After the Harmonet Gathering in the Renaissance Hotel, I returned to the Hilton to collect my things and headed back to the Gaylord Entertainment Center (right next door, convenient!) for the semi-final round. Folks were still buzzing about the previous day's contest, and speculating on who was where and who was there...I made it to my seat and got set up, again using a notebook and pencil instead of the trusty laptop. I also used a small clip-on reading light that allowed me to see the paper in the darkness, and was careful to shield most of the light with one hand over the bulb as I balanced the notebook on my lap. Still, I was immediately approached by someone nearby who said, "Sir! Sir! That light is really distracting to people trying to see the stage!" I groaned inside but immediately turned off the light and sat there in the dark, as the Collegiate Barbershop Quartet Contest Chorus, under the direction of Kirk Young, opened the session with a couple of numbers. The lights would come on between every competitor, and I could use that time to jot down notes, but it was better if I could do it while it was happening so I wouldn't forget as much. Still, I was respectful of others' desires so I kept the light off, and instead decided to leave my seat and find another spot, maybe closer to the stage so I could take some pictures and just jot notes in the convention program. As soon as the applause hit and the lights came on I made my way up and out of the section and over to the next entry, where stairs led right down to the arena floor. I proceeded down and scouted around the front, and found a seat along the wall of the arena along with a few wheelchairs. I sat there as Farenhyte, the 2001 High School Quartet Champs and Harmony, the 2001 Seniors Quartet Champs, each sang a few opening numbers as well. The Nightingales from Russia made another appearance, and charmed the audience with a repeat of what we had seen several times by now. Still, it was fun to watch them again. Here they were, 9 and 10 year old boys, singing before a crowd of 9,000+, and they were fearless. Common Ground was the mic tester quartet (as if they needed a mic tester after four other groups had already been on stage!), and finally the contest got underway. 1) CHEERS I made my way closer to the front, and was able to kneel on the floor by the far right edge of the front row, under one of the video cameras, and get a couple of shots of Chuck Sisson and Cheers, the first quartet. They sang "Goodbye Dixie, Goodbye," and "Broken Hearted" and I thought they did very well, though it was too early to say whether it was good enough for the finals or not. 2) POWER PLAY I moved around again when the lights came up, and made it to the center aisle in time to get a couple more shots of Power Play. They sang a wonderfully smooth "Moonlight Becomes You," a gorgeous ballad in the hands of lead Mike Slamka. They sang a great medley uptune for the second song, and the audience was loud with their support at the end. It was clear they had propelled themselves into the finals! 3) HEYDAY I started back from the front of the arena and noticed an empty seat just six rows back, and right on the center aisle! I asked if it was taken and the nice lady next to me said no, so I took advantage of it and was able to sit there for the rest of the contest session! Amazing. HEYDAY had a nice set with "I'm Singing Your Love Songs To Somebody Else" and "Bye Bye, Blackbird," but it wasn't enough to take them to the next level. I liked their good faces and the way they interacted with each other, though. 4) FOUR VOICES Four Voices came out and there was already a swell of support from the crowd as these fine young men stood there beaming and accepted the adulation. They knew they'd had a good first set, and they were ready to hit us with another one. I was a bit confused at first when they started a very slow, deliberate and controlled ballad, and didn't recognize it until the chorus, when they familiar strains of "If I Only Had a Brain" from the Wizard of Oz were heard. Wow, I thought, that seems a little gutsy. But they reeled me and the rest of the audience in with a superb performance, and at the end the crowd did one of those joint "woah!" sounds that rode the crest of their huge applause for this amazing quartet. But they weren't done yet. They cranked it up with a killer arrangement of "No, No, Nora" (OK, whose arrangement is this? It's great!), and it had our collective hearts pumping until the climax at "...but would I trade you for barbershop??..." at which point they modulated into a screamer chord, then, incredibly, did it again, even higher, and just about blew the roof off the dome! They paused in mock agony as they each pondered the choice before them, until, very reluctantly, they agreed that, no, not even barbershop could take them away from their beloved Nora (and if you believe THAT, I've got a bridge in Arizona to sell you)...the crowd was beside themselves as they hit the tag, and everyone leapt to their feet in an instant standing ovation, screaming and cheering as if the contest were already over. This was the same kind of maniacal response that Platinum had generated in each of their sessions last year, with the audience eating up every incredible chord. Four Voices had thrilled me in the first set, but they stunned me in this one. I sat there in a daze and had an image in my head of them accepting the gold medals, incredible for such a young quartet. But it was possible, I realized. 5) RIPTIDE I was still in a daze halfway through Riptide's first number. I found it hard to concentrate, I was still coming down from Four Voices' crusher performance. Wow! But I managed to shake it off and enjoy the rest of Riptide's "Let The Rest Of The World Go By" followed by their always cool "M-A-Double-M-Y." It really was excellent, and I thought, holy cow, we might have two Dixie quartets in the top ten! How cool! Little did I know just how cool it would be when the final dust settled Saturday night. 6) THE SENSATIONS Ken Hatton and Jay Hawkins anchored this quartet nicely in this round, opening with "Some Enchanted Evening" from the Broadway musical "South Pacific." Like the first set, though, this just felt a little too heavy for my tastes. And I don't remember now, but my notes say I didn't like the tag too much either. Hmm... Still, the second song was much better, "Fare The Well, Annabelle." I liked the little section in the middle where the chords sounded like a railroad train racing past...neat stuff! 