Audience reviews of 2010 Bay Area Harmony Sweepstakes

Diversity in styles of music, in nationalities, in experience levels, and in costume choices combined to form a very fun evening for bay area a cappella music fans.  Nine groups took to the stage at the Palace of Fine Arts on Saturday March 13, 2010 for the competition that was hosted by the 2009 Regional Champs The Love Notes.

The Acafellas from the Mendocino area put the audience in the right mood for the evening by clearly showing that they really enjoy what they do.  Their set list included Blue Moon, A Red, Red Rose and Java Jive.  They were warmly received by the two-thirds capacity crowd.

Next up was Vocalicious with their jazz stylings.  This quintet of two men and three women were unique in requesting the audience hold applause to the end of their set so they could use their narrative to join their songs together.  They were able to fit five songs into their ten minute set including I Get a Kick Out of You, There Will Never Be Another You, Steppin’ Out With My Baby, It Don’t Mean a Thing / Sing, Sing, Sing Medley and Blue Skies.   They raised tension in the audience as they received their 30-second warning sign by timekeepers Ken Klein, and Juanita Chase.

The third group of the evening was PDQ a Sweet Adelines barbershop quartet.  Their shiny silver and green tops were a great contrast to the black stage curtains.  They gave an excellent example of the typical barbershop mixture of humor and technical execution of the demanding arrangements in their set list: You Turned the Tables on Me, Sir Duke, The Potato Song, and I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die

The fourth bay area group, Radio Silence, filled the stage both literally and aurally.  This co-ed group of recent college graduates gave the most choreographed performance of the evening.  The driving beat of their bass/vocal percussionist underscored the three songs in their set: Get Set, Right Now and Leave Me Alone.  They also raised the audience’s collective blood pressure when their set went long and they got the 30-second warning sign by the timekeepers. The only thing lacking for these two women and four men was some color in their black outfits.

The first of two international groups competing took the stage before a brief intermission.   Voz En Punto from Mexico brought their Latin rhythms before a very appreciative San Francisco audience.  The three women and three men in their ethnically inspired rose adorned costumes were able to connect with the audience despite the language barrier with their three song set: Corividando Esta la Noche, Copitas de Mezcal and Tilingolingo which won the best arrangement award of the evening.

After a too brief intermission, the eight bawdy men of Brass Farthing ambled on to the stage in their period Victorian, pirate, and sailor costumes.  Their tankards, mugs, pints and jugs they carried testified to their love of the drink--ing song that is!  Their set was refreshingly different from the rest of the evening’s groups with beer, hunting ballads and seventeenth century hymns mixed together: God Bless the Human Elbow, Babylon is Fallen, Bellman and Charlie Mopps.

Fwee took the stage next.  This Canadian mixed quartet brought a pure sweet sound to their set of faith-based music: Turn, Turn, Turn; Peace Prayer and You Are So Beautiful.  Their purple touched outfits gleamed against the black curtains.

Next up was the San Andreas Singers with three female and two male singers dressed in a rainbow of colored tops.  They hold the distinction of being the only group of the evening to use instrumental accompaniment with the squeaky rubber ducky highlighting his signature song followed by the jazz standard A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and a jazzed up arrangement of Waltz of the Flowers.

The final group of the evening was veteran singers Boys Nite Out from the Sacramento area.  The all male quintet joked about changing their names to the middle-aged-men-meeting-if their wives allowed- for brunch.  Their relaxed performance and tight harmonies on standard rock anthems got the audience on their feet and clapping along to Proud Mary/ I Feel Good medley, Just My Imagination and Joy to the World.  They clearly won over the audience’s heart and when voted audience favorite they showed a class act by bringing all of the groups out on the stage to back them up on their rendition of Shout! – the ultimate party song.

The judges had their work cut out for them measuring the disparity of music styles, talents, energy levels and competencies.  The third place winner was Voz En Punto; second place went to Radio Silence and the 2010 bay area regional champs are Boys Nite Out!

