The Collegiate Quartet contest got out right around 1:30, and I had just enough time to dash up the street to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) for the 2:00pm AIC Show. Once again, ticket chairperson Holly Beck saw to it that I got an incredibly good seat, right down front and center, a perfect view. To my immediate left sat Society photographer Jim Miller, armed with his massive camera and lens system, and to my right was a couple from Indianapolis who had actually never heard about barbershop until they saw the "Voices" video on their local PBS station. They were enthralled at what the tape showed, and they found out about the Society and our conventions, and decided to come down to Nashville for the convention. They had found Holly's name as the contact person and got on the phone right away and Holly took good care of them, like she does with all her customers. Holly, you're the best! OK, back to the show. Folks were still trickling in as the show began, with MC Hank Brandt (Grandma's Boys, '79) welcoming us to the showand bringing the curtain up on the AIC Chorus, under the direction of Fred King (Oriole Four, '70) who, I am delighted to report, looks just great. He wielded his director's might and led this rowdy bunch through a beautiful "Dear Hearts And Gentle People," followed with "Tennessee Waltz." Harlan Wilson, lead of the Suntones ('61) stepped forward to sing his signature solo in this number, and was joined by Royce Ferguson (Revival, '98) in front as a duet. Beautiful! The curtain came down and MC Hank Brandt watched it descend until it hit the stage, and then introduced Happiness Emporium ('75) as a large projection screen descended to show a short slide presentation on the Schmitt Brothers' ('51) 50th anniversary. They sang a few tribute songs to the Schmitt Brothers, including "Shine" (it was neat how they showed a group photo of the Schmitt Brothers, and then as the Haps sang "Shine" and each voice part came on, the screen showed the corresponding Schmitt brother for that voice part) and "Brahm's Lullaby," featuring tenor Bob Dowma on the solo. They moved to center stage as the screen went up, and sang a three song set of gospel tunes as they have recently taken on the mission of the "Good News" gospel promotion program for the Society. The set included "Gonna Build A Mountain," "Here I Am, Lord" and "For The Cause." An image of a church window was projected in red on a background screen behind the quartet for a nice effect. ACOUSTIX ('90) was next, opening with "It's A Grand Night For Singing." They brought out wooden bar stools to sit on for their next song, "dedicated to all the women in our lives who let us take part in the great hobby of ours." It was "You Are So Beautiful To Me" and was beautiful! They got rid of the stools and went into a tribute to Simon and Garfunkle, singing some of their greatest hits, including "Scarborough Fair," "Sounds of Silence," "Mrs. Robinson," "Feelin' Groovy," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The Ritz ('91) came out sporting long knee length coat jackets and opened with "No No Nora," the same hot new arrangment as sung by Four Voices in the semifinal round. "I'm a Chk-a Train" was a vocal teaser for us, as they mimicked the sounds of a train coming and going in this neat little ditty. Very precise and together throughout! Nice job. Bass Ben Ayling mentioned how today was The Ritz' 17th birthday, having decided to form a quartet that summer of 1985, and on their way to earning the gold six years later. They sang a montage of their six contest songs that they won with, including: - When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along - I'm All That's Left Of That Old Quartet" - Toot Toot Tootsie, Goodbye - Keep Singing Those Barbershop Songs - She Didn't Say No - Sweet Adeline After a few choice airline travel related jokes, they went into "Missin' Mommy's Kissin'" and wrapped up their part of the show. As they left the stage Hank Brandt watched them go off and said, commenting on their slick red and white patent leathers, "You should have seen us backstage trying to get the cleats off those things..." Hank took an informal poll of the audience to see how many people thought "short" jokes were appropriate...a good number responded yes with their applause. A few responded in the negative, including one lone clapper behind Hank on stage...he turned around to see Jim Henry peeking from behind the curtain, showing his disapproval. Hank