SING! A Cappella Performance, Sunday Night
- I had missed the first show on Saturday night getting
into town so late, but everyone had been talking about
Chanticleer and how awesome they were...The show, which
also featured The Gas House Gang, a female group named
Malaika, and one of my favorite gospel groups, Glad,
was great all around, and everyone had raved about the
show...so I was really looking forward to this show as
I trudged the 4 blocks north from the hotel to the
Andrew Jackson Hall in the beautiful Tennessee Performing
Arts Center. The clouds threatened and I felt a few
large drops of rain hit just as I reached the theatre,
and hurried inside to find a large group milling around
already, waiting for the show around the large concession
area out in the lobby.
I ran into several barbershop friends, but was on the
lookout for Charlie Hill, who had an extra ticket I was
buying from him. For the next 20 minutes I scanned the
crowd, and just minutes before the sohw started I spotted
him in the crowd, also looking toward one of the main
entrance ways, hoping to spot me! I got his extra ticket
and we headed in to the theatre as the lights flashed warning
that the show was about to start.
We entered from the back and walked across the back of the
theatre to the far right side, then made our way down the
far aisle down to row "F"...wow! We had really good seats.
The place quickly filled, both the large orchestra section
and the balcony seating that extended overhead and to the
sides. The stage had minimal setting, wiht a few bar stools,
microphones on stands, some scattered potted plants for
accent, and a large white screen on which various light
images were displayed.
SPEBSQSA Executive Vice President Roger Lewis served as
the master of ceremonies for this show, and got things
going right away, after welcoming us and announcing that
the show was also being webcast on the internet, thanks
to the sponsorship of the AIC.
The show had two acts in the firs half and two in the second.
The first group, The House Jacks, actually found their name
in the yellow pages of the phone book, listed under
"Heavy Equipment Rentals"...they've been together since
1991, and were the first a cappella group to employ a
full-time vocal percussionist. True to their name, this
group really "moved the house!"
THE HOUSE JACKS
Five men appeared, dressed in black slacks, shirts, and
sneakers, grabbed mics of the stands and launched into
a high energy vocal assault that got everyone's attention.
Austin Willacy sang a high lead to the other four background
vocals, with dreadlocked Bert Bacco swallowing his mic on
the amazing low bass notes...one hand on the mic, the other
in a mock bass guitar playing gesture at his hip. Halfway
through this rocking number, however, Deke Sharon stopped
the group and apologized to us for having his pocketed
electronic pitch pipe set to the wrong pitch! They started
over and the crowd didn't mind a bit.
Their second song, "The Way It Makes Me Feel," from their
first album, started and ended with a tight three part
harmony that broadened with the background vocal percussion
taking over in parts. Their finger snapping and pointing,
their simple body sways belied the fact that their bodies
were all coiled springs, agile and ready to bound across
the stage at any moment. We in the audience were helpless
as we noticed our toes tapping, fingers drumming on knees,
heads bobbing in rhythm to the incessant, relentless beat.
The light effects were in sync as well, going bright and
dark in rhythm, changing constantly.
Another song, "Meet The Band," featured Garth Kravits'
electric "air" guitar riff ala Jimi Hendrix, Austin
Willacy's beautiful clear tenor vocal, Bert's awesome
rapid fire rifle shots of bass sound spat into the
mic, a slick trumpet-like solo from Deke Sharon, who
used his cordless mic as his "trumpet," cupping the
far end with an imaginary mute as he vocally swapped
between full and muted trumpet sounds. Wes Carroll
displayed an amazing array of percussive technique,
including snare drum, bass and everything in between.
"Still By My Side" featured Garth Kravits' soaring
high voice on pinging chords over a loo-ed background
sway by the others. Beautiful!
"Slide" was an audience participation song, breaking the
audience into three sections and teaching us all a simple
harmony line to sing. Fortunately there were a lot of
singers in the crowd! The house rocked!!
For their final song they put down their mics, clustered
close together at the front edge of the stage and sang
Carol King's "You're So Far Away." The entire theatre
was dead silent so we could hear every delicious chord
from the mic-less voices. The sweet silence at the end
was broken with an instant standing ovation as the
House Jacks waved to the crowd and smiled as they left
the stage. Whew! What a start.
MC Roger Lewis told of getting stopped by a policeman for
a speeding ticket, and finding out that the officer was
a music lover and singer...Lewis got out of the ticket
by singing "My Wild Irish Rose" for the cop, who joined
him at the tag! He sent Roger on his way with the
admonition to "Have a great day, drive carefully, and
keep on singing!"