As a long time fan of a the Harmony-Sweepstakes and an advocate for ALL kinds of singing, I’d like to share some of my opinions and encouragements for future competitors:

- don’t wear black against a black curtain so the audience can see more than just your floating heads

- do include audience participation in your performance to build connection with us

- do relax and have fun, and show us that you are having fun

- do share your original songs with us and we’ll learn to love them as much as the cover songs your perform

- don’t worry too much about the competition aspects; focus instead on the opportunity you have to share your best musical performance in front of a large a cappella loving new fan base!

Tammy Heinsohn

The Human Voice Show - The best in a cappella and vocal harmonies!
KKUP Cupertino, 91.5FM - Every Tuesday morning, 7-10am

For those who have not been to the A Cappella Sweepstakes before, the format is very simple: a variety of a cappella groups perform on one stage, all competing for first place. The first place group goes on to represent the Bay Area at the National A Cappella Sweepstakes for a chance to win there. The evening begins with a brief performance by last year’s winners.The moderator of the evening then introduces the judges who will determine the winning group. Finally, the host group serves to introduce the various groups to the stage to perform.

This year, the host group was Love Notes, a group of four college-aged ladies who were last year’s winners. Their performance this year left little doubt why they won: tight, sweet harmonies that were pure joy to listen to. Nine groups performed this year, and the competition was stiff. As in past years, the groups this year represented an astonishing array of talent, diversity, and size.

There was Brass Farthing, an eight piece, all male group that sang drinking songs, complete with drinking mugs in hand. Their performance made me want to leave the theatre immediately, and head on over to Liverpool Lils for a pint of Guinness.

PDQ was a four woman group that merged the Mexican Hat Dance song with lyrics about potatoes, to great comic effect. Vocalicious, a five part mixed group, blended jazz standards together with patter in between.

The San Andreas Singers did an interesting version of “Rubber Ducky”, which would have made Ernie from Sesame Street proud. Naturally, they incorporated the wheezing sound of the rubber duck in the mix.

Fwee, a Christian group from Canada, reminded us why vocal music and the Christian religion have been so intertwined for so long.

The Acafellas, another large, all male group, serenaded the audience about coffee. Returning group Boyz Nite Out and Radio Silence both had amazing drum sounds in their mix, all vocally generated.

My personal favorite group of the evening, Voz en Punto, was a mixed group from Mexico. Their sound was authentically Mexican with a fresh, modern, and humorous perspective. All in all, there was something for everyone at this year’s 26th Annual Harmony Sweepstakes, a pleasing array of vocal stylings that showcased the huge diversity that has become the A Cappella movement.

At the end of the evening, the host groups sings some more, while the judges decide who won. The audience also has a chance to vote for their favorite. Then, the winners are announced and we all go home, to do it all again next year.....

Christopher McLaughlin

From My Perspective

A Review by Stacy Lynne of the 26th Annual Bay Area Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA

Every year the Bay Area Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival draws contestants who sing a cappella music in all kinds of styles.  A typical audience for the festival includes enthusiastic lovers of a cappella music who aren't afraid to shout out their "woohoos," applaud wildly, stand on their feet when asked to do so by the performers, or cheer for a friend who may be on stage.  Some audience members come with notebooks and pens and take notes throughout—voting for their favorite performers at the end of the contest is taken seriously by the audience.  In fact, the festival is not "just another talent contest."  It is a regional contest whose winners will receive airfare and two accommodations for two nights in a hotel to compete in the National finals, held in San Rafael on May 15, 2010

Other prizes are bragging rights for Second and Third Place winners, Audience Favorite, and Best Original Song.  With the spread of popularity of the regional contest, scouts from the music industry have been known to search for new talent at these competitions. 

