By Thom Jennings
Niagara Gazette — Tonight, Artpark welcomes the return of a band whose annual summer shows in the region have been legendary. O.A.R. ‘s career was built the hard way, by extensively touring and giving their audiences a unique concert experience wherever they play.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with O.A.R. bassist and founding member Benj Gershman about the band’s approach to live music and asked him to talk about some of the band’s favorite venues, including Artpark
“Artpark is a beautiful venue and the crowds we have been lucky enough to have there have been some of the most energetic and fun audiences of our career. Having been around for 17 years, we know a good thing when we see it and we just can’t wait to get back there,” Gershman said during our phone interview.
The band performed to a packed house at Artpark last year, and they return with a couple of friends in tow, Andrew McMahon and Allen Stone. It’s enough music to push this year’s start time up to 5 p.m.
“The shows we have been playing with Andrew McMahon and Allen Stone are some of the best of our career. We all get along so well and the backstage area has been so lively and happy. We have a great vibe going on backstage and we know the audiences are feeling that as well out in front of the stage.”
It truly is a friendly affair, McMahon and Stone don’t just hop on the tour bus for an early evening when their set is finished.
“At the end of our set we have all been getting together onstage and doing a cover of “Live and Let Die.” We may be doing that one or another cover.”
One never really knows what songs O.A.R. is performing. Like many so-called “jam bands,” they play a different set of songs in each city.
“The setlist is usually written at sound check when we analyze the venue and think about the crowds we have had there and we look at what we have played in that city before. Then we gauge what we have been playing on the tour, and what fans have been requesting on Facebook and Twitter. If there are special requests there are a lot of times we play them and call them out to whoever asked for it.”
These special shows can be purchased through liveoar.com. After last year’s Artpark show, I bought a copy and still enjoy reliving the show on my long jogs.
I then asked Gersham to share some of his favorite moments over the years on the road.
“We’ve been lucky to play all kinds of shows. They were all learning experiences, and then you play places like Red Rocks and Madison Square Garden and open for bands you grew up listening to like the Dave Matthews Band and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It’s all part of the big picture and we all still sit back and appreciate it and soak it all in.”
The band has released five live albums, including the latest one recorded at the storied Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. I asked Benj why they chose Red Rocks for the CD/DVD release.
“It’s always extremely exciting and over the years we found out that people were traveling there to see us at Red Rocks because it ‘the’ night of the tour. We just had another great show there a few weeks ago. Well we wanted to capture that excitement so that’s why we decided to film a show there.”
And finally I asked about my favorite O.A.R. song, “This Town,” a showstopper that I hope the band plays tonight at Artpark (hint hint).
“The song was written in homage to the onstage audience interaction. The lyrics and the music point to that moment when the band is there with the crowd. That’s what it’s about and we love that it amplifies the night.”
O.A.R and Friends are at Artpark tonight as part of Coors Light Wednesdays. Tickets are $10 in advance and may be purchased online or at the box office depending on availability. They may also be won in a crazy game of poker. It’s a 5 p.m. start, so get there early.Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for the Gazette.