The Edlos were introduced as another California foursome
and the first a cappella group to perform at The Grand
Ole Opry. They appeared in monk's habits (reminded me of
the old Brotherhood Quartet routines...I imagine that
Brotherhood lead Mike Myers in the audience had the same
thoughts) and opened with a haunting Gregorian style
harmony, their faces covered with their hooded robes
as they stood at the mics, hands together in prayer.
At the end they quickly shed their robes to reveal
jeans-wearing redneck-types, baseball caps askew and
broad goofy grins as they broke into a goofy number
about an 18-wheeler. Compared to the House Jacks, who
seemed to focus on awesome vocal styling, The Edlos
were more into physical comedy and outrageous costumes
in addition to their fine singing.
They told of singing for many different groups in their
career, including the California Refuse Removal Council,
for whom they wrote their next song, asking the musical
question, "What do you do with your garbage if you don't
have a garbage man?," another rollicking number that
showed off their versatility. "Lonesome Cattle Call"
was a song that allowed the audience to "release the
inner cow" that presumably resides within each of us.
The audience responded with a cacophany of their favorite
barnyard sounds, and the Edlos donned black cowboys hats
from the table of miscellaneous props they had behind
them on stage.
Keeping with the cowboy theme for the moment, they
sang of "casting my lasso towards the sky" as they
played a cowboy on his deathbed, who, in spite of his
near-death condition, still has the strength to rise
us and give a hearty yodel, featuring tenor Ed Cohn.
Pony-tailed Larry Venza, their awesome bass, called
for a vote as towhich was more impressive...Ed's yodeling
or his zany eyebrows that seemed to move all over his
face! Once again, the eyebrows won...personally I liked
the little pink lasso's they spun as they sung...
Lead singer Craig Knudsen (related to the famous
barbershop family? Maybe remotely) soared in a pretty
ballad, "Tupelo Honey," but then the group switched
gears again, shedding more clothing to reveal tie-dyed
shirts and psychedelic colors...long hair wigs and sunglasses
completed the transformation to 60's hippie types, and
they took off on a mind-tripping Beatles tribute with
"Something." Bari Eric Morris stepped forward with an
effective electric guitar vocal...Craig said they
were thinking of changing their names to "The Four Chads,"
playing on the recent Florida elections fiasco...they
had names for each member: "Dimpled Chad, Pregnant Chad,
Swingin' Chad and Hanging Chad (don't ask!)"...they
continued in their 60's time travel with a later Beatles
tune, "Come Together" and took it to the limit with a
wild and over the top "Hurdy Gurdy Man" featuring bass Larry
Venza's amazing range.
Even more clothes came off and the group ended up in no
more than Tarzan-like animal skins as they finished their
set with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," bringing on another
standing ovation from the crowd.
We were ready for an intermission and a chance to rest
our ears and catch our breaths. Many folks headed out to
the lobby to get an early jump on the demand for tapes and
CD's from these groups. But before we knew it the second
half was ready to start.
Crowned Sweet Adelines International Champions in 1993,
Showtime has over 50 years of collective barbershop
experience, and they brought it all to focus as they
hit the stage in bright sequined blue and black tops
over black slacks. Their bright faces and familiar
barbershop harmony were a welcome change from the
relentless pounding of the previous groups, and I could
feel the audience relax as they embraced music well
within their comfort level once again. "Goody Goody"
was their opening number, and Showtime really sparkled.
Lead Debbie Connelly was all dimples and smiles as
she charged into the song, and their great blend and
energy didn't falter a beat. They threw in a couple of
references to Nashville and country music with mentions
of "watching TNN" and "achy beaky heart"...cute!
The Auctioneer Song followed quickly and they blistered
through it from start to finish, with crisp diction and
perfect attack throughout. So fast! They followed that
with the female version of "I Used To Call Her (Him) Baby,"
in the familiar medley with "I Want A Girl (Guy)."
Showtime got serious with a beautiful version of "Amazing
Grace," as the lights dimmed and the spotlight zeroed in
on Debbie's fine vocal solo. They changed moods once more
with a silly song about a rooster that helped get the
chickens laying eggs again, and who also helped get the
family cow to produce (eggnog) and even the poor old
gum tree to bear fruit (Chick-lets), with bass Dana Hitt
having fun clucking and scratching...I'm sure the Big
Chicken mascot would have been proud!