Tradition plays a role in the annual contests, giving them a familial feel.  It is tradition that each year is "hosted" by the winners of the prior year.  The 2010 regional contest, held last night at the Palace of Fine Arts, was hosted by the 2009 regional winners—LoveNotes, a quartet capable of singing in various a cappella styles with humor, pizzazz, and tight vocal harmonies.  They opened the contest with "Come Fly With Me." Listening to them and watching them enjoy the glory of once again owning the stage, it is easy to remember why they won last year's contest.  They have quite a following here in the Bay Area.  Their songs are interspersed here and there with unexpected humorous movements, such as sticking their mikes in front of the mouths of the persons to their rights.  They do such moves in perfect unison, without missing a beat and without losing their tonal pitch or quality.  They take pride in their stage appearance.  They possess sophistication beyond their years, and because they are talented and beautiful and appear to adore what they do, it is easy to envy them and easy to forget the kind of dedication, time, energy, and sacrifice it takes to get to where they are.  They have participated in two America's Got Talent contests and have been guest performers in lands as far away as Germany.  They have opened numerous professional sporting events with their National Anthem.  I wish they would record that song—I love the way they sing it, but I haven't seen it on any of their CDs, unless I missed it.

Angie Doctor, as the Mistress of Ceremonies, glittered from behind the podium.  There is nothing more pleasing to me as a member of an audience than to go to a performance and see the people on stage sparkle and glitter with glamour.  Angie was all class in a gold, sparkly sleeveless dress with scoop neck and flowing scarf draping down her back.  Her perfectly coifed, short, black hair showed off her dangling earrings that caught the light whenever her head moved.  After explaining rules of the competition and such, she passed the podium to Stephanie Lawson of LoveNotes, who introduced the first group to compete, the Acafellas.  

As the first song of the evening, "Blue Moon" set a romantic, light tone for the rest of the competition.  Dressed as a unit in all black with blue ties, when the Acafellas turned a certain way, their ties caught the light, giving off an iridescent purple.  Their energy can be described in one three-letter word, FUN.  By the time they wrapped up their set with "Java Jive," the audience was already pulled in and the show was on a roll.  What impressed me is that as an innkeeper, two computer scientists, an architect, a lawyer, a doctor, a building contractor, and a retired scientist, they still have time to sing! 

The story of Vocalicious, the second competitor, is an interesting one.  Apparently, when they were children, they were all forced to take music lessons by their parents.  Now, as adults, they sing a cappella music, and when they're not singing, they hum.  They were all dressed in non-matching outfits of black and white, and sang five songs non-stop while various members of the group took the limelight.  They sang up-tunes and ballads equally well.

Up next, PDQ is a female quartet excelling in the style of barbershop harmony.  They had a lot of fans in the audience—the applause they received was loud and enthusiastic.  As one of their members explained, they didn't have a script, no funny jokes, just great singing "cause that's what we love to do."  Their love of music certainly did shine through in their performance.  One of their songs was the brilliantly arranged "The Potato song," arranged by Chris Hebert, husband of Kathy Hebert of PDQ.  It was sung to the tune of "Mexican Hat Dance," but the pronunciation of the repeated word "potato" was very complex, yet they sang it as though it was the easiest thing to sing.  Even though the audience broke out in rhythmic clapping in the middle of "The Potato Song," PDQ remained focused.  I wish they had sung "The Potato Song" three or four more times so I could understand how they did it.  If they had repeated it, I don't think the audience (who exploded after the song was performed) would have minded one bit—that song and its audience appeal were topics I overheard during intermission as I was eaves dropping.

