PICTURED: John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting to perform a Concert for the Cats at Moorpark College on Sept. 10. Photo submitted
by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik and his family have spent many Saturdays visiting Ira the lion and other animal friends at America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College.
So, when the San Fernando Valley native and his wife, Carla, learned the zoo needed to raise funds, they offered to host a benefit.
“Carla, being my wife, offered up my services,” he says with a laugh. “I think the timing is great. Being locked down during the pandemic, I haven’t played many live shows.”
“I know a lot of people are dying to get out and see live music,” he continued. “I thought we should do an outdoor show for whoever wants to come. I’ll sing a few songs and raise money for the tigers. It’s a cool project.”
Moorpark College is partnering with the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter for “Concert for the Cats” at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 10. Proceeds from the concert will assist in the completion of America’s Teaching Zoo’s Tiger Retreat Habitat for Bengal tigers Neil and Karma. Tickets start at $55. VIP tickets are $125 and include a pre-show photo and meet and greet with John Ondrasik at 4:30 p.m., a tour of America’s Teaching Zoo with animal interactions, refreshments and reserved seating for the concert. Discounts are available for Ventura County Community College District students and children.
Moorpark College music department students will open the show at 5 p.m. in the Moorpark College Campus Quad at 7075 Campus Road, Moorpark. The college’s theater students will assist with production.
“I’ll have songwriting students, three students, perform their music,” he says. “They’ll have a chance to play their music in front of an audience and share their songs.”
The Ondrasiks have hosted multiple charity concerts in the community. Their 21-year-old son is in his last semester at Moorpark College.
When tigers Neil and Karma came to the zoo in 2017, they were each around 50 pounds. Today, Neil weighs 375 pounds, and Karma weighs 275, Zoo Development Coordinator Mara Rodriguez stated via a Aug. 18 press release. “They need a larger enclosure, and the community can have a part in it by coming to the concert. Concertgoers will be bringing this project to the finish line. The new exhibit will include two sections for Neil and Karma with a connecting bridge that zoo visitors will be able to walk under.”
Neil was rescued as a 4-month-old cub from a private residence in the Hollywood Hills after being spotted in a popular YouTuber’s video. The cub was sent to America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College to live and rehabilitate with his companion Karma, who was donated by another zoo.
Ondrasik’s collection of songs are among The Great American Songbook. In 2001, he was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal for “Superman (It’s Not Easy).” His standard “100 Years” went double platinum. He is developing a musical series for ABC with Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked), as well as working on various TV and musical theater projects.
Ondrasik and his family moved to Thousand Oaks about 10 years ago. He discovered its impressive school system when he visited a nearby studio to make the 2006 album Two Lights, which eventually spawned the single “The Riddle.”
It was only recently that Ondrasik heard the zoo is a teaching facility.
“My son was attending Moorpark,” he says. “I said, ‘Let’s go check it out.’ The first time we went, they were celebrating Ira, the lion. He was having a birthday and they’re building a new habitat for him. I didn’t know we had this little cool zoo in our backyard. They do a little show for kids with the animals, like you’d see at the San Diego or LA zoos. It’s cool and quaint. The people who run the zoo are so passionate about what they do. The kids are in heaven, learning and pursuing their passion. It’s a really happy, cool place. These days, we need a lot of happy, cool places.”
Ondrasik is planning an East Coast/Midwest tour with a string quartet later this year. The shows have a different vibe than a traditional Five for Fighting performance.
“A lot of things have changed,” he says. “Long gone are the days of the House of Blues rock shows. They’re theater, string quartet shows, which is fun for me and my audience.
“We haven’t been out in almost two years. I’m giddy and excited to play for audiences and to see everyone. I’m only starting with 12 dates. I have three more California shows in November, assuming things are open by then. I’m just grateful to play again.”
Ondrasik spent the pandemic writing new songs but supporting another cause as well — his family’s company, a business that manufactures shopping carts. It has 300 employees.
“It’s about as far away from the music business as the Andromeda galaxy is from Earth,” he says with a laugh. “My dad, being 82, had to quarantine. I was guiding the business through the pandemic and through economic challenges. It was a new challenge for me.
“With 300 employees, we had to think about their health and livelihoods. It was a new challenge for me. I didn’t do a lot of music during the pandemic. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss it. It’s good for my soul and what I do.”
Concert for the Cats with John Ondrasik takes place on Friday, Sept. 10, at 5 p.m. at the Moorpark College Campus Quad, 7075 Campus Road, Moorpark. For tickets and more information, visit zoo.moorparkcollege.edu.