commented how Gas House Gang had certainly accomplished a major outreach effort by going all the way to Russia..."which is certainly a big reach, especially for short guys..." Anyway he brought out The Gas House Gang ('93) to thunderous applause, and they opened with "It's Gonna Be A Great Day." They followed that with a dramatic version of Mark Lowry's Christmas song, "Mary, Did You Know?" featuring Jim Henry on a gorgeous solo. Just stunning. The lights then dimmed as the quartet closed ranks and began a haunting "Moscow Nights," and as they ended the verse, The quartet of Russian boys, The Nightengales, sliped onto the stage in the darkness and moved to stand in front of the Gas House Gang at the mics. The lights came up and they continued in an octet. The audience gasped in delight, and in spite of the numerous stern warnings about taking pictures, the audience was unable to resist the urge to capture this magic moment on film, and flash bulbs popped all over the auditorium in desperate defiance. Nobody minded, sine we all knew we were capturing an unforgettable moment. The crowd roared their approval, and the boys made a half-hearted attempt to leave the stage, but weren't quite sure if they were supposed to go or not...the Gas House Gang began to usher them off stage, and one boy still lingered, until Jim Henry playfully gave him a shove and propelled him into the wings. Jim said, "Yeah, see, we had to go all the way to Russia to find a quartet shorter than us!" This was a perfect setup for their next funny song, "We're Little But We're Loud," poking fun at their lack of altitudedness, saying they'd rather be this way than be like "Bob Dowma, with his head up in the clouds" (the very tall tenor of Happiness Emporium). Bari Rob Henry's solo verse mentioned they had learned to sing loud like Chiefs of Staff by just "rearing back and opening wide", and they repeated the chorus, plugging in "ACOUSTIX, with their heads up in the clouds" and mimicking ACOUSTIX's use of handheld mics and huge fat sound, then blasting to the tag with final snippets of "Short People" and "It's A Small World"...too funny! The Gas House Gang ended their set with a show stopper, as two of them ran off stage and tenor Kipp Buckner introduced Jim Henry as "Ed Sullivan"...Jim stepped forward, arms wrapped around his chest in the classic Sullivan stance, and did a fair impersonation of the famous TV variety show host, as he announced that they would now do the entire Ed Sullivan show in "two minutes and 37 seconds." Rich came out in a Spanish sombrero and beautiful poncho, and a sound track started as he began "Lady Of Spain." The other three quartet members proceeded to race on and off stage in a rush of typical vaudeville style acts seen on the old Ed Sullivan TV show. Jim came on and did a fast juggling act with tennis balls, Kipp ran out in a black lace shawl and spun in a wild circle, Rob came out with a bullwhip while Jim sported a groucho cigar and glasses, then stood as Rob quickly whipped the cigar from Jim's mouth...Kipp did a quick handstand and "walked" a few steps...Rob and Jim appeared again, this time Rob with a dart gun and mirror, Jim with a balloon in his teeth, and Rob quickly turned his back to Jim, looked in the mirror and fired over his shoulder, as Jim took the slug and dropped to the floor...Rob brought out a hula hoop and held it up as Kipp came in with a cute stuffed dog, then hurriedly threw it across stage and thru the hoop...Jim appeared with a classic three-box juggling bit, but then took a quick bow and revealed the three boxes held together with string...Rob came on spinning two plates on sticks, then also took a bow and revealed the plates were glued to the sticks...Jim came leaping across the stage in a pink tutu...Kipp and Rob came to the center, Rob with a blonde wig in long braids and a viking hat, doing a quick opera thing, then joined Kipp with hand puppets and did a "Sound of Music" takeoff...Jim brought out a ventriloquist dummy and did a quick Edgar Bergen bit "hey, I saw your lips move!" Rob appeared at the side mic and delivered the famous "My name Jose Jimenez"... Kipp brought out a cigar box and did the classic "'s alright?' 