This was our first time inside the Gaylord Entertainment Center, and it is a *nice* facility. A large enclosed arena seating around 21,000 people, it was set up with a raised stage toward one end, and about a third of the seats blocked off behind the stage area. I found my seat in section 104, toward the back on the right side just off the floor...actually really good seats to see everything, though the stage seemed kinda far away. Luckily the two jumbo projection screens on either side of the stage provided great close-ups of the performers. This year the organizers have added a new set of advertising and promotional slides that appear in cycle on the big screens whenever performers are not on stage. There were colorful ads for the Gas House Gang's Alaska Cruise next summer after the Portland convention, several ads from the Alexandria Harmonizers wishing good luck to their chapter quartets and all competitors, a silly recruiting ad for the Big Chicken Chorus, and others. Concession stands were opened and crowds were grabbing food and drink before the opening session right up until 12:15, when they hurried in at the last minute as Darryl Flinn welcomed the crowd, and introduced Bob Cox, Chairman of the Society Membership Services Committee, as the afternoon's MC. Bob laid down the house rules and brought out the two Swedish affiliate (SNOBS) quartets, Jambalaya and Scandinavian Shuffle, to sing the Swedish National Anthem, "Du Gamla, Du Fria." Scandinavian Shuffle sang the first verse, as Jambalaya stood to the side, then they switched places for the second verse, and joined together for an octet finish. The British national anthem, "God Save The Queen," was sung by the BABS quartet Likely Lads (another British competitor, Cambridge Blues, had to scratch and was unavailable). Bob told us we'd sing "The Star Spangled Banner" a bit later, and then brought out the 1976 International Champions, The Innsiders, to serve as mic testers for the afternoon. They sang "Alexander's Ragtime Band," as the judging panel checked out the sound and wandered around the front of the stage listening. They sang two more songs and finally headed off, but as Bob began to introduce the first quartet of the contest, he was waved off suddenly and they called for The Innsiders to come back on stage again. A few seconds passed as they ran back on stage from somewhere out back, and they were asked to repeat their mic testing, as someone had reported that the feedback monitors for the quartets were not working. They started singing again, and this time contest officials including Dr. Greg Lyne walked on stage and wandered behind the quartet as they sang, listening for the feedback. They monkeyed with it for a few minutes and finally everything seemed to be in order and the audience cheered as The Innsiders made their way off again and the contest got underway. 1) MICHIGAN JAKE (CAR) Almost all of the pre-contest hype has concluded that this contest already belongs to Michigan Jake, last year's silver medalists and heir apparent to the gold medal. Having them appear first in the line-up gave them a chance to really set the standard for the whole contest, and that's exactly what they did. Opening with "Always," a standard Jake offering, they were excellent as usual, though I felt they were more assertive this time, more aggressive than usual. I sensed more "muscle" in the singing than usual. When they sang "Dinah, Is There Anyone Finer" there was a lighter feel, more air in the tone, a little more bounce in their step. Throughout the set I loved the tight match between tenor Andrew Kirkman and lead Mark Hale, along with Marc and bass Greg Hollander. Perfectly tuned intervals, a great clean sound. I think they worked hard to establish a firm presence right up front, and the crowd acknowledged them with loud cheers and a scattered standing ovation. No doubt they'll be back tomorrow night! 2) SOUTHERN CROSS (AAMBS) In some quartets you can't help but look at one particular member, and in this Aussie foursome I couldn't help but watch the bass, Mark Penman. Their opening number, "The Masquerade Is Over," made me think of ACOUSTIX and Jeff Oxley. Mark is a tall, commanding presence, and with his dark hair combed back, his nicely tailored tux, and his booming bass voice, he easily recreated that classic Oxley look and feel in this song. "I'm In Love Again" seemed a tad heavy, and I would have lked the chorus to move a little quicker, but it was pretty solid throughout. 