It would be easy to blame the euphoria I felt throughout the Five For Fighting concert at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater on the incredible gourmet picnic basket, the delicious red wine (and let’s be real, people), the salted caramel brownie on a stick. But not everyone had that particular delicacy and the euphoria of the evening was a shared audience experience. Because, you see, we were all on our feet dancing for most of the evening.
Nobody ever accused Five For Fighting’s John Ondrasik of being a purveyor of dance jams. Yet, there is something to be said about a performer whose energy is so infectious, whose lyrics are so heartfelt and whose talent is so worthy of celebration, that the crowd can’t help itself.
In fairness, the crowd was pretty excited before Ondrasik and his talented band members took the stage. Not only were we treated to two opening acts, one of them was Park City’s own Austin Wolfe. Locals are very proud of Austin—she competed on the most recent season of American Idol and made it to the top 15 female performers on the show. No lesser a star than Harry Connick, Jr. told her that she not only had the talent to be a star, but she had a cool name to boot. Still in high school, Austin has the stage presence of someone much older and a voice that can handle everything from standards to pop. On this night, she even got to sing “Happy Birthday” to her mom—we were fortunate to be seated just a couple of rows ahead of her proud family.
And then, out came Five for Fighting. Before long, we were all singing along to his hits. Some of us (okay, Jeff and I and the fun woman just behind me who kept high five-ing with me as we danced) sang along to some of the lesser-known songs. In so many ways, it felt like an intimate party. John told a lot of great stories and he teased us for dancing to his not-dance-jams. He and the band played their hearts out. John told us we were his favorite crowd; he may say this to all the crowds but he told us that he doesn’t. And the thing is, I believed him. All three of the acts that night, Jesserae, Austin Wolfe, and John Ondrasik, had connections to Park City and Deer Valley. Jesserae, told us his family has a vacation home in Heber City and skis at Deer Valley. Austin Wolfe is a home-grown local and John Ondrasik told the crowd how much his family loves their ski vacations at Deer Valley Resort and how he plays in the Luke Robitaille hockey tournament at the Park City Ice Arena every year during the Sundance Film Festival. Like many of the audience members who aren’t lucky enough to live here full-time but who are lucky enough to visit here, often these performers consider Deer Valley a part of their hometown crowd.
John solidified his connection to the crowd when he truly let whatever shred of his remaining “guard” down at the end of the show. “We were going to play two more of our songs, but you guys clearly want to dance, so we picked out some other songs—some party songs,” he announced. “But I forgot some of the lyrics, so you have to forgive me for reading some of them off the iPhone.” And that’s how we all came to sing along with the band, as they played Simon and Garfunkel’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” It all felt so…familiar. Perhaps, in part, because he was foisting the mic into the crowd, giving solos to people at the stage’s apron—and I realized I’m not the only person in the world who thinks I am singing on key. In between songs, John had to hand off the phone to his drummer, “What’s your code? It locked up? Can you look up the lyrics for the next song?”
It takes a special guest to make the host crowd feel more welcome than when they walked into the venue. But it turns out this was just part of the magic of the evening. That, and the salted caramel brownies on a stick. More on those soon, I promise.