Don't let the name of the next competitor fool you—Radio Silence was the Harley Davidson among all the Honda Gold Wings.  They were LOUD, so loud that I witnessed members of the audience blocking their ears.  In fact, their excessive volume was another topic of conversation I overheard during intermission.  I don't think I knew any of the songs they sang, but I am from a different generation after all.  Radio Silence was probably the most youthful group in the competition.  Their description in the program quoted them as singing with "powerful vocals," but from my perspective, loud is not necessarily powerful.  In all fairness to them, it was very hard for me to appreciate their talent because my fingers were in my ears and I was wincing in pain, just as I do when a Harley Davidson roars by me when I am in my convertible.  Still, they were the second-place winners of the contest (go figure), so apparently they did excel in the categories in which they were being judged.  Their accomplishments are truly impressive:  they have shared the stage with such groups as Tower of Power, Kool and the Gang, Rockapella, The Nylons, M-Pact, the House Jacks, and Vienna Teng (I know of two of those bands).  I might have enjoyed it if they had turned down the volume a bit, but, hey, they weren't giving ME a personal concert, now were they?

Following the Harley Davidson-like Radio Silence was Voz En Punto, a breath of fresh air in more ways than one.  They were dressed in the Mexican style and sang everything in Spanish.  I didn't understand a word they sang, and I know I wasn't alone, but it didn't matter at all. Their vocal style and technique was charming—I can't think of any other word to describe it.  Their "Tilingolingo," arranged by Jose Galuan, one of the members of the group, was voted best original arrangement.  At one point the song sounded like a beautiful woven tapestry.  They were the third place winners of the competition, coming behind Radio Silence.  In addition to performing in Mexico and the United States, Voz en Punto has competed and performed on an international level in Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, Russia, Romania, Egypt, and Japan.  While on tour in Mexico, Bobby McFerrin and the King's Singers shared the stage with Voz en Punto, the only Mexican vocal group to lay claim to such an honor.  In 2009, Voz en Punto was awarded by the Austrian Embassy in Mexico with the Mozart Medal.  Their new CD has been nominated this year for the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award.

Brass Farthing was an entertaining group singing happy songs while raising good cheer, as beer drinkers are wont to do.  They dressed in attire fitting for a pub, one member of the group displaying what looked like, from where I sat, the flag of England, which was stuck in his hat.  They carried beer steins and liquor bottles, and drank as they sang praises to the elbow, the joint which makes it possible to bring the beer stein to the lips.  Brass Farthing had it tough, being the first group to perform after intermission, because half the audience was still in the lines waiting to use the loos.  But they sang as if they didn't even notice, and when they sang their ode to Bellman, a beloved hound who died, they asked the audience to participate by providing the voice of the dog when cued to do so.  The audience was glad to oblige, and as people came trickling back into the theatre, they had the opportunity to howl like Bellman as they searched for their seats.  The lead singer had such fabulous arm movements punctuating the syllables of the songs that if he ever loses his voice, he can teach his arm movements to singers everywhere and fare quite well, I think.  Brass Farthing wound up their set of thanks by praising Charlie Mopps, the man who invented beer!  What a party Brass Farthing had on that stage.  What a privilege to have attended their ale house. 

Ironically, Brass Farthing was followed by Fwee, who also sang hymns of praise, but not for the elbow or for the man who invented beer.  Fwee had a message to spread—the message of God's love for all of us.  They sang a song from the 60s (Turn, Turn, Turn), the lyrics of which were taken from the Bible book of Ecclesiastes.  Fwee sang in their own, more modern style while still retaining the integrity of the original composition.  Their chosen one explained the importance of God in all of their lives, and told of the next song, the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, "Peace Prayer" (Lord, make me a means of your peace).  The introduction was lovely, and I wish the chosen one had said a bit more about the song.  The audience was quite still throughout, as though letting the spirit touch them as they reflected on various aspects of their lives.  Spreading the message took too long a time; even though Fwee sang only three songs, they were the one group to go overtime.  I don't think this group cared about going over the time limit.  They sang their hearts out for Jesus and for us, their audience.  It seemed like their mission was not to win the contest, but rather to spread the word that the Lord, and Fwee, thinks we are all beautiful. 