7) 3 MEN & A MELODY "There Goes My Heart" had some great mood generation throughout. I know they had the audience where they wanted them, as the entire arena was quiet and attentive, not wanting to break the mood. Nice nice nice. They changed up to a finger snapping, toe tapping "Recipe For Makin' Love" that had our collective mouths watering for more. Good shot! 8) APPLAUSE! They make every song they sing look so easy. "Pretty Baby" was nice and sweet, and I got a laugh when they referred to "curly hair" and bari Russ Young leaned forward to show off his balding pate. "Lora-Belle Lee" was a good solid hit too. It didn't quite measure up to the stunning performances we'd just seen, so I wasn't sure if they'd make the finals or not. We'll see! 9) BSQ Kevin King's lead solo on "Danny Boy" was simply gorgeous. He has excellent control of his voice throughout here, and it just floated up there, weightless and airy, so pleasant and lovely. They really have that ballad down. I cracked up when they went into "Fly Me To The Moon," and bass Al Mazzoni goofed around up there, first displaying his bald head as they referred to the moon, turning to bari Richard Taylor for a mock kiss, and then going into this bizarre dance step as he flailed his arms around from the elbows down, keeping the rest of his body relatively motionless...it was silly, but they were having a grand time up there and we all enjoyed it with them. 10) OVERTURE Overture (our third Dixie quartet to make it to the semi's! Wow!) had a great solid intro to their first song, "When There's A Shine On Your Shoes," and kept the support up through the second number, "Something To Write The Folks About." Not as compelling as the other two Dixie foursomes, but hey, at this level everyone is doing just fine!! They were terrific in spite of not making the top ten (hey, we got two in there already, let's not get greedy). What a fine representation for Dixie! 11) SATURDAY EVENING POST I liked the smooth resonant chords in "I Thought About You," made even more luscious with Brian Beck's wide bass and Bobby Gray, Jr.'s nice filling bari. I really like this quartet's overall sound, very nice to listen to, and they pick good music. They picked it up with "Anything Goes" and I had them on my short list for the top ten. Great job! 12) METROPOLIS Looking at my notes, I just wrote "WOW" next to their name. I've seen them perform on the international stage many times now, and they are one of the most consistently entertaining quartets around. "Alexander's Ragtime Band Medley" was hot and cool, in all the right places, and their classic "I'm Afraid Of The Beautiful Girls" is always a treat, especially when bari Michael McGee leaps into Bass Brian Philbin's arms at the tag, and clings to Brian's side, even as they take their bows and exit the stage...funny stuff! Don't know how many more years Brian can pull that off without a hernia, but... Solid top ten placement here. Oh I'd love to see medals for these guys! 13) MICHIGAN JAKE The odds-on favorites to win the gold came out ready to rumble, offering first a Jake standard, "Louise," showing how agile and nimble their chord work can be, and then going for the kill with "Somebody Knows." This was a pretty strong set, better than the first, and served notice that they were not out of the running by any stretch of the imagination! We all knew that it was gonna get bloody on Saturday night! 14) ENDEAVOR Yeah, I like this new foursome, they have a nice youthful sound and appearance, and can ring some chords!! They started with a sweet "Someone To Watch Over Me" along with "That's My Weakness Now" and it was just a fun, clean set. Not there yet, but watch for these guys next year, they could get into the finals quickly! 15) THE BAY RUM RUNNERS Another fine quartet we see at International on a regular basis. "Just A Cottage Small" was fine, nothing really unique about this one, just a nice rendition of a beautiful ballad. They know how to sing 'em. "Same Old Saturday Night Medley" is a fun song too, one we've heard a couple of times this weekend. I don't know what this quartet needs to boost itself into the top 10, though. 16) EXCALIBUR I really like this quartet, always have, and they haven't lost a step with a bari change. "My Sin" was fine and very well handled by this very savvy quartet, but I dunno, my mind drifted a bit and they sort of lost my attention. The audience didn't really whoop it up either, though they did a very good job overall. Maybe we're all getting a bit jaded at this point? They did "Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home" with just the right amount of punch and pizazz, and I have them in the top 10, but not in the medals. 17) FLIPSIDE Man, this quartet is good! They hit "B & O Line" strong and the bass hanger on the end was great. Really nice sound. And good faces. "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine" was almost there, too...I don't know if there's room in the top 10 for these guys, but who knows! 18) FINALE Another solid performance by a good solid quartet, but I didn't see enough spark to push them forward. "I'm Beginning To See The Light" was fine, and "If All My Dreams Were Made Of Gold" was just as good, but...I guess I am looking for that certain something that differentiates the really good from the really great. It's in those 85+ scores that are so elusive to get... 19) UPTOWN SOUND OK, now here is a quartet that has really been shining bright. I have these guys in the top with Four Voices and Michigan Jake, but at this point it could go either way. They had a very strong version of "Sweet And Lovely" that showed us that even the most over-sung songs can be given new life with the proper care. What a gift these guys have developed over the years! "There, I've Said It Again" had a nice feel to it, very sparkling sound. They are in the medals, for sure, the question is, which one?? 20) GOTCHA! These guys started their ballad, "Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie" nice and slow, almost too slow...until they finally but gradually accelerated through the middle part and blasted to the big huge tag that made us all go "yeahhhh!!!" as we clapped and whistled. Their second song, "At The Jazz Band Ball" was complex and intricate, and just showed their skill at working a tough arrangement. What a foursome! I gotta put these guys in the finals for sure... We waited around for the officials to announce the cut and order of appearance in the quartet finals round, and here's how it went: 1 Metropolis 2 BSQ 3 Saturday Evening Post 4 Four Voices 5 Michigan Jake 6 Uptown Sound 7 Riptide 8 Gotcha! 9 Excalibur 10 Power Play Mic testers: Flipside OK, I got 8 out of 10 right, but also picked Cheers and Endeavor to make the cut and missed Excalibur and Saturday Evening Post. Ah well, that's why I'm not a judge!! See ya at the finals!!
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