3) RIPTIDE (DIX) MC Bob Cox announced earlier that RIPTIDE had been moved to the end of the second quarter finals round, but didn't mention the reason, which most everyone knew anyway. Lead Tim Reynolds' wife was home in Atlanta, having just given birth to their triplet sons on Tuesday afternoon! Tim had flown home yesterday afternoon to be with his new family, and was rushing back to Nashville by tonight to catch up with the contest. See the end of the second round quarter finals session for their set. 4) RUNAWAY SOUND (MAD) I happened to be sitting in a section apparently filled with Mid-Atlantic District members and fans, because they screamed and stomped their feet when these guys hit the stage. They sang "It's You" and I was a bit distracted by their lead who seemed to want to direct everything with his hands. "Redhead" came second, and they seemd to have a better focus of their nervous energy here, and the quartet got into it more...they were really cookin' on this one! The crowd liked that jazzed up version better, and gave them more than the usual applause in return. 5) TURNING POINT (JAD) They shone brightly in their red tux coats, singing "Shanghai" with a really nice build in the verse to the chorus. "I've Got The World On A String" had a good solid rhythm, but again seemed a bit oversung, with a muscled tone, but fun anyway. Man this lead voice of Mike Harrison is big! 6) 3 MEN & A MELODY (CSD) This was a *good* set. They opened with "In The Wee Small Hours" and it was gentle, sweet, with a nice touch by tenor Chris Drogemueller on the tag. But the song everyone was talking about at intermission would be "Shoo-Fly Pie." They had a great sense of rhythm and tempo with this fun up-tune, and they really sold us on how they loved that good ol' home cooking. Our mouths were watering as the melody line bounced around the quartet through this tune. A great job! 7) COMMON GROUND (ILL) This was another big, loud sounding quartet, and they opened with "Banjo's Back In Town," followed by "For Me And My Gal." It was a big, loud, lively set, though it sounded like the lead dropped or fumbled a couple of words here and there, I couldn't quite tell. However, I felt like everyone so far has been singing to loud, trying too hard...maybe it was the sound system, I don't know, but I know I was really ready for a nice soft ballad right about now. 8) PREMIERE (MAD) My salvation came in the very next quartet, as Fred King and the boys came out and soothed our collective ears with "The One Rose That Lives In My Heart" followed by a dramatic "Sonny Boy." I loved the emotional turn at the key change, when lead Fred Womer grimaced in anguish, glanced down toward the floor to collect his strength and agonized through the final verse when the angels came and took his son to heaven...it just drove the rest of the song and really was effective. THANK YOU guys! 9) HEYDAY (SWD) Ooh, yeah, a little more smooth ballad work is just right here, and Heyday came through with a sweet interpretation of "It Had To Be You," though I was looking for a little more smoky nightclub feel to this song. Still, very nicely done. "I'd Love To Meet That Old Sweetheart Of Mine" is a song I haven't heard in a long time, but brought back a flood of memories of my first days in barbershop, when I first heard Chicago News ('81) win the gold with this one. My first chorus in Burlington, Vermont sang it in contest too, and I had just run into several of my old singing buddies before the session began...so I had this really nice warm feeling (or maybe it was the humidity? It certainly wasn't the air conditioning, which was on full blast and caused a run on sweaters and sweatshirts at Harmony Marketplace between rounds)...but I digress...Heyday, good job!! 10) METROPOLIS (FWD) Another one of my favorite quartets at International, they are always so full of energy and drive. They did not disappoint, with a steamrolling "I'm In Love Again," with a big sound and strong unit choreography. The antics between the bari and lead on the side, with neat facial expressions, really sld the fun they were having up there. "Floatin' Down To Cotton Town" just continued the pace, and they definitely locked in a place in the semi's. 11) GOOD TIMES (MAD) A slight technical glitch occurred as these guys came out and were accepting their applause, when the stage lights suddenly went black for about 2 seconds. I happened to be looking down at the notebook and noticed the loss of light from the stage area, and looked up to see...no stage! Then suddenly the lights blazed on again and the quartet, just coming out of their stage bow, reacted in stride and just smiled brighter and went into their set, showing good composure on stage. It may not seem like a big deal now, but at this level of competition, every little distraction can have devastating effects on the results. They opened with "If I Love Again," a nice sweet ballad, then changed tracks with their "Railroad Medley" ("I've Been Working On The Railroad" and "I'm A Railroad Man"). Again this seemed too loud for me, and a little out of control toward the end. They have big pipes but it felt like they cut off the tag a little early for me...I couldn't tell if it was on purpose or if they were a little short on breath. This was minor stuff though, and they did a fine job. 12) SCANDINAVIAN SHUFFLE (SNOBS) These Swedish representatives did a really nice job on "The Little Boy" with a sweet and loving approach. "M-A-Double-M-Y" had a fun swingy feel, and the audience was appreciative of these guys being part of this great contest and convention. 