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|Ari Hest teams with O.A.R.
and Stephen Kellog
By RACHEL HODGES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
On the average Wednesday night in Boston, there is
little traffic in the subway tunnels after rush hour. But
on this night, while boarding the train to head over to
BU, each stop picked up a progressively larger crowd.
Hundreds of high school and college kids,
prematurely garbed in mini skirts and summer shorts,
packed into the crowded cars of the T. People poured
into the train, sometimes two to a seat, diluting Coke with “water” and giggling in anxious, nervous voices. Why?
Because tonight was the first big concert of the “summer” season; tonight was Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers,
Ari Hest, and O.A.R.
If you don’t know Of A Revolution (O.A.R.) by now, you’ve been missing out. Band members joined up at Ohio
State University back in 1998, and between grass roots publicity pushes, online song trading, and a suicidal
touring schedule, the former frat band has since soared to notoriety. It seems clear that O.A.R. is the heir
apparent to the Dave Matthews Band ethos – one of good times and ultimate partying. With upbeat songs that
reek of summers with a hibachi in the truck and a cold one in hand, it seems likely that these guys will be much
bigger before they’re through.
But last night at Agganis Arena, O.A.R. had their largest indoor show yet, and that is something to be proud of.
Before O.A.R. took the stage, two opening acts had the opportunity to warm up the already boiling crowd.
Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers stormed the stage first in the nearly empty arena, and everyone present
immediately charged the stage to get as close as possible to the blue-grassy, rock and rolly, country twanging
dulcet tones pouring from the speakers. The crowd’s reaction was enough to know that these guys are already
stars in their own right, even though their first major label album only hit the shelves in February of this year. The
self-titled record was released on Foundations/Universal, and features cameos by Rich Price, Mike Daly from
Whiskeytown, and Boston’s very own Braddigan from Dispatch. Kellogg is also known for the work he’s done
with Fuzz of Deep Banana Blackout in a side project, All Stripped Down. The Sixers started right up with no-frills,
and the sound hit everyone like Indian summer. Between coordinated stage jumps, hilarious pantomime on the
stage, and songs covering everything from the Ghostbusters theme song to moonshine, this is a group that
knows the value of theatrics.
“Has anyone here seen Napoleon Dynamite?” Kellogg shrieked to the crowd. “Well, we’re gonna do a little bit of
the dance from it!” As the guitarist began imitating the antics of Jon Heder, the crowd was completely won over.
Then Kellogg strapped on a Kazoo harmonica, and there was no going back. The group’s final song, a cover of
Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” eventually got the crowd so involved that the stadium dissolved into a drunken karaoke
session. As the quartet departed, far too quickly, the crowd was shouting for more – a rare call for an opening act
“That’s a tough act to follow,” shouted Joey Albano of Medford High School. “They were AWESOME.”
But the following act, Ari Hest, definitely managed.
Hest, a native of the Bronx, grew up in a musical family, and his classical influences were obvious the moment
he took the stage. Hest began by singing a cover of “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen, and his voice climbed the
scales and arched over a virtually Himalayan range. Hest took a song that can be hackish or over the top, and
turned it into a soaring tribute of heartbreak. It is possible that Hest may just be the most talented vocalist on the
music scene right now – and that isn’t an exaggeration. But he’s more than that. He’s a talented songwriter too.
“My songs come from over-thinking things,” Hest said in a pre-show interview. “It’s like therapy. Things happen
to you during your every day life and I guess I just harp on them more than some of the other stuff that happens
to me. Writing is a way to get it out of my head and just set my mind at ease whether it’s a happy or sad song.
Usually they’re not happy, but I’m working on that. Your head fills up with all this shit and you have to let it all out
Hest began playing the guitar when he was 16 years old, and decided it was the only thing for him by the time he
reached college. Originally playing coffee shops and college shows around NYU, Hest released an EP and two
full-length albums completely independently before the age of 25. Hest is a glowing example of an artist who
has paid his dues and worked to get where he is. After all of his independent work, however, Hest was a little
nervous at the prospect of signing to a major label. Nevertheless, he signed on with Columbia Records in 2003,
and they have since released Someone To Tell through RED Ink.
