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Five for Fighting

Lauren Calve

Tue, August 13, 2024
Doors: 6:30 pm
Show: 8:00 pm

Lincoln Theatre
Washington, DC

Any tickets suspected of being purchased for the sole purpose of reselling can be cancelled at the discretion of Lincoln Theatre / Ticketmaster, and buyers may be denied future ticket purchases for I.M.P. shows. Opening acts, door times, and set times are always subject to change.

Five for Fighting

The only way for a story to progress is to turn the page. John Ondrasik — the songwriter and performer known as the platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated, Five For Fighting — knows this well. In the two decades since his first major single, “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” hit the stratosphere, the artist has both evolved and come back ’round full circle. Creativity, if nothing else, is paradoxical.

To date, Five For Fighting, has released six studio LPs, including the platinum certified America Town and The Battle for Everything; and the top-10 charting Two Lights, along with an EP and live albums.

Ondrasik has penned major hits, including the chart-topping “100 Years,” “The Riddle,” “Chances,” “World,” and “Easy Tonight,” which have earned tens of millions of streams and place him as a top-10 Hot Adult Contemporary artist for the 2000s. The reflective “100 Years” has joined “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” as part of the American Songbook and continues to stand the test of time at weddings, birthdays, graduations, memorials, and many a home video. Five For Fighting’s music has also been featured in more than 350 films, television shows, and commercials, including the Oscar-winning The Blind Side, Hawaii Five-O, The Sopranos and the CBS drama, Code Black.

Referencing Fight For Fighting’s success in the 2000s, AllMusic called Ondrasik “one of the decade’s leading balladeers.” But perhaps his biggest achievement is performing “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” at the 2001 Concert for New York, a benefit show at Madison Square Garden that honored first responders and the fallen about a month after the tragic September 11th attacks. Ondrasik performed alongside other big-name artists like Paul McCartney, The Who, Elton John, Billy Joel, and dozens more.

Says Ondrasik, “It was a surreal experience. I was honored and blessed to pay tribute to the heroes who ran into those buildings at ground zero, and hopefully, through a song, provide a little solace to family members who’d lost loved ones.”

Now, though, what once was a dream is a reality. Buoyed by his unique falsetto voice and his prowess on the piano — a skill bestowed to him by his piano teacher mother — Ondrasik has made a solid reputation for himself in the world of songwriting and performance, selling upwards of three million albums over his career. Not only does he tour with his popular string quartet and play solo and rock band gigs, but he is also a high demand keynote speaker in which he combines themes of creativity and innovation with his business acumen. Along with his father, he has managed the family business throughout his musical career. As Ondrasik happily puts it, his company, Precision Wire Products, “makes the best shopping cart in the world!”

He’s presented at TEDx, The Salk Institute, American Cancer Society, and dozens more. Perhaps being the son of an astrophysicist dad and having a degree in mathematics from UCLA has something to do with it.

“Math was the Plan-B to get a real job when the music thing imploded,” says Ondrasik, with a chuckle.

But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t always a student at heart. As he wrote songs in his late teens and early 20s, the Los Angeles-born Ondrasik studied his favorite rock vocalists. Finding out that singers like Freddie Mercury and Steve Perry studied classical voice, he did too, even seeking out some of those icons’ former teachers. No stone unturned.

Most recently, his song with the biggest sticking power is the powerful, “Blood on My Hands,” a protest song that takes a non-political, moral stance against the 2021 United States chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

While he’s well-versed in politics, he isn’t of a bickering mindset. For Ondrasik, it’s about the conversation. “Blood on My Hands,” the track, accompanying acoustic version, and docu-music video, “Blood on My Hands (White House Version),” has had millions of streams to date (despite little-to-no radio play). Like other protest songs of the past — “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or “The Times They Are a-Changin'” by Bob Dylan — Ondrasik aimed to point out a problem. While it’s critical of President Biden’s administration, he says that if a Republican were President, the song would remain the same, only the names would change.

Thanks to the song, Ondrasik is now working with evacuation groups that strive to help the American citizens left behind in Afghanistan by the U.S. government, as well as the Afghan people who remain there largely under the threat of terrorism. It’s a difficult, and at times a polarizing subject, but it’s one Ondrasik is not shying away from. Not because of any politics or partisan pats on the back, but simply because he knows it’s the right thing to do.

Ondrasik notes, “There has been a tradition of musicians speaking truth to power. In the current tribal culture, our freedom of expression has never been more critical.”

Throughout his multi-decade career, which began when music publisher Carla Berkowitz (now his wife of 25 years) discerned him in a dive bar, Ondrasik has been involved in multiple charity efforts. Along with supporting the troops via multiple USO tours, Ondrasik created “The CD For the Troops” project with song and comedy compilations featuring artists like Billy Joel, Melissa Ethridge, Chris Rock, and others, gifting more than one million CDs to veterans and military families. John has also been deeply involved with the ALS charity “Augie’s Quest.”

While he may not be as obsessive as he once was — writing upwards of dozens of songs per month, Ondrasik is more focused today. He knows who he is, as an artist and as a human being. His is a career molded by light and darkness. At one point, he’d been looked over by every publishing house and label out there. At another, he had one of the biggest songs in the world. Those extremes give a person perspective.

“I’ve been incredibly blessed,” he says. “I still pinch myself.”

As Five For Fighting, which is a professional hockey term designating a five-minute penalty for fisticuffs on the ice, Ondrasik has also developed a close relationship within the world of sports. He was a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated as well as for his beloved Los Angeles Kings. Five For Fighting was one of the first musical artists to perform on ESPN’s SportsCenter, and has played The Daytona 500, Monday Night Football, The Heritage Classic, the L.A. Kings outdoor hockey game, and more.

