Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness opens Robert Mondavi Winery summer concert series
Over the past few years, Andrew McMahon has played in Northern California numerous times, from sold-out headline shows at The Fillmore, to festivals such as Napa's own BottleRock festival in 2016 and most recently Live 105's BFD.
On Saturday, July 1, he opens the 2017 Summer Concert Series at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville.
During his live shows, you can spot McMahon sailing across venues while riding on a majestic inflatable Pegasus. He constantly blurs the line between where the stage starts and stops during live performances.
You can often see McMahon singing his heart out on top of his piano, standing upon it as though it's a mountain top he's proud to show he scaled, or watch him leap off it in a true punk rock fashion.
“I try on some level, regardless of where we are, to make that connection and step into the audience as a means of breaking down the barrier that sometimes exists between a crowd and the act of stage performing,” McMahon said during a recent phone interview.
For McMahon, the idea of engaging with his audience came as second nature. It's something he's done since his early days of playing in bands and it's part of what he enjoys most about concerts.
“There was something really tangible that would happen,” he said. “That sort of exchange I think brings an audience closer to you and closer to the band.”
McMahon's latest project, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, is not his first. His former groups include Something Corporate, a pop-punk band formed in
the late '90s and Jack's Mannequin, which started as a solo project after Something Corporate announced a break.
Even though each band gained a large fan base, McMahon wasn't afraid to reinvent himself and take his music in different directions. Each band essentially represented important chapters in his life, such as growing up, becoming a father and thriving after battling acute lymphocytic leukemia.
His illness prompted McMahon to found the Dear Jack Foundation, an organization focused on bringing hope and guidance to adolescent and young adult cancer patients and survivors ages 15-39. Since then, McMahon has partnered with Love Hope Strength
Foundation to set up stations for concertgoers to sign up for the bone marrow registry at as many of his concerts as possible.
“You don't expect any time that you start writing music as a kid that a part of what you do will be this philanthropic work and obviously it came to me naturally because of my place as a survivor,” he said.
“To know that even if just one life was saved through this program that we put into place a couple of years ago, it makes you feel good and it makes some of what I went though feel like there's a reason for it,” McMahon said.
This won't be McMahon's first trip to Wine Country. In addition to last year's BottleRock performance, he recalls playing at the Robert Mondovi Winery with The Wallflowers in 2015 on the Fourth of July,
“It's part of the reason I'm coming back. We had a really good time,” he said.
The concert followed the release of the 2014 self-titled Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness album, with popular hits like “High Dive,” a catchy synth-driven dance number, and “Cecilia and the Satellite,” a song written for his daughter before she was born.
Now, back with a new album, “Zombies on Broadway,” released earlier this year, McMahon returns with a whole new set of songs and party tricks up his sleeve.
He has spent the past couple of years fine-tuning his live performances, and does his best to show how committed he is to giving his fans a great show with each set.
“When I walk on stage I want to communicate that commitment to an audience, so they know they're seeing somebody who is as engaged with them as hopefully, they will be with me,” he said.
“I found that when you create moments throughout the set where people sort of have to be hyper-engaged and focused because, you know, you might be passing through and they may have an opportunity that goes beyond what they can get with their camera.”.
Another part of his commitment to his fans includes traveling with a large grand piano, which has roughly around 230 strings, all of which can fall out of tune with changes in temperature or stress on the instrument and can weigh anywhere between 500 and 1,200 pounds.
McMahon now has a team who travels along with him to maintain the tuning on his piano, and can help transport and break down his equipment in minutes.
But it wasn't always easy to travel with his instrument.
“I've been carrying real pianos, whether they were upright to grand, from day one. Even as a 16-year-old kid playing my first shows, my band and I, we would load an upright piano onto a motorcycle trailer and tow it behind one of our bandmates' SUVs,” he explained.
“Sometimes the things that you do to make a set great make your day harder, but when the show goes well and the people see how committed you are to giving them a great show, I think it becomes easier for that audience to take a step back and say I'm going to be here because of this,” he said.
“Bringing something like a grand piano is certainly not always easy, but pays off.”