13) BSQ (MAD) BSQ came out in their bright red tuxes amid enthusiastic applause from their many fans, and opened with "All Alone." It seemed like they took a little while to settle in on this ballad, it just seemed a little ragged getting going. By their second song, a neat rhythm medley, they were back in fine form, handling a complicated arrangement with ease. We cracked up as bass Al Mazzoni got a little wacky with his arm-waving dance steps, and I really liked when they fell into a tight jazz band combo, each with their own "air" instruments. Whew! 14) GOTCHA! (FWD) This quartet has been on the rise for a number of years, and they seemed to continue their march upward through the ranks with a great set. I loved their orange, blue, yellow and green tux coats. They sang "Ballin' The Jack" and "For The Sake Of Auld Lang Syne" with crystal clear harmonies and some awesome overtones. Thunder from outside began to boom in the distance, but they were not distracted in the least as they powered their way into the semi's. 15) PHOENIX RISING (NZABS) This New Zealand representative sang as the skies outside the arena opened up in a heavy downpour that pounded the arena roof and almost drowned out the softer parts of "Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair." They started "Give Me A Barbershop Song" with "...When a rainy day comes..." and we all had to chuckle and wonder wow, how did these guys arrange for a driving thunderstorm at the perfect time??...all in all a nice job! 16) FREESTYLE This fun and crazy quartet seems to have taken on the awesome task of filling the comedy gap left by FRED after they won the gold two years ago. They usually have something new and interesting cooked up, and we were all anticipating their next bit of lunacy. Our curiosity piqued as they came on stage dressed in black, with bari Andy Wallace sporting a top hat and carrying a large set of playing cards, poster sized, along with a small stool. It became clear that they were magicians, each with their own magic act. Andy attempted a card trick with a normal sized deck of cards, but they fell all over and his trick was ruined. The other guys expressed their disgst at this has-been magician, singing a parody of "Don't Tell Me The Same Things Over Again" as they admonished Andy, "don't show methe same tricks over again"...a mildly humorous parody, but not terribly inspiring. They handed out the large poster-sized cards, one to each man, and turned them over one by one to reveal "Ace" cards bearing the pictures of Society leaders, until Andy's card turned over to reveal a "Joker" card with Andy's likeness as "Dummy Boy," a reference to another successful comedy act from last year. The punch lines were not that great, and the audience applauded, though they were a bit perplexed. Between songs, they brought out a large box on rollers, one typically used in magic acts to make a person disappear. They opened it to reveal it was empty, and started singing another parody, this one to "The Masquerade Is Over" ("Your Last Charade Is Over") as they decied to get rid of Andy by putting him in the box and making him disappear. The front door was in three sections, top, middle, and bottom, and they closed him inside for a few seconds, spun the box around, threw some magic dust, and opened the door triumphantly only to see Andy still inside, looking around absentmindedly. Angry that he had screwed up yet another of their magic acts, they closed him up again, did another incantation, and opened the top part of the door and Andy was gone! They then opened the bottom section of the door and saw Andy knelt down, tying his shoe. They closd him up again, this time drawing swords and thrusting them into the sides of the box, which also didn't seem to have any effect on Andy. Finally they tried one last time, and when they opened the door the final time, Andy was truly gone! They hustled off stage with the box as the audience applauded, but the overall effect was not what they'd hoped for. 17) TULSA TRADITION (SWD) I didn't write a lot about these guys because they are just so consistently good, they did just what was expected of them and hit us with a solid set, "I'm So Used To The Rain" (Hmmm another appropriate song with the weather we're having) and "Happy Go Lucky Lane." Just a really nice job, they will easily make it into the top 20. 