“Singing from home plate at Dodger stadium,” Ondrasik says, “where, as a five-year-old boy, my dad and I would catch bleacher bombs during batting practice — that was a dream.”

Today, Ondrasik spends his time writing music, touring, working at the family business, and enjoying life with his wife, two children, and dog Ender.

Through “What Kind of World Do You Want,” Ondrasik’s charity driven website — — he is currently raising funds for Afghan evacuation organizations, refugees and veteran mental wellness charities. The singer also launched his new episodic web docu-series titled “Meet the Heroes,” which features Ondrasik interviewing heroic Americans who are involved in rescuing and evacuating American citizens, Afghan allies, and persons of high risk from Afghanistan.

What motivates him musically now? He wants to promote dialogue. He’s set to speak his mind. In song, with the piano.

Ondrasik doesn’t shy away from nuance. He embraces it and seeks it — just as he does the next chorus, the next verse. It’s what artists and freethinkers do, after all.

It’s his gift to share.

His decided obligation, too.

Lauren Calve

Lauren Calve has been undergoing a metamorphosis in her life, a massive shift. You can hear it seeping through every song, oozing out of every lyric, and feel the shedding of her skin with every note on her first full-length album Shift. The subtle and understated yearning in her voice, the intonation in her haunting vocals and delivery, Calve is longing for something more. Through the ten-track collection of songs on Shift, she invites the listener to come along on her journey of self-discovery and change, demonstrating a musical masterclass in the art of emotional storytelling.

Shift was recorded in Nashville at 3Sirens Music Group with producer, engineer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Dex Green (Margo Price, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Allison Russell). “He took songs that had never been road tested, songs that went directly from my living room to the studio, and effortlessly brought them to life,” says Calve. He also brought heavy hitters into the studio: Fred Eltringham on drums (ACM Drummer of the Year, Drumeo Country Drummer of the Year, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson), Audley Freed on guitar (Sheryl Crow, The Black Crowes), Robert Kearns on bass (Sheryl Crow, Lynyrd Skynyrd), Marlon Patton on drums (Larkin Poe, Lera Lynn), Jared Reynolds on bass (Ben Folds) and Joe Costa on the board (Ben Folds). “Nashville is home to some of the best musicians in the world,” says Calve. “But I felt like I got to work with the best of the best. It wasn’t just their technical ability, they approached every song with true artistry and infectious enthusiasm.”

During this process Calve learned that she liked putting herself in uncomfortable situations.
From embracing a different sound to recording in Nashville for the first time with “musical Jedis” as Calve calls them to trusting the unconventional fourteen month writing and recording process, she was thriving on pushing herself outside of her comfort zone. In turn, Shift was the catalyst for major paradigm shifts in her life. Several months after wrapping up the album she ended an engagement and six-year relationship, she finally stopped drinking after years of failed attempts, and the writing process forced her to examine the ways she had limited herself. “Ultimately, I made this album, but it remade me,” says Calve.

The sound reflects the environment in which the songs were written, in quarantine, mainly, and therefore in periods of silence and self-reflection. “At the time, I was more drawn to the softer qualities of my voice than the aggressive, blues-rock side,” says Calve. The instrumentation followed suit. Dex and the band really nailed the feel and filled in the emotional landscape with ethereal tones, lots of intentional space, and the perfect amount of grit. The result is a collection of songs that include the title track “Shift” with its dramatic imagery of a literal tectonic plate shift and asteroids colliding in space that illustrates her state of mind when it builds into an expression of what it feels like to her in the middle of an emotional shift. “Everything At The Same Time” is the guiding light, the North Star of the album. “It reminds me of who I am and what I believe,” says Calve. The lyrics were written based on alchemical opposites – she was really into medieval alchemical theories at the time. When combined, these pairs of opposites create magic. “This theory, along with the concept Both-And thinking and how contradictory ideas can be true at the same time–expanded my oftentimes limited view,” says Calve. “Subtle Alchemy” is the song that most represents her musical shift. “I love the ethereal, dynamic production and arrangement, both of which are in perfect step with the lyrics and theme of the song. This song explores the alchemy, or magic, in our everyday observations and interactions; it’s a theme that feels emblematic of my songwriting,” says Calve.

Shift is the follow up to her 2020 Wildfire EP, which featured the stand-out lead track, “Better Angels,” written by Calve after listening to a radio interview with Jon Meacham who cited Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address on the eve of the Civil War as inspiration for his book, The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels and it reflected what the world was going through during the pandemic. With Shift, it’s different from her past releases primarily because it’s her first full-length and complete album of work. “My prior releases were collections of songs I wrote around the same frame. This album is way more thoughtful and intentional; each song has its purpose and place. It’s the first record that really sounds like me,” says Calve.

Now, with the new album coming, Calve is building off the momentum she’s gained with her music, from touring with the likes of Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rhett Miller, Tom Paxton, Justin Townes Earle, and Amythyst Kiah, to name a few, recent writing sessions with Grammy-Award winning songwriters Jon Vezner and Don Henry, and a performance on the prestigious Mountain Stage. As a singer, songwriter, avid reader, and voracious observer in the human condition with a propensity for storytelling, this shift has brought Calve closer to herself and to her audiences in the process. “I want to continue to share my stories, play great shows, and meet more talented, inspiring people,” says Calve. “Every year seems to exceed my expectations; I don’t see why this year would be different.”

Venue Information:
Lincoln Theatre
1215 U St NW
Washington, DC, 20009

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