“The groove” is something Evan Oberla mentions frequently when describing the gigantic band he assembled early last year. It’s one of those oft-deployed music words that skirts cliché or maybe just straddles it, but watching Oberla joyously conduct his bandmates — jumping, bobbing, pacing, dancing and, when the time is right, blaring his trombone — it becomes obvious that there’s just no other word.
Evan Oberla Project is rehearsing at Brothers Drake Meadery, where they’ll groove Saturday for a Gallery Hop/Cinco de Mayo celebration. They can barely fit everybody on the stage, which is partially the point. E.O.P. is about building and boosting community, rhythm as a vehicle for empowerment.
“With (Eric Rollin)'s voice being what it is, it's kind of the center focus — that and the drums,” Oberla explains. “Everything else is just coloring the archways up to the sky and pushing, pushing, pushing.”
Ever since he enrolled at Ohio State in 2005, Oberla has been a guy who makes things happen. He hosted weekly Ruby Tuesday jams, performed with numerous ensembles at Dick’s Den and played with MojoFlo and G. Finesse. In 2011, he toured with former Columbus band O.A.R. and returned with stars in his eyes.
“I came from the jazz world, where I didn’t even think about that pop thing at all,” Oberla says. “Until I joined MojoFlo, I didn’t really understand it. And then going to O.A.R. and actually seeing people at that level, rocking with Dave Matthews, rocking with all these cats, it’s like, ‘Whoa. This is where this could be, and this is where I want this to be.’”
Oberla recruited a bunch of friends from funk, jazz and hip-hop bands around Columbus. His thought was simple: “We all influence each other. Why don't we just form a super group?”
Eventually a consistent crew accumulated, working slowly but surely. An E.O.P. EP is coming, but so far the free Bandcamp download “Shine” is the only official release. Oberla’s busy summer touring schedule with O.A.R. makes Saturday’s show a relative rarity.
“We don't play that often,” Oberla says, “and when we do play, we make it a party, an event.”