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John Lamb, Published June 25 2013

After years of crisscrossing the country, O.A.R. ready to play 'This Town'

MOORHEAD - Benj Gershman of O.A.R. lives in New York City, but he’s feeling Minnesota.

“We’re excited to return,” he says from his Big Apple apartment.

When asked about the group’s last area show, at the 10,000 Lakes Festival in 2006, the bassist remembers it fondly.

“We’ve always had good, fun, spontaneous nights there,” he says. “We didn’t know what to expect and we walked out of there thinking, ‘We need to tour around here more often.’ ”

It has taken nearly seven years, but O.A.R. is making its first Fargo-Moorhead appearance tonight at the Imagine Amphitheater at Bluestem Center for the Arts in Moorhead.

It looks like the rock band could’ve played here earlier. Promoter Jade Nielsen of Jade Presents expects a crowd of about 2,800, the largest for a Bluestem event to date. May’s Trampled by Turtles concert was the previous biggest show with 2,400.

Not too shabby for a band that’s only scored one top-40 hit, 2008’s “Shattered (Turn the Car Around).” Instead, the quintet has developed an enthusiastic fan base with its energetic songs and live shows, which helps explain why the 17-year-old band has nearly as many live albums (five) as they do studio albums (seven).

Another studio album is in the works, but Gershman says it’s too early to say when it will be out.

“Our music is representative of where we are in our lives,” he says, when asked how the music has grown since their last album, 2011’s “King.”

He said the group’s first release, 1997’s “The Wanderer,” was recorded “when we were kids in high school without any knowledge of what process you go through to make an album.”

He calls the finished product “very rough, but there’s a certain magic to the innocence of it that we still love and try to capture that energy when we make records now. … We want everything to sound energized and fun.”

As do the fans. While the anthem “This Town” didn’t register much on radio, it brought in new listeners when it was used by ESPN during the 2007 College World Series.

Earlier this year O.A.R. tapped a different sport for the tune, offering T-shirts featuring the title, “This Town” and logos for NBA teams.

“It’s cool to have that resonate,” Gershman says. “It really is about that experience or moment for us in a concert. Each city has its own energy.”

The anthem has even attracted athletes to the band. The bassist says some pro baseball players use the song as their walk-up, and there are videos from last year on YouTube of singer/guitarist Marc Roberage playing at Yankee Stadium with then-Yankee Nick Swisher.

Gershman says it’s cool to have jock fans since athletes’ fans look up to their idols as role models.

“To be associated with that is an honor,” he says.

Swisher, in particular, is a fan of the group’s epic tale, “That was a Crazy Game of Poker,” the group’s go-to encore.

Since it was first recorded in ’97, the tune has continued to morph each time it’s played.

“That song has a life of its own at this point,” Gershman says. “We have fun playing it any time we can. There’s a basic structure to it, but the form certainly changes. It can go in a lot of different directions. It’s been short at times and it’s been much longer. It just goes where it’s supposed to go for the night.”

The group plays off the energy in the crowd that night, an energy he says is more palpable when playing outdoors – like Bluestem.

“It’s just natural and fun. Maybe it’s just that I live in a New York City apartment and I want to be outside every chance I get,” he says. “What I remember from my youth and what was exciting about going to concerts was the feeling of being outdoors and listening to music at night and that’s something I hope that’s translating about our performances.”

If you go

What: O.A.R.

When: The Mowgli’s open the show at 7 tonight. The concert is scheduled to be over by 10 p.m.

Where: The Imagine Amphitheater at Bluestem Center for the Arts, 801 50th Ave. S., Moorhead

Info: Tickets range from $22 to $45.50. (866) 300-8600

Pre-concert: Avoid the last-minute traffic jam with a free pre-show picnic on the Bluestem lawn, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m., with music by the Moody River Band. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from Joe Sandwich, Bronson’s Concessions and Usher’s House.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533