Rob James has a vivid memory of the first Clarks show, which turned out to be an impromptu gig at their college, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
"We were supposed to play an outdoor festival, but it was really disorganized and just crazy," the guitarist says. "We got out to this field and it was drunk and stoned people, and they hadn't set up the PA properly. We were like, 'Let's get out of here,' but we really wanted to play, we were ready to play. So we went back to campus and knocked on a few fraternity doors. The second or third place we went to, the guy came to the door, and he said, 'I'll go and ask,' and he said, 'Yeah, you guys can play.' We played for beer."
Of course, The Clarks would move on from beer-soaked frat basements to become one of Pittsburgh's most beloved bands. On Saturday, the Clarks celebrate their 25th anniversary with a show at Stage AE.
It will bear little resemblance to that first gig -- a set of covers by college-rock heavies like U2, R.E.M. and the English Beat. Even though it started that way, Mr. James knew there was something special about the band right away.
"There was really a chemistry in the fact that this wasn't going to be just playing in a cover college band. There was something deeper there that we were going to try to strive for."
They started writing their own gritty guitar-rock songs and put other things aside to devote themselves to the band.
"I had some opportunities to look at doing other things in my life. That very quickly faded. This became my thing, the thing that drove me," the guitarist says.
While The Clarks didn't become the next R.E.M., they have accomplished a few things and made a career of it. The Clarks went on to sell more than 300,000 CDs, become a WDVE staple, tour the country, play regular summer concerts here to thousands and perform on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
Already in their 25th year, The Clarks have performed at the NHL's Winter Classic on New Year's Day, played their 2,000th show and released a new EP, "Songs in G."
The guitarist acknowledges that it's gotten a little harder these days to jump in the van and tour the country. He has a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. Singer Scott Blasey has three young daughters. Drummer Dave Minarik just opened a model railroad store in Mercer. Bassist Greg Joseph has long played a big role in overseeing The Clarks' business.
Despite the 25 years and all the adulthood responsibilities, he sees a lot of life left in The Clarks.
"We've got two new members of the band [keyboardist Skip Sanders and pedal steel guitarist Gary Jacob], so we've been treating the songs a little differently since they've been with us. It will be two years this summer. Those things have really revitalized the musical direction and hopefully given us something new to offer the fans."
The evening will begin with an opening set by The Infamous Dick Clarks, formerly the Dick Clarks (featuring Scott Blasey, Rob James, Greg Joseph and Ryan Hertweck).
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