“When you sign with a major label, you have to be comfortable that what you’re writing will be used to create a
career for yourself, to create a job,” Hest said. “But you can’t think of it like that. It’s interesting – I have mixed
feelings about it, but I’m glad I signed. It’s only my first record [on a major label] so I don’t know where I am going
to be in a year or two. There’s a lot more people involved in making my career work on a level that is higher than
it was before. I know that without them I can maintain a career, so I’m happy that at least I have that to fall back
“Columbia has been cool to me, but the thing that I have to understand and swallow is that there are a lot of
different artists that they have to cater to, so at different times I’m not going to be priority number one. The
hardest thing is trying to keep everybody involved and upbeat about the project and remember that it usually
doesn’t work out. You have to get really lucky. At that point it’s so much less about talent than it is about luck.”
Even if he is counting on a little good fortune, however, Hest seems to realize that making a strong music career
takes hard work.
“I worked my ass off to get to this point – I feel like I’m lucky that I have a gift to play, that I can build something
from that. That’s more about dedication and being willing to do two gigs, 600 miles apart. Just persevering. But I
feel lucky that I can do this … there’s a lot of people who love music but don’t really know how to make it, and I’m
lucky to be in the minority of people who sort of understand the relationship between chords. It’s mathematical.
Though I wasn’t very good at math in school.”
Hest attributes a lot of his natural musical skill to good genes, being the child of a college music professor and
“I didn’t ever feel pressured to go into music. They didn’t push me, they made me take piano lessons when I
was really young, but I think they were trying to see if I liked it,” Hest said. “My father didn’t make a great living at it
… I think he was a little afraid that I would get into what I am doing right now and that I would get sucked dry. He
definitely had his share of downs with the industry. Because of that he wouldn’t let me see him play until I was in
college because he was afraid I would like it so much that I would want to get into it. When I told him I would be a
musician, he said ‘at least wait until you get out of college so that you have something to fall back on.’ But now,
they’re both more supportive and they’re behind me.”
Opening for O.A.R., however, Hest did show his biggest weakness: knowing his audience. Although Hest began
the night strongly, the power of “Hallelujah” was almost entirely lost on a crowd composed primarily of drunken
adolescents. These were people who wanted to hear songs about poker games, pretty girls, and alcohol.
After the opening number, however, Hest seemed to gain his bearing. The rest of his band joined him onstage,
and Hest’s love for rock and roll began to shine through. After all, this is a guy who sites his major influences as
Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Mark Knopfler, among others.
Between sets, Hest conversed easily with the crowd, making it difficult to believe that he ever considered himself
to be shy. At the beginning of his career, Hest was so shy that he had trouble performing in front of live
audiences – something he says he now enjoys.
“It was about getting over fear,” Hest explained. “It’s like anything else in your life – where you say ‘I’m kind of sick
of this, I’m kind of sick of feeling like I can’t do this. It’s a really big deal for me to get through this.’ Singing wasn’t
the hard part, but it was the in between moments. It was communicating without using your singing voice. Now I
feel like I’m a performer, whereas before I felt like a guy who writes songs and sings them and then doesn’t
know what to do with himself.”
As Hest moved into his own compositions, he proved himself as a skilled writer as well as singer. Ripping
through some signature tracks like “They’re On to Me,” and “Consistency,” Hest also played a lot of songs that
aren’t on his latest album. Still, people in the audience were singing along, fully aware of his lyrics, and loving
every minute of the set.
“I’m working on a lot of new material,” Hest said. “We are trying to figure out when we are going to get back into
the studio to record again and we’re hoping that will be sometime this summer … I’ve written a lot of new songs.
My last record was largely older songs that had been redone, but over the last four years I’ve written a lot of new
songs that haven’t been recorded so I’m kind of anxious to get back in the studio.”
As Hest left the stage and O.A.R. moved in, the crowd lost total control. Bouncing through reggae inspired rock
songs, complete with horn section, O.A.R. lived up to the hype. Lead singer Marc Roberge has a voice which
sounds like any college frat guy’s – husky and rough from long nights of partying and ash – and the sound is
absolutely addictive. While none of the songs are excessively complicated or ornate, they are all fun … just like
the shows themselves. And as the evening wore down and clouds of marijuana smoke filled the air, so did a
feeling that the summer had finally arrived.