A revolution will sweep the 13th annual FlashFest, which takes place today at Risman Plaza and in the M.A.C. Center. O.A.R., short for “Of A Revolution,” will headline this year’s event, preceded by acts such as Mike Perkins, Ludo and country artist Josh Gracin.
Although most of the band members are from Maryland, it’s easy to insist O.A.R. is a local band given the band’s humble beginnings in the Columbus area. Since its college days, O.A.R. has seen great success, including a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden earlier this year.
The band members attended Ohio State University, where they met Youngstown native and saxophonist Jerry DePizzo. DePizzo joined the band in 1997, but even with the band’s success, he said his roots are still in Ohio.
“It’s where I call home,” DePizzo said. “I still live in Columbus to this day. My family still lives in Youngstown. I can live anywhere I want in the country. I choose Ohio; I choose Columbus. It does have a sense of identity, (and) I will forever live in Ohio until my dying day.”
But one has to wonder if the band considers itself local to Ohio.
“I think it’s pretty accurate,” Depizzo said. “We do claim dual citizenship between the Maryland area and the Ohio area. The four guys grew up and started the band in Maryland, and they still have roots there. But we have a lot of history and we have a lot of time, and we had a lot of great years in Columbus. We certainly have a loyal following and a loyal audience down there as well. I would hope that Ohio would claim us as their own.”
Sure, the band has come a long way since Ohio. No more are their jam band, reggae-inspired songs exclusive to screaming college and high-school fans. After years of literally creating their own success, O.A.R.’s positive, upbeat message is reaching millions of fans around the country.
O.A.R. proved their worth and demand when they helped bring a sold-out crowd to Madison Square Garden on Jan. 27, the second time since January 2006. A double CD set, as well as a double DVD set, will be released June 2 documenting the concert.
“It’s the best we’ve ever done,” DePizzo said. “The performance, to the actual recording of it, to the packaging of it. It’s something we’ve poured a lot of ourselves into, and it’s really special. I’m really excited about it, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
In terms of new material, DePizzo said the band plans on recording this fall after they finish touring at the end of the summer. At the moment, they’ve written 16-20 new songs, and plan on playing one of those songs during tonight’s performance.
“We’re going to be trying to play at least one of those 20 songs every day over this next tour and the summer tour. People can expect to come out and probably hear a song that’s never been played before, or that’s just been played once or twice.”
Four hours before O.A.R. performs, Battle of the Bands winner NJs and the Jeff will be playing outside at Risman Plaza. The band mixes garage and classic rock, and basically uses its sets as jam sessions. Not that that’s a bad thing. The three band members pack as much punch into each second of their music as most bands do in one album.
Bassist and lead vocalist Taylor Belling, a senior accounting major, seemed proud of the progress the band has made in the two short months they’ve been around.
“The amount of music we generate from just a three-piece band … nobody’s seen anything like us,” Belling said. “With what we have right now, our combined talent, it’s different. If people heard us, I think they’d like us. The problem is getting everyone to hear you.”
Belling wanted people to hear his band so badly, he took on the All Campus Programming Board face-to-face when he found out his band was only playing 20-minute sets indoors. On top of that, Tropidelic, another Battle of the Bands finalist, received a one-hour set outside.
Belling walked into the ACPB office and told the board members his band needed to play a longer set outdoors. Apparently, after some words back and forth, Belling got what he wanted.
Doug Hite, publicity chair for ACPB, said Tropidelic, though it didn’t win the battle, was included in the lineup because of its strong local following.
“We’re incredibly impressed by each of the turnouts for Battle of the Bands,” Hite said. “We thought it would be a good idea to bring the best local bands.”
NJs (which stands for “non-Jeffs”) and the Jeff is easy to dismiss as a gimmick. Whether it be their introduction/disclaimer by 65-year-old Gary Larkin, their obsession with spines or the name of the band itself, NJs and the Jeff always seem to have the audience laughing. But make no mistake, there’s nothing funny about the band’s music, or its work ethic.
Even while interviewing them, Belling and guitarist Jeff Gill, a junior business management major, joke around and play off each other’s one liners. But Gill doesn’t want to send out the wrong message.
“I don’t want to come off as a joke band,” Gill said. “Our songs are real, and we take it pretty seriously. We’re not worried about looking cool; we’re worried about sounding good. All three of us are solid in what we do. There’s no weak point. Everybody’s covering all the bases, and it works.”
But enough with the music. The real challenge for NJs will be to branch out and develop a fan base. And the way they will do that is…
“MySpace and blowing spines out,” Belling said.
For more information on NJs and the Jeff, visit their new, spine-blowing MySpace page at www.myspace.com/njsandthejeff.
Contact on-campus entertainment reporter Joe Shearer at [email protected]