When O.A.R. returns to Strathmore on Friday night for their second Heard the World Benefit Concert, the band will also be returning to the county that gave them their start. But for the members of O.A.R. — Marc Roberge, Richard On, Chris Culos, Benj Gershman and Jerry DePizzo — it’s not just an opportunity to celebrate a homecoming, but a chance to give back.
“For where we grew up, we had a lot of access and resources ... all kinds of stuff that enabled us to grow up educated and feel like we had a leg up,” says guitarist Gershman. “We want to see that those areas that don’t have those things, will get them.”
Gershman started playing with Roberge, Culos and On in 1996 while the four were students at Wootton High School in Rockville. The band released their first album before high school graduation, and continued making music together once they moved to Columbus, Ohio, to attend Ohio State University. It was there that they met DePizzo.
O.A.R. has gone on to sell almost 2 million records and more than 2 million concert tickets.
In 2006, the band started the Heard the World Foundation — also the title of a song off of their 2005 album, “Stories of a Stranger” — a nonprofit to benefit education in the United States and around the world.
“We feel an extreme sense of gratitude for the career we have and the people who helped shape us as individuals and as a group,” says Gershman. “That only happens with great teachers and the right tools ... “
Through the Heard the World Fund, O.A.R. donates 50 cents from every ticket sale and puts the money into a fund for youth and education programs. All of the proceeds from benefit concerts like the one at Strathmore on Friday, go directly to the Heard the World Fund. This time, the money will go to pay for 75 new computers at a school in Youngstown, Ohio, where DePizzo grew up. In addition, O.A.R. has created a scholarship with Ohio State University.
The Beethoven Found Philharmonic will join O.A.R. on Friday, donating their own ticket sales to the Wounded Warrior Project.
“We’re very excited to ... continue to fuel our mission to help those in need with educational resources,” says Gershman.
On top of their philanthropic efforts, the band has still found time to continue producing music. There are plans for a new album release in 2013, and this fall, O.A.R. released “Live on Red Rocks,” a live album and accompanying DVD of the band’s performance at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado this past July.
“We felt there was nowhere else that could top that place,” says Gershman. “Everything that happens there is heightened because of the environment you’re in.”
Gershman and his bandmates wanted to make sure all O.A.R. fans could enjoy the Red Rocks experience, even if they weren’t at the show this summer.
“I think whenever you release a live record, you want it to translate as a real experience,” says Gershman. “You want those little things ... where you see the guitar technician come up on stage ... that’s what a live concert is; it’s all of those real moments.”
The Red Rocks DVD also includes a 15-minute documentary, “Standing on a Burning Hot Sun,” which Gershman says aims to “bring to life the relationship we have with our audience and our audience with summer concerts.”
The project was headed by O.A.R. vocalist Roberge.
“Our culture is sort of permeated in the idea of getting out and having fun in the summer,” says Gershman, who adds that he grew up going to shows during the summer months.
“Where do you feel most comfortable? When you’re not working ... having a good time, listening to music, being outside hanging out with your friends ... It’s a really cool thing that applies to American culture just as much as it applies to O.A.R. culture.”