The San Andreas Singers came on dressed in something other than black and white, which was a welcome sight, as Black and white were definitely the dominant colors of the evening.  The clothes worn by the San Andreas Singers were colorful, and their harmonies were the kind that for some reason reminded me of Christmas music.  In fact, they sang "Waltz of the Flowers" from the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker.  They introduced the song by announcing they would perform a favorite Russian jazz standard, which got a reaction of chuckles from the audience.  The San Andreas Singers complimented their vocal arrangement with a bit of balletic choreography, going so far as to throw—were those rose petals?—around the stage during their performance.  Their finish was impressive, ending with a growing crescendo and a quack from their rubber duckie, to which they sang homage when they opened their set (Rubber Duckie, you're so fun. . . ).  From where I sat, I couldn't actually see the duck, but I could tell the singer was holding SOMETHING up, and since it quacked, I figured it must surely be the duck.

Then out came the stage sweepers, sweeping up the rose petals and readying the stage for the last performers of the evening, Boys Nite Out.  By this time the audience was loaded up with good tunes and was itching to sing themselves.  It was difficult not to join the Boys in song as they opened with their "Proud Mary/I Feel Good" medley.  These are familiar tunes, very sing-alongable, but we restrained ourselves by snapping our fingers and let the Boys perform.  Personally, I found those sideways slides they did during "I Feel Good" rather impressive.  I bet they could Moonwalk easily, these Boys.  Their beatboxer was very surprising.  He was the kind of performer that captivated my attention; spellbound I watched, just shaking my head back and forth in unbelievable admiration.  His concentration was fierce, his arms were jabbing at air.  Here was this guy, not so tall, not so thin, not resembling a gymnast from my perspective, and out of absolutely nowhere, at the end of the song, what does this non-gymnast-looking man do but springs into the air in a straddle jump.  You know that jump.  It's where a person stands, then jumps, leaving the torso vertical but bringing the legs up to horizontal in a V while extending the hands toward the toes.  Except the singer had a mike in his hand.  I think he extended one hand, but I'm not sure.  He may have jumped handless--so fast, so high, and so surprising was the jump when it came that I didn't have time to notice.  But I couldn't dwell on it—they started singing the Temptations' "Just My Imagination," painful to not be able to sing along while at the same time, heavenly to hear them sing it.  Boys Nite Out ended with Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World."

While scores were being tallied, LoveNotes performed for the last time as 2009 regional champs.  No tears from these ladies—their Angry/Bill Bailey medley showed us just how sarcastic and humorous these gals can be.  Tough, too, as their hair-whipping a cappella rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" led us to believe.  But they sang a ballad, too, and a lovely ballad it was.  While they were good behind the podium, I could tell being on stage was more like "home sweet home" to LoveNotes. All too soon, LoveNotes finished their diverse set.

The first prize announced was "audience favorite" and it was Boys Nite Out who took the prize.  The audience could contain themselves no longer.  With all performers on stage, Boys Nite Out sang "Shout" and invited everyone to jump out of their seats and raise their hands, punctuating the word "shout." Everyone did, with pleasure and abandon. 

Boys Nite Out also took first place.  Good job, Boys!  We wish you all good things as you compete in May in the Nationals. 

As there were no original songs this year, the prize for same was not awarded.

The contest came to a close the same way it opened—with tradition.  Performers and audience alike sang "Good Night Sweetheart" to each other before exiting the Palace of Fine Arts and entering our cars.

It was another successful year for the 26th annual Bay Area Sweepstakes.  Oh, what a night!

Stacy Lynne

A cappella fans, friends and family of the 9 competing groups featured during the 26th annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival Bay Area Regional were treated Saturday night to a diverse spectrum of harmony styles: spiritual, R&B, barbershop, jazz, collegiate, and more. Compared to last year, fewer seats in the 1000 person capacity theatre were filled, yet despite decreased attendance, the enthusiasm of the audience evidenced by clapping, whistling and screaming and the exuberance and quality of performances maintained the big yet intimate feel this cult event exemplifies.