's alright'" bit...Jim came out with a black and white cloth pulled tight over his head like a nun's habit and sang the first bew bars of "Dominique," Kipp came out with a little toy mouse with huge ears, and did the classic Ed Sullivan closer with "Eddie, kiss Topol Gigio goodnight"...while all this frantic activity is going on, Rich has been belting out "Lady of Spain" at center mic throughout, and the other three finally join him, staggering and panting, at the center for the big finish, pointing in a grand hand gesture to Rich who holds the penultimate chord way past the cutoff point, then finally sings the last note as the other three do a quick final dance step before collapsing to the floor in utter exhaustion. If you haven't recognized this bit yet, it's from the hit show, "Forever Plaid." Just find the soundtrack CD and you'll know what I'm talking about. The crowd went wild with this song, screaming in hysterics at each new bit and leaping to their feet in a thunderous standing ovation at the end. Our sides hurt! They staggered off stage as we wiped the tears of laughter from our eyes and sat, drained, in our seats... truly amazing. MC Hank Brandt reappeared, and someone shouted, "one more time!" which got another round of laughter...Hank was about to go on when suddenly Jim Henry reappeared with the pink tutu and did another set of running leaps across the stage, bringing more laughter and applause...hilarious! Hank reminded us of that age-old show biz addage, "Never follow an act with children or animals," and then noted sadly that "our next quartet is, unfortunately, being hosed on both accounts!" They brought out Nightlife ('96), and they opened with their awesome "Basin Street Blues" (in the evening show they did "Blues In The Night") and man, did we love it! Their voices were just marvelous, and when they followed with "When I Lift Up My Head," a great gospel tune with a high lead post at the tag, it was like...wow! Bari Jeff Baker stepped forward with his characteristic "I wrote those songs" bit, and bantered with the audience a bit as he does so well. They continued with a great Earl Moon song, "Mother's Boy," and closed their short set with my FAVORITE Nightlife song, "Cross The Mason Dixon Line." Excellent!!! After a short intermission (in which we were admonished by the mysterious voice on the intercom not to "intermiss too much"), they started the second half with a tribute to the 1976 International Champions, The Innsiders. They came out celebrating their 25th anniversary with a short medley of the six songs they sang back then, including: - Bring Back Those Old Vaudeville Days - The Sunshine Of Your Smile - Redhead - Pal Of Mine - Who'll Dry Your Tears - Keep Your Sunny Side Up It was great to see them still active and singing and sounding good! It's amazing how these champs of long ago can still belt out a chord today. Thanks guys! Revival ('98) was on next, and looked so crisp and classy in their sparkling pinstriped suits and white slacks. They opened with their ever popular "Sentimental Gentleman From Georgia," and at this moment I was thinking how great it is to just hear these wonderful champs singing the songs that made them famous. I know it's probably not as fun to sing the same old songs, especially when you're actively touring and doing the same ones over and over, but like a favorite CD you play many times, it's just so nice to hear the old favorites one more time. Forever Plaid seemed to be a popular source of music, as they sang "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby" from that hit show. "Lover Come Back" was just as wondrous, and their gospel closer, "Joyfully I'll Travel On" showed off bass Bill Myers' great solo voice as the other three rocked with great background vocals. What a set! FRED ('99) was next in the line-up, and they sang their great "You've Got To Have a Silly Name" song, where they listed all the past quartet champs with odd quartet names. They sang a new song I hadn't heard before, a parody of "I've Got To Be Me," in which lead Rick LaRosa pointed out the shiny bejeweled letters "F", "R", "E" and "D" on each of their lapels, and noted how he'd been in the "E" slot for so long..."at least I'm not "D"!" he sang, pointing in derision at Pookie, who looked surprised and hurt. Clay had a verse as "F", and Joe joined him as "R", both of them glad that they were way on the other side of the quartet and away from the horrible "D"...Rick noted that he'd been standing there for ten long years and he thought it was time for a switch, and made a desperate attempt to get past Clay and Joe, who fought him off valiantly as poor Pookie stood and watched, like the kid who's chosen last for the baseball game. Resigned to his fate, Rick returns to the "E" spot in the quartet, protecting and defending the "F" and "R" against the evil "D", realizing his place in the world as he belted out the final, "I've Got To be 'E'!!" A thoroughly ridiculous and hilarious song! They closed their too-short set by starting on a serious note, noting how the time has flown by as we've had such fun together with "Where Does The Time Go?"