the end of O.A.R.'s set, adding to the depth of tone. Each year, the band makes it a point to showcase its friends onstage. There's always that element of cohesion and communication during summer tours. And that line of communication certainly extends to the fans, via the energy in the crowd and throughout the year on social media. "I love that opportunity," DePizzo says. (Psst... He's @jerrydepizzo on Twitter.)

To offer yet another taste of the band's live attitude, the group released a double CD/DVD and documentary package following last year's shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside Denver.

"We had a bullseye on that one for awhile," DePizzo says. Live On Red Rocks includes the band's beloved hits, of course, but it also does a great job of highlighting the vast scope of O.A.R.'s material.

Off the stage, the band's endeavors also maintain a close kinship with Ohio. Music Loves Ohio is a Columbus-based charity that connects underprivileged youth with musical instruments. It's part of the band's broader outreach effort, the Heard the World Fund. A portion of each ticket sold benefits education programs across the country. Recently, O.A.R. connected with OSU to offer an undergrad scholarship fund for students in the Youngstown area, from which DePizzo originally hails.

"The band makes it a point to be everyone's summertime destination. Every year since I was 18 years old, we've played in Cleveland. Every summer," DePizzo says. "And the band is on fire this year."

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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