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!"
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!
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