Ageless crowd cheers college band favorite O.A.R.

Headline act pleases infield 20-somethings

May 16, 2010|By Sam Sessa, The Baltimore Sun

The guys in O.A.R. might be getting older, but their crowds have stayed the same age.

It's been 13 years since the rock band's first college radio hit, "Crazy Game of Poker," but you'd never know it from Saturday's performance at Pimlico Race Course. The audience was a sea of 20-somethings, lapping up the band's reggae and rock beats. With a consummate party vibe and jams galore, O.A.R. has tapped into the forever-21 crowd, which made it an easy choice to headline the infield celebration. Better still, most of the band members are from Rockville, which they made sure to mention during Saturday's 90-minute set.

With his short hair, white T-shirt and Ray-Bans, clean-cut front man Marc Roberge looked straight out of the '50s, a thin but affecting voice emerging from his wiry frame. The first couple of songs, "Night Shift," and "One Shot," were short and tight, but the band aired it out some for "Here's to You." When Roberge told the crowd to "put 'em up," hundreds of arms shot into the air. O.A.R.'s set was full of island jams (reggae is universal, after all) and marijuana smoke wafted in the breeze. The scene recalled the Virgin Mobile Festival, which, for three years, used the same infield.

Saxophonist Jerry DiPizzo squeezed in smooth solos and fills, but the band didn't spend too much time showing off; it let the jams speak for themselves. O.A.R.'s most recent album, "All Sides," saw the band veering more toward pop rock. Harder-edged songs as "Shattered" worked well next to acoustic numbers. The band saved "Crazy Game of Poker" for last, and the crowd chanted every word of the acoustic epic. Sometimes, the song can stretch out to 20 minutes. Saturday, the band kept it to a mere 12 or 13, and sent the kids home happy.

Earlier in the afternoon, bearded, barrel-chested Zac Brown led his five-piece band through a set of good-time music, tailor-made for a sunny spring afternoon. They were all over the musical map — veering from reggae to honky tonk to straight-ahead bluegrass and back again.

The breezy, 90-minute set kicked off with the easygoing groove of "Whatever It Is," the second single from the band's 2008 major-label debut, "The Foundation." Brown and the boys traded solos often, with fiddler Jimmy DeMartini sawing away and Brown furiously picking away at his acoustic guitar.

Between songs, Brown fired off one-liners and shared colorful stories. He talked about cruising around his hometown of Dahlonega, Ga., in a pickup truck, blasting Crosby, Stills and Nash with a wad of dip in his lip. A few minutes later, the band offered an a capella version of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tune "Find the Cost of Freedom," and segued into a sped-up cover of the Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

The band's performance was full of covers, from Bob Marley's "One Love" to Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic." An extended jam on "Who Knows" went on a few minutes too long and began to drag. The song everyone was waiting for didn't come until the tail end of the show: With the crowd chanting "U.S.A.," the band played its hit single, "Chicken Fried" — a pop-country anthem that helped the band pick up a Grammy for best new artist. After Saturday's show, it was easy to see why they won it.

On the Jagermeister stage, a small crowd of alt-rock lovers gathered to see Collective Soul. Frontman Ed Roland draped himself over the microphone stand, his shoulder-length mop of dirty blond hair showing a bit of gray. Roland's husky baritone occasionally got lost in the cloudy mix. While hits such as "December" and "Heavy" stood up, the display seemed lost amid the rest of the infield activities.

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