...they went into a "loo loo" as Pookie stepped forward and began an impromptu soliloquy that quickly got out of hand as he recapped the highlights of the show, poking fun at everything and everyone in the show before them, and going into a rant about all the time spent by the quartets, etc...you had to be there, but it was clear he was simply ad libbing on the spot, as the rest of the quartet was in stitches behind him as they tried to keep up the musical background. We were laughing uncontrollably until he made fun of Platinum and Tony Derosa, complaining that Tony would probably talk for at least an hour...they finally yanked Pookie away from the mic and they finished the song and left to a standing ovation. What a bunch of nuts! My, how we love them. The current International Champions, PLATINUM, was next, and we were already in barbershop heaven, but they came out and made it even better, opening with "Be Our Guest" and bari Tony Derosa's 17-minute screamer note at the tag (ok it was maybe 13 minutes), reminding us how incredible this quartet is in every part. They sang "Just In Time" (I think that's the name?), a great tune, and then Tony stepped forward to the mic, hesitated, looked at his watch and just stepped away from the mic. We howled. Bass Kevin Miles introduced the next number from "Les Miserables," bringing Tony up in a stunning solo on "Bring Him Home." His voice is incredibly light and sweet on the highs, and the spotlight picked him up as the other three stood in a line to the side and backed him up. Awesome!!! Tony acknowledged the huge applause and then said, "We hope you've enjoyed this half as much as we've enjoyed singing for you...which means that basically we've enjoyed singing for you twice as miuch as you've enjoyed... listening...to us..." He paused to do the math in his head, and then shrugged and said, "You can tell I'm from Florida!" He joked, "You know, there are three kinds of people in the world, those who can count, and those who can't." He mentioned the whole Florida election "thing" again, and noted that there are bumper stickers all over the place making fun of it, his favorite being, "If you don't like how we count votes, just go back to one of the other 57 states!" They finished their set with "Bye Bye Blues" and just brought the house down with their incomparable sound and showmanship. Another standing O! The AIC Chorus came out once more, singing "Old Songs Are Just Like Old Friends," and then a special tribute to the late, great barbershop arranger, Lou Perry, whom we lost a few short months ago at age 90, began with the first song he ever arranged for a quartet, "Little Pal," performed by the quartet he wrote it for, the legendary "Four Rascals." Terry Clark, bass of Boston Common ('80) filled in at the bass spot, and they did a nice job. The AIC continued their tribute to the great Lou Perry with a marvelous set of video clips narrated by Terry. Lou's advice to quartets was always to let the music be the focus, not the quartet. And, in a way, that's what this whole show was about, setting aside the skits, costumes and talk and just getting the music out there. Marvelous! The various quartets in the AIC then stepped forward to give us a sampling of the 300+ songs that Lou Perry arranged over the years: Happiness Emporium: "If All My Dreams Were Made Of Gold" The Ritz: "Who Told You" Dealers Choice: (oops! I forgot to write the title!) Acoustix: "Imagination" Innsiders: "If There'd Never Been An Ireland" Gas House Gang: "I'm Alone Because I Love You" FRED: "We Kinda Miss The Good Old Songs" Platinum: "Roses Of Picardy" Revival: "From The First Hello To The Last Goodbye" Nightlife: "Can't You Hear Me Callin' Caroline" The AIC Chorus capped it with "Smilin' Thru," and then closed the show with "That Old Quartet Of Mine," bringing the audience to tears of joy as we collectively recalled the incredible contributions that Lou Perry made to the Society and to quartets and choruses everywhere. It was a wonderful show for all of us! THANK YOU, AIC! You've outdone yourselves!!
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