Five for Fighting brings band together for tour, plus other Cape Cod concerts to check out

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The pandemic shutdown got John Ondrasik thinking about how much he missed playing with Five for Fighting, so he's got the band out on the road for the first time in a decade — at the same time world affairs have gotten him writing political songs. His story is below, and here are six other concerts to consider for an evening out:

► A busy week at Payomet Performing Arts Center (29 Old Dewline Road, North Truro) is bookended with singer, songwriter, activist and independent entrepreneur Ani DiFranco performing at 7 p.m. Friday, July 29 a little more than a year after releasing her 22nd album “Revolutionary Love” and the Bacon Brothers playing at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4. The brothers — Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon and Emmy Award-winning composer Michael Bacon — have for two decades played around the world what they call "Forosoco" (a blend of folk, rock, soul, and country influences) and just released a five-song EP called “Erato.” Information on all Payomet shows:

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► Three local bands will combine for a rock and roll show they’re calling “The Buzzardz Ball” from 8 p.m. to midnight on Friday, July 29 at TJ’s Grille and Bar, 4 Bridge Approach St., Buzzards Bay. Featured will be three bands formed in the past few years that will be playing and have all released original music: Stone Nobles, which formed at the University of Rhode Island; The Fools Agenda, described as “Woodstock and grunge thrown in a blender”; and host band Club 9 Ball, three Cape brothers regularly seen playing at numerous local bars.

► Blues guitarist Albert Cummings will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 30, at The Music Room, 541 Main St. (Route 28), West Yarmouth as part of his tour in support of his new album “Ten”; That show will be followed at 9 p.m. by a concert featuring blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Anthony Gomes.

► Cotuit Center for the Arts (4404 Falmouth Road, or Route 28) has two big concerts, too, lined up for its new outdoor stage. At 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1, internationally known pop/jazz/blues entertainer Suede will return to the center. At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3 will be singer and multi-instrumentalist Zoë Lewis and her band the Souvenirs, playing original songs and “world-beat grooves.” The band features Kami Lyle on trumpet, Mark Chenevert on clarinet, Jon Evans on bass, Liam Hogg on drums and guest artist Sarah Swain;

Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll

John Ondrasik and Five for Fighting back on the road

John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting knows the good that a song can do when it is crafted the right way. He’s had success on the pop charts, and now he’s also getting involved with worldwide affairs and offering his music as support and encouragement to those around the globe.

Ondrasik recently traveled to Ukraine to shoot a music video with a Ukrainian orchestra for his song “Can One Man Save the World?” about President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He has also teamed up with a group of other musicians, including Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, for a song about the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan entitled “Blood On My Hands.”

Jon Ondrasik of Five for Fighting
Jon Ondrasik of Five for Fighting

When it comes to Five for Fighting’s Cape Cod show alongside The Verve Pipe on Wednesday, Aug. 3 at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, those in attendance can expect to hear these new songs plus the radio-friendly and chart-topping “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” and “100 years” that have become pop staples.

A surprising start in another genre

After almost 10 years, Ondrasik is taking the Five for Fighting rock ensemble back out on the road following stints where he previously focused his efforts on string quartets, acoustic and symphony setups. Being stuck inside during the pandemic can make you change your mind about things.

“You kind of realize what you miss and you think about good times and the people and I love my rock band players,” he says. “I just felt this kind of urge to do music again. I really missed doing the rock shows.”

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Some may find it hard to believe, but Ondrasik, who has made a career out of being a singer/songwriter behind a piano, was once in a Bon Jovi-style rock band before finding success doing what he does today. Out of college, he met up with Rudy Sarzo, a metal bassist who played with the likes of Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne, and formed a band that also included ex-members of Pat Benatar’s band.

“We had some good songs and had some interest and were about to do a big management deal and then this little band called Nirvana came out and the whole hair-metal thing blew up,” he says.

Jon Andrasik with Five for Fighting will perform Aug. 3 at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis.
Jon Andrasik with Five for Fighting will perform Aug. 3 at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis.

What’s perhaps even more surprising, back before he was even in a band with metal players, is that he “really sang opera” for four or five years as a teenage student of “the voice teacher to the stars” Ron Anderson. He recalls attending lessons at Anderson’s Chino Hills location, and he wasn’t the only one there who would become well-known in a completely different genre.

“It would be weird. I was the little kid — it was almost like ‘Almost Famous’ — I’d be sitting there waiting for my voice lesson and here comes Axl Rose (from Guns N’ Roses) and Don Dokken (from Dokken),” he says. “But we actually trained classically.”

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Ondrasik says having his involvement with metal be nothing more than a brush was actually a “blessing.” His mother played piano and had taught him how to play when he was younger. The time was right, he says, for him to return to the instrument.

“I went back to the piano and started writing my songs, but it was great to be with those guys,” he says. “I learned a lot from them.”

Those “songs” would end up becoming the Grammy Award-nominated, platinum-selling “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” and platinum-selling “100 Years,” propelling Ondrasik under his then-new moniker of Five for Fighting into the spotlight.

What’s in a hit song?

Ondrasik says he could “talk for an hour” when asked what he looks for in a well-written song. It’s important for a song to tell a story, he says, and points to Harry Chapin’s "Cat's in the Cradle" as an example.

“There’s a sentiment to the song but there’s also an evolution of the song and as you move through it you learn things,” he explains. “At the end, hopefully there’s something that resonates with you.”

Ondrasik’s own “100 Years” is similar in that approach and is about recognizing and living in the moment, with a verse for each stage of our lives.

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“I hope that when you’re at the end, you feel something and somewhere in the song you can find yourself,” he says. “I think that’s why that song and a few others (I’ve written) have stood the test of time.”

The music itself is important, but what’s even more important in Ondrasik’s experience are the lyrics and intent the songwriter has.

“Melody can get you on the radio,” he says. “Lyrics can keep you there for 20 years.”

Ondrasik describes some of his songs as “post-it” notes to himself, a way of working things out in a therapeutic sense and, by extension, for the listener as well.

Five for Fighting singer John Ondrasik
Five for Fighting singer John Ondrasik

“It was like lifting weights or boxing,” he says of songwriting. “It was a way to get out my angst, my anger. ‘Superman’ is an angry song in a way. It seems like a ballad but (the lyric) ‘It’s not easy to be me’ is frustration and ‘What do you do?’ Sometimes you do things you shouldn’t. Certainly, for me, it was therapy and still is.”

Ondrasik then points to “Blood On My Hands,” a song dealing with the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan, and says about his songs, “They’re really kind of screams, and sometimes you scream through your instrument.”

‘Courage is contagious’

Ondrasik says he plans to play “Can One Man Save the World?” at the Melody Tent show in what he describes as a “family-friendly event.”

Although he is now back in the States, it was clear in the phone interview in late June that his visit to Ukraine was still weighing on his mind. Ondrasik says that being in Ukraine and seeing what is happening there was “surreal” and “heartbreaking,” and he hopes that his song “Can One Man Save the World?” and the new video to go with it will “help put the spotlight back on Ukraine and give them a shot in the arm.”

“(The Ukrainians) are taking the lead from Zelenskyy and that’s really what the song is all about – that courage is contagious,” he says.

To see Five for Fighting with The Verve Pipe

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3

Where: Cape Cod Melody Tent, 41 W. Main Street, Hyannis 

Tickets: $51-$61; members $45-$55 

Reservations and information:

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod music: Five for Fighting Jon Ondrasik's Ukraine song