18) intrigue (ONT) This Canadian quartet has been around for a few years, and continued their quest for fame and fortune (ok we'll settle for a nice shiny medal) with a good smooth rendition of "That Witchcraft Called Love". I couldn't help but think of Revival's Bill Myers as I watched bass Al Baker's expressive face in this song! He must be practicing in the mirror..."That's A Plenty For Me" was also a good solid hit, nice vocals and blend throughout. I'd like to see these guys in the 20... 19) WABASH AVENUE (CAR) I liked the slow and stylized version of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" which eventually takes off with a drive in the second half. I thought this had some unique musicality to it, making a barbershop standard new again. Neat! "You Are My Sunshine" really woke up the crowd with more driving energy right to the tag. Yes! 20) CAMBRIDGE BLUES (BABS) (Scratched) 21) WISE GUYS (SUN) I never know quite what to expect from these guys, they always seem to have a trick up their sleeve, at least that's the impression I get when I see their energetic stride on stage and their "let me at 'em!" attitude. They attacked the mics with "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" with a hot intro that grabbed me right away. Not sure if it was pure adrenaline or what, but it did seem to get a bit out of control toward the end, but they planted their feet and belted out the tag with confidence and power. Their second song, "Smooth Sailing," is, for me, a quintessential Wise Guys tune. Smooth and light, chock full of energy and forward motion, I really like the way they do this one. 22) FOUR VOICES (DIX) Oh man, oh man. This quartet has got gold medal written all over it. Already building a strong fan base since they first won the college quartet contest in Salt Lake City in 1996, these graduates of Lee College (you'll remember them also from Monday's SING! A Cappella Festival performance with the Voices of Lee) are the first College Quartet champs to move on to compete with "the big boys" in international competition, and they left no doubt that they belong here! Their every move, every nuance, every syllable, every gorgeous chord, was planned and executed flawlessly. Their opening song, "My Mother's Eyes" was reminiscent of the best of Rural Route Four and the Harrington Brothers, blending exquisite voices in killer harmonies, the chords just washing over us. I have seen Four Voices perform many times over the years but never this intense, this focused. They coupled this wonderful ballad with a rocking "After You've Gone" and clearly placed themselves in the top ten, maybe even into the medals. The audience erupted with a standing ovation, well deserved for this marvelous quartet. I can't wait to hear them again!! 23) UPTOWN SOUND (JAD) Wow, just when I started coming down from Four Voices' high, these guys put me right back up there again with another super clean set, "The Nearness Of You" and "Put Your Arms Around Me"...they have really developed into a top foursome in the hunt for the gold, and it will be great to see them battle for the top with Jake, Four Voices, and others. They were solid as a rock, definitely in the top ten, sounding really good. 24) THE LIKELY LADS (BABS) The lead, Lee Sperry, sounded almost like a Mark Hale clone as he crooned "Beautiful Dreamer" and "You Make Me Feel So Young," really pretty, smooth and pleasant to listen to. I thought they had a nice clean sound, but I think they needed more "oomph" on stage to really pull it off at this level of competition. Nice job overall. 25) COUNTERPOINT (EVG) These guys came out from different points behind the curtain, sporting bright yellow outfits and snappy hats with yellow feathers out the top. They tried to fire up the stage with "This Joint Is Jumpin'" and "It Don't Mean A Thing," but they needed a lot more energy and drive to pull it off, I think...I wanted to hear these at a faster tempo, it just felt too controlled and careful. Give me the pizazz on these great uptunes, and I'm sold! 26) 12TH STREET RAG (CSD) This quartet has lots of International experience, and it showed on stage with "Someday Down In Carolin'" and "A Tree In The Meadow." They did a nice job throughout, just seemed to lack that little "zing" that could propel them into the next round. Very respectable job overall. That was the end of the first quarter-final round! Many of us headed out to the great barbecue buffet dinner that was set up in the convention center next door, a perfect place to relax and eat without having to hustle to find a restaurant. We had a couple of hours between rounds, and could visit and relax and talk about the quartets we heard and those yet to come. What a day! And we're only half done! The second quarter final round is tonight at 7:15pm...
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