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As the sun sets, Dishwalla guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens, right, performs with singer J.R. Richards, in the background.
As the sun sets, Dishwalla guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens, right, performs with singer J.R. Richards, in the background. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)
As the sun sets, Dishwalla guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens, right, performs with singer J.R. Richards, in the background.
As the sun sets, Dishwalla guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens, right, performs with singer J.R. Richards, in the background. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)
Dishwalla is performing free concerts for American troops in the Mediterranean region.
Dishwalla is performing free concerts for American troops in the Mediterranean region. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)
Dishwalla guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens perform Thursday at Naval Station Rota in Spain.
Dishwalla guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens perform Thursday at Naval Station Rota in Spain. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)
Dishwalla lead singer J.R. Richards, right, and guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens perform Thursday at Naval Station Rota in Spain.
Dishwalla lead singer J.R. Richards, right, and guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens perform Thursday at Naval Station Rota in Spain. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)

NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — When rock band Dishwalla took to the stage Thursday, the crowd that had gathered for the free concert was nearly 20 yards away.

It was too far for lead singer J.R. Richards.

“So, what do I have to do to get you closer to the stage?” he told the hundreds of people lounging in the field.

Just ask.

Seconds later, a wave of sailors, Marines and some teen fans rushed the stage to hear the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based band blast out their first song. The small but raucous crowd would be at the feet of Richards’ and his bandmates the entire show.

Dishwalla, best known for its hit song “Counting Blue Cars,” rocked Rota, its first stop in a tour of Navy bases in the Mediterranean Sea region. The Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation department is sponsoring the band’s series of free concerts in Spain, Italy and Bahrain.

The five-member modern-rock group arrived in Rota on Wednesday, bleary-eyed and jet lagged. It had left for Spain immediately after performing for sailors aboard the USS Kitty Hawk in Japan.

Dishwalla members, who have performed in front of military audiences several times in the past, said they jumped on the opportunity to tour bases in Europe. They had planned to visit the Mediterranean region earlier this year, but the war in Iraq postponed the trip.

Drummer Pete Maloney said the band has tremendous amount of respect for what servicemembers do.

“They’re putting their lives on the line,” he said before the concert. “They’re like the noblest people I can think of to be out here doing it. I couldn’t think of any other place to be but here supporting the troops.”

Fans who came out to the concert Thursday night in front of the base’s galley weren’t disappointed. The band played a longer version of “Counting Blue Cars,” which won Billboard’s Rock Song of the Year in 1996, “Somewhere in the Middle” and “Angels or Devils.”

Before the band left the stage, people already started lining up for free CDs the bands gave out and autographed. On the military tour, the band will give out about 4,000 of the special discs with some live versions of their songs.

Dishwalla Mediterranean tour

• Naples, Italy: Saturday, May 17 at 8 p.m.• Sigonella, Sicily: Thursday, May 22 at 8:30 p.m.• La Maddalena, Sardinia: May 23 at 8 p.m.

The band also is scheduled to play at several other locations that have not been announced.

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