HomeConcert Review: 2009 Chicago Regional Harmony Sweepstakes - March 21st, 2009

vocalchaos_jeff's picture

I'll offer my perspective on the Chicago sweeps, held just this past Saturday 3/21. I admit I did not take notes on exactly what songs were sung, but this should provide a good review of the fun night. And I'm pretty sure the order of groups is correct, but again I might be wrong. So please forgive me in advance.

The anticipation of the 2009 Chicago Regional Harmony Sweepstakes was high, with several groups new to the lineup:

1st Half
No Strings Attached - Vocal Jazz - Collegiate (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)
Three Men & A Melody - Barbershop - K.C.
Up 'Til 2 - Contemporary - Minn-St. Paul
Chi-Town Sound - Barbershop - Chicago

2nd Half
Shircago - Jewish Contemporary - Chicago
More For Your Money - Contemporary - Chicago
Stripped - Contemporary - Chicago

NSA came out strong with bold and cohesive outfits, confident stage presence and great sound. Coming from a long-standing tradition at UIUC, this group of 8 showed the audience they had the chops and that they were in it to win it. Often times, the opening group has the daunting task of setting the tone for the rest of the show and for making or breaking chances at placing and winning an award. I must say that although they did not place or win an award, they succeeded in starting things off right. No Strings Attached performed very solid arrangements including one from the Real Group ("Thousand Things") and a self-penned arrangement of the song "If I Didn't Have You" from the Disney/Pixar movie "Monsters Inc." The clean solo, the dynamics of the backing trumpet vocals, they simple finger snaps and well-formed stage movement were all spot-on. The antics of the latter proved to entertain the audience and show everyone NSA is serious about what they do. All around a very solid, impressive and fun showing from this collegiate group.

From jazz we go to barbershop. Or is it? 3 Men and a Tenor...I mean, Melody, hail from just outside of one of this country's BBQ capitals: Kansas City. Well the 4 guys entered from stage right donning bright red suits quickly huddling around 2 area mics. (No worries about spilling ketchup on these clothes!) What an entrance! And what a performance! Immediately we understand that 3M&M is a group of very polished singers. They have probably the best use of area mics that I have seen. The high tenor backing up when he wails and closing in when he's a bit softer, and all of the voices rotate positions throughout to match the song's feel and the mic sweet spots. Not novel ideas, but execution was brilliant IMHO. I don't recall the exact songs they sung, but I seem to remember that they had a mix of bshop and contemporary. They showed the audience that despite being newcomers to Harmony Sweeps, they were not afraid to bring there "A" game. That confidence and talent brought them a 1st place finish and a trip to the Sweeps Finals in May.

Up 'Til 2 is up next. They are a 7-man contemporary vocal band from the Twin Cities. The thing about contemporary groups is that often you'll find sometimes they have a good sound but they lack performance ability, and sometimes its the other way around. Ut2 boasts rockin' vocals from each of the 6 singers and solid percussion from their VP. They used the stage well, threw in some comedic dancing/antics and featured an incredible booming bass, a couple of soaring tenors and tremendously full backing vocals. This group did not stand down once. Their dedicated VP rounded out the rhythm section and impressed the judges enough to garner the Best Outstanding VP award for the night. I can definitely see Ut2 making a return to Chicago, whether that's for Sweeps or another event. These guys staked their claim in the 2009 Sweeps with a 3rd place finish and the cherished Audience Favorite award. Congrats to you Buegs and the rest of the guys!

Chi-Town Sound is a female quartet with a knack for harmony with solid