July 04--Most people view summer as Mother Nature's annual reprieve, a season when even 9-to-5 working folks can kick back during their off-hours.
Jerry DePizzo is an exception.
"I haven't spent a summer in Ohio since 1997," said the saxophone player for O.A.R. -- short for Of a Revolution -- a pop-rock five-piece whose members met and first played together as Ohio State University undergraduates. "I've been to ComFest one time.
"I haven't really experienced a lot of those quintessential summertime things."
Despite that, the band has assumed an unusual role during its 15 years on the road: being a warm-weather tradition for countless others.
And it just wouldn't be the same in, say, February.
"We are a summer band; our music is summer music," said DePizzo, 34. "It should be enjoyed in a summer atmosphere, . . . people jumping up and down, tailgating, doing whatever the hell they want to do."
Yet for the shows' seemingly spontaneous nature, planning and execution is far more elaborate.
Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheatre -- the expansive outdoor stage where O.A.R. recorded its latest live album in 2012 and that hosted the band again last month -- isn't exactly a dive bar.
From lighting cues to acoustics, "The goal is to put it in the band's hands to screw up," DePizzo said. "Everything else is taken care of. It's very structured. We spent countless hours just picking the play lists."
That's a definite sea change from the band's earliest shows. When asked to recall his first O.A.R. gig, DePizzo spoke of his freshman year at Ohio State -- when the fledgling musicians would play "any and every house party."
A University District spot between E. Woodruff and Frambes avenues was particularly hot.
"We would take a pool of everybody in the apartment complex and buy 30 kegs of beer and set up a PA system," he said. "That kind of kicked things off in the sense that O.A.R. was associated with a fun party dynamic."
It led to self-booked Newport Music Hall shows, with the group packing the 1,700-capacity hall with $5 tickets.
Venue sizes and crowds quickly grew.
"I think we're known for building ourselves through a touring model," DePizzo said. Even as " kids in college, very green, with warts and all -- with like 10 songs -- everything had to do with being onstage."
A record deal followed, as did airplay on MTV and VH1. Their big moment came in 2006, when a still-somewhat-unknown O.A.R. sold out Madison Square Garden in New York.
It's no surprise that the band's discography includes almost as many live albums as studio releases. A 2010 effort, Rain or Shine -- recorded a year earlier during two outdoor shows (one of them undeterred by a rainstorm) in Chicago -- spans 37 songs and four discs.
"You go to concerts, it's a sensory experience," DePizzo said. "To capture that energy is really, really cool."
Still, a good song professionally mastered can be a "completely different animal" with "a lot of pressure involved" when presented live.
But it's hard to tense up too much. The music, he said, speaks mostly to "friends and family -- that feeling of togetherness."
The latest summer shows will allow O.A.R. the chance to test new material with fans. A follow-up to 2011's King, their seventh and most recent studio album, is due out next year.
Apart from tours and recording time, members scatter to their respective homes across the country during the off-season.
DePizzo, a Youngstown native who lives with his wife and young daughter in Worthington, plans to record a Christmas album with central Ohio musicians. Proceeds will benefit Music Loves Ohio -- a nonprofit group that raises money for programs to help underserved children learn, play and record music.
The band also recently gave Ohio State $50,000 via its Heard the World foundation to launch and endow a four-year full-ride scholarship awarded each fall to an incoming student from Mahoning County.
Being on campus "was the biggest thing in the world to me at that time," DePizzo said. "Columbus was like New York or Paris."
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