O.A.R: ordinary American rockstars

Katie Griffin

In my first year of college, there was only one panacea for a lame party: ’80s music. It didn’t matter that the keg had been kicked hours ago, the bathroom looked like it might spread disease and all those without any faith were trying to figure out how to get back home so they can eat the leftover pizza sitting in their fridge; all any party-thrower had to do was turn on some Bon Jovi or Def Leppard, and, just like that, the party was saved.

Fortunately, now that I’m a senior, people have realized that it doesn’t take bad hair and skin-tight leather pants to have a good time. This is where I get to thank God for replacing our Eighties sing-along sessions with O.A.R., the five-member band from Rockville, Md., and their songs about crazy games of poker and feeling home.

Campus Activities Team recognized the growing popularity of O.A.R. on campus and Musical Events Coordinators Chris Puglisi and Pete Bucciarelli decided to bring them to Villanova for a Nov. 20 concert in the Jake Nevin Fieldhouse.

The show sold out, and concert-goers even braved wind and a cold drizzle to line up outside the doors to secure an up-close location on the floor. That’s dedication.

I was taken backstage for the interview, where I met a big guy, dressed in black, who really was “with the band” and looked exactly how you would picture a big guy, dressed in black and with the band, to look. He introduced me to Benj Gershman, and after a quick security check (“So, Katie, do you bite?”), I followed the bassist to a small room to the side of the stage stocked with food. After scanning for any rock star requests (“I said I only want the green M&Ms!”) and finding none, I knew this would be fun.

First things first: the name is O-A-R, not Oar. An acronym for “Of a Revolution,” the name comes from a story lead singer Marc Roberge wrote about doing something new with his time that was positive and involved music.

Roberge, Gershman and the rest of the band (lead guitarist Richard On, drummer Chris Culos and saxophonist Jerry DePizzo, the only member not from Rockville) were five Ohio State co-eds who liked to get together and play music.

Initially, they would play for their friends and themselves, but steadily, their fan base grew. No longer did anyone believe they were just screwing around with some chords; O.A.R. found they “could really be something” with their upbeat, bouncy songs.

O.A.R.’s sound is a conglomeration of styles, infused with everything from alternative to reggae, as expected from a group of guys whose musical interests covers almost the entire spectrum of produced sound, with the exception of “most stuff on the radio.”

Gershman even gave me some new bands to check out so I can impress my friends with my knowledge of obscure, avant-garde music: Stereophonics and Mint Royale.

Gershman grew up fascinated with classic rock bass lines, listening to Cream and Led Zeppelin for inspiration. Combined with contemporary influences, O.A.R.’s style emerges as different from anything else out there, but not esoteric and unapproachable. They’re the band you play not just to revive the party, but to start the party, continue the party, or even if you want to have a solo party – you know, an “in the car, singing at the top of your lungs with no concern for who sees you while speeding down a highway with open windows and the wind blowing back your hair” kind of party.

The screams that reverberated through Jake Nevin the night of the concert make it easy to believe that the members of O.A.R. could have become pretentious from their fame, but despite O.A.R.’s massive following, Gershman still appeared humbled to be where he is now. He felt privileged to have toured with such artists as Sheryl Crow, Maroon 5, John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band and John Butler Trio, an Australian group who opened for O.A.R. at Villanova.

When I asked him if he got to meet a lot of cool people , his eyes shifted downward and he said he “met cool people all the time,” but they weren’t always famous. When I told him I, along with a group of friends, followed them from Philadelphia to Boston last year, he sincerely and simply said, “Wow … thank you,” although I feel he deserves the thanks for making the music.

O.A.R. played their old songs, their new songs, their fast songs, and their slower songs. Each was met with the same crowd-pleasing screams and yells, culminating in the encore (predictably, “Crazy Game of Poker”). Nearly five hours after the doors first opened, the lights were flipped back on and the hot, sweaty bodies began filing out.

I walked outside, wearing nothing but a tank top in the freezing rain, and listened to my ears ringing and my heart still beating fast in my chest – the signs of a successful show. I got in my car, and as I put in an O.A.R. CD in the player, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were any parties that needed saving.