While some groups were youthful amateurs, the eventual winners of the evening were clearly experienced industry professionals, Boyz Nite Out. The Olympics still in my consciousness, I wondered, shouldn’t the Sweeps be more of a showcase for amateur talent? It must be hard for a truly amateur group to compete against a group that debuted at the Sweeps 15 years before and then benefited from over a decade of professional exposure.

As usual, the format of the evening allocated 10 minutes to each of the competitors representing California, as well as Canada and Mexico.  Awards were given for Audience Favorite, Most Original Arrangement, and the top 3 places. Interestingly this year, there were no entries for Original Song. If there were to be a Youth Favorite Award, it would’ve been a hard race between PDQ’s playful rendition of “The Potato Song”, a clever homage to the humble potato based on the Mexican Hat Song melody and The San Andreas Singers arrangement of “Rubber Duckie”. Squeeeak, squeeeak!

Performer apparel for the evening showed a lot less variety that the evening’s clever lyrics.  Black, black, and mostly black. The witty Brass Farthing male ensemble was perhaps the only group to show any particular costume flair (thigh-high boots and funky hats and even blessed beer steins).  I heard many nearby attendees rave about their arrangements and theatricality. Unfortunately, I was hampered in observing their antics by the fact the venue’s usher held 75 of us back from returning to our seats after intermission. It seemed the staff had only dimmed the house lights once and the organizers must not have been aware of the crush of guests still lining up to return to their seats who were foiled as the second half of the contest started without us.

Perhaps my only other significant concern, seemingly shared by others during intermission, involved the sound mix and amplification and most seriously affected the 2nd place Winner, Radio Silence. Obviously the judges were able to overlook–or should I say, underhear–the rather stupendously loud volume levels.  This group, composed of Stanford and Cornell grads, was certainly the most edgy and I overheard their style may have left some of the more traditional a cappella enthusiasts cold. I like this very contemporary, ‘collegiate’ singing style and appreciated the their intensity as they candidly expressed issues of violation and despair (“I’ve got to go crazy just to stay sane”), but the sound volume was an unpleasant distraction.

There were two other similarly chronologically youthful groups and it’s rather extreme the styles they each adopted. One, local audience favorite, The Love Notes were last year’s winner of this event and therefore hosted this year’s contest. Here’s a group consistently saying we don’t even have 80 combined years of life on this planet let alone 80 years of singing history! Their traditional barbershop style and the songs they choose all evoke an era prior to their actual existence. Even their most contemporary piece, the classic Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody” where they chuck off their black heels and don black leather jackets to camouflage their attractive, yet traditional, dresses is much older than they are. Nevertheless, fans young and old alike, enjoy their performances and they have a very loyal following.

The other young quartet, Fwee, hailed from Canada and naturally had to quip their colors should’ve been red, white and gold.  But this innocent-seeming group failed to win the audience with their rather tame renditions of songs of praise and their commentary, more intent on proselytizing than entertaining.

One of the more unique groups to perform were Latino and hugely entertaining whether you understood Spanish or not.  Voz En Punto came away with both the 3rd place finish and Most Original Arrangement to Jose Galuan for “Tilingolingo”. Like Boy Nite Out, this group from Mexico has impressive professional credentials with a tour history bringing Disney’s “It’s a Small World” travelogue to mind. This ensemble had some of the purest voices of the evening, as well as the most distinctive staccato–unbelievably distinct and fast! Their arranging and choreography proved charmingly that humor is a language all its own.  

The first performers of the evening were The Acafellas, a solid men’s group with a lovely tenor lead, boasting a 342 combined singing years of experience (quite the opposite extreme to Love Notes).  Attending last years Sweeps encouraged them to enter this year and the audience seemed to enjoy both their upbeat arrangements of “Blue Moon” and “Java Jive” in addition to the soulful and sonorous ballad of “A Red, Red Rose”.

Vocalicious followed and perhaps because the audience was told to hold applause till the end b/c they had so much music to get through in 10 minutes (5 songs compared to the usual 3 or 4), I think we were stymied from engaging more with this group. Singer/audience energy exchange is a key component of successful performance and that was rather nipped in the bud. Also this group chose a rather cumbersome dialogue skit to introduce their numbers and it distracted from the actual music. One strength that shined through was their effective use of the notes of silence. All in all, a group with potential that needs to gain a little confidence and sort out its performance strategy.

One of my personal favorites who unfortunately didn’t come away with an award was PDQ, a barbershop quartet of stolid ladies from right here in the bay area. Their smiling, confident style  made very clear the truth of their statement that singing is what they love to do. Thoroughly entertaining, excellent harmonizing and a seamless meshing of voices characterized this mature yet playful group.

A notable mention should go to the San Andreas Singers for taking Tchaikovsky and turning the Nutcracker’s “Waltz of Flowers” into an a cappella comedy skit.  They introduced it as one of their “favorite Russian jazz standards” and despite the balletic antics and strewn petals, this underground Palo Alto group’s strong musical talent still shone through and that’s not always the case when groups vie for the entertainment factor.

I wonder over the years how many of the winners of the competition were the last group to perform?  But then again, perhaps the organizer knew to save the best for last.  Boyz Nite Out quipped they’ve renamed themselves after 15 years in the industry to something like “Middle-aged Men when the Wives let us go to Lunch Dot Com”.  There’s no doubt this is a successful sophisticated group, strong on all counts and the audience adored them. Their classic rock and R&B (James Brown, Temptations, & 3 Dog Night) music choices probably sync’d perfectly with the generation/vintage of most of the audience members.  A few cartwheels and flying splits proved that they may be older but they’ve still got the moves.

I look forward to hearing them again in two months as they compete against all the other Regional winners at the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival National Finals to be held Saturday, May 15, 2010 at the Marin Veterans Auditorium in San Rafael, CA.

Karin Raab

Saturday night the 26th annual Bay Area Harmony Sweepstakes competition took place before a packed house at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

Mistress of Ceremonies Angie Doctor, who wore a sparkling gold gown and scarf, introduced last year's Sweepstakes National Champions the "Love Notes," who looked terrific in matching black and white outfits, but sounded even better, belting and cooing a stunning rendition of "Come Fly With Me."  Members of the group would appear at the podium throughout the evening, to introduce the competitors.  Following the competition, and while the judges were deliberating, the "Love Notes"  delivered a knockout  performance of "Bill Bailey," an especially tender and moving "My Foolish Heart," and, finally, stepping out of their jazz-standards-barbershop comfort zone and into black leather jackets, gave us the Queen hit "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The first competitive group to appear was "The Acafellas," a male octet from Mendocino, all dressed in black, with identical blue ties.  They kicked things off with a cover of the Marcels' '60's hit "Blue Moon," complete with its "bomp-a-bomp" bass line, followed by a languid "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose," and an appropriately jittery "Java Jive."

"Vocalicious," a mixed quintet, came next, making the most of their ten minute time allotment, with six selections, all jazz standards, ranging from "I Get a Kick Out of You" to "Blue Skies."

Next, "PDQ," a female quartet dressed in black, white and green paisley, offered tight and energetic renditions of "You Turned the Tables on Me," "Sir Duke," and the amusing "The Potato Song."  (This was my favorite group, and I'm surprised they didn't take home a trophy.)

A young mixed sextet, "Radio Silence," was next, covering a broad range of material with high energy arrangements and strong vocal percussion.  Especially affecting was their dark and dramatic closing number, especially daring in such a generally "feel good" setting,  "Leave Me Alone."  (The judges' Second Place Award went to this group.)

Next came another mixed sextet, this one from Mexico, "Voz en Punta," in gorgeous, colorful ethnic costumes, presenting complex, animated and engaging songs, in Spanish.  Each voice was lovely, and, combined, their performance was, you could say, "con caracter."  By their changing expressions and gestures, I could tell these songs told stories, but I regret that my poor Spanish proficiency prevented me from appreciating them fully.  (The judges' however, did appreciate their professional flair, and awarded the group Third Prize.)

"Brass Farthing" followed, a male octet sporting a motley assortment of Irish and English costuming, and serving up a hearty variety of comical drinking songs.  For their finale, the audience was treated to a eulogy to a dog.

"Fwee," a Canadian Christian foursome, was, sadly, one of the weaker entrants, presenting, rather anemically, some forgettable material, and by virtue of a bit of impromptu banter about the recent Winter Olympics, won the distinction of being the only group to exceed its ten minute time allotment.  But we forgive them.

Next, "The San Andreas Singers", another of the evening's lesser lights, comported themselves with gusto, bravely battling through some difficulties with intonation.  Their song "Rubber Duckie" was entertaining, as well.

Finally, "Boyz Nite Out," a young but seasoned quintet, capped the evening, first with a robust medley of "Proud Mary" and "I Feel Good," (the audience happily accepting an invitation to clap hands and sing along) and an equally spirited "Joy to the World" (not the Christmas hymn, but the one that starts with "Jeremiah was a bullfrog").  The judged were thrilled, and the Boyz walked off with the First Place trophy.  The audience responded favorably as well, and gave the group the Audience Favorite prize.  (I think the little chubby guy's cartwheel did the trick.)

I'm glad I attended this show.  It made me happy.  My feeling of elation has abated somewhat during my drive home, but just after the show, in the parking lot, I gave some serious thought to doing a cartwheel of my own.  No, really.

Tom McIntyre
Santa Rosa

"Boyz Nite Out" was entertaining from the first note, capturing attention, showing variety and skill, and winning both 1st prize and Audience Favorite. Their tunes were well-worn favorites, but they owned the songs and brought the audience with them, so it almost didn't matter what they sang. Two tricks worth noting:  they opened with just one man walking out first, laying down the bass for the entrance of the other 4, and ended their last tune asking the audience to stand up and participate--almost a free standing ovation :-)

"Brass Farthing" presented several amusing ye-olde tunes, in ye-olde costumes, sung by a large all-man crew. I loved the hilarious gestures by one of their soloists in the song about a trustworthy, fox-hunting dog.

"Fwee" had great blend of 4 mixed voices singing sacred tunes. They were the only group to go overtime, probably due to an elongated speech wherein a young Canadian realized, mid-speech, that San Francisco may not yield the same response to Canadian gold Olympic medals and Christian devotion as a home venue. Note to self: if the talking doesn't go as planned, get back to singing sooner rather than later.

"PDQ" was really tight and skillful singing beauty-shop tunes. They didn't get an award but they must have been on the short list because their chords rang the house.  Their adaption called "Potato" was hilarious.

"Radio Silence" sang 3 rocking, LOUD numbers, for which they garnered 2nd place. I loved their "this century" musical choices and Jon Pilat's awesome vocal percussion/bass.

"San Andreas Singers" made me proud of USGS for more than its advice to bolt foundations. Nice harmony and costumes.

"The Acafellas" sang some hearty old-school harmony tunes. Their introduction about "cumulative age" and occupations was charming.

Vocalicious did several enjoyable jazz tunes with a walking bass line. Of note, they asked for no applause between songs. That allowed them to setup the tunes as part of an ongoing dialog, but from my point of view in the audience, it reduced the feeling of connectedness via the feedback of applause.

Voz en Punto won both 3rd place and Best Arrangement for adaptations of Mexican tunes. They dramatized several sections in ways that bridged any language barrier, and sang amazingly fast in parts of their last tune.

Finally, "The Love Notes" hosted and did the same tight harmonies in the same tunes that got them 1st place last year, including their wonderful arrangement of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Larry Hamel

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