They had another fun song, something Weird Al Yankovic
might have written, called "Since You've Been Gone" and
brought out bari Cindy LeMasters' ditzy blonde side with
"'Cause I'm A Blonde" ... she played the part to a tee,
even though she was a brunette on stage...Debbie explained
the inconsistency, pointing across the quartet to tenor
Donna Rose's beautiful blonde hair and explaining that they
were very different, because "Donna has blonde hair, and
Cindy...well, she has a blond brain!" She assured us that
Cindy wouldn't be offended because she just didn't get it!
Cindy stood in the background with a spaced-out grin and
just breezed along...funny!
They sang Elton John's "Can You Feel The Love Tonight"
from the hit Disney film, "The Lion King," and then tenor
Donna Rose took us on a frantic "Flight Of The Bumblebee"
with an imaginary bee buzzing the quartet, landing on
Debbie's nose, flying all about, only to be felled at the
tag with an imaginary blast of bug spray.
They closed their excellent set with several versions of
"Clementine" sung as if it had been written by The Beach
Boys, Gladys Knight and the Pips, as an opera (Debbie's
trained operatic voice stunned the crowd as she stepped
forward and filled the hall with a huge sound) and as a
traditional barbershop song, letting bass Dana Hitt shine
as well. Another Standing O! This crowd was loving it all.
The final act of the night was m-pact, another group from
California, introduced as a quintet but coming on stage
with only four men. Their opening number, a "Get Down,
Boogie Oogie Oogie" brought back the loud raucous vocal
percussion technique from before, and showcased the super
high vocals of tenor Britt Quentin. I found it difficult
to transition from the very-comfy and familiar barbershop
harmonies of Showtime back to the at times mind-numbing
vocal percussion and in-your-face style of contemporary
singing, and I'll admit my inner voice sort of groaned
as I thought, Oh no, here we go again...but I have to
tell you, the vocal excellence of this group just was
amazing. All four voices are so pure and true, and very
talented over a huge range of emotion and expression.
They all had excellent control of their vocal production,
as well as professional command of the mics and sound.
They knew exactly what they were doing, and gave it all
to us throughout their long and demanding set.
This set was more of the same formula of exquisite
vocal blend, background layers of harmony, covering
a seamless bass line of percussive attacks and instrumental
mimicking of bass, drums, guitars, and so on. Trist
Curless' voice just blew me away with its resonance and
control, as he mixed both vocal and sound effects
effortlessly. Marco Cassone's solo in "Hold On My Heart"
was sweet and truthful, and was a nice break from the
high energy repertoire.
Halfway through the set I could tell the audience was
getting tired, however. It was a long show, over three
hours, and it was getting late. I saw a few people
decide to leave early, but most folks stayed to the
very end, which was good because they would have missed
an awesome Miles Davis jazz number, "We're All (Shades Of)
Blue"...each member took a solo line, vocally playing
instruments with their voices...bass Jake Moulton
was effective as he held his cordless mic to the side
like a clarinet and vocalized an amazing clarinet sound...
later he cupped his hands around the head of the mic
as if he were holding a harmonica during "What If We Were
Cool" and he sounded amazingly like a harmonica wailing
away, lost in the jazz moment.
It was getting late, about 10:45pm, and their set was
running a bit long, but they kept right on coming with a
calypso style Christmas Carol, "The King Is Born Today,"
a nice fun arrangement. They followed that with a tribute
to the amazing Gene Purling on "Smiling Through The Years"
and wrapped up the night with an extended "On Broadway,"
which brought each of these talented voices to the front
in their own showcase once more...Jake did a long detailed
vocal percussion routine that was stunning...at one point
I was making notes and had to look upto see how many guys
were making all those amazing sounds...and it was all Jake!
He sounded like three voices at once, layering sound upon
sound in a driving rhythm.
It was a familiar enough song that perfectly fit their voices,
and brought the audience to their feet for a fourth
standing ovation of the evening. We were audibly exhausted
as we stumbled out into the cool night air of downtown
Nashville, heading to our hotels and totally satisfied
with the whole experience.
Many of the groups on stage commented how they liked the
mix of performers and thanks the Society and others for
helping put this event together. They hoped it would be
an annual event, and many in the crowd roared their
approval. Hopefully we'll see more a cappella festivals
coupled with International conventions in the future.
One more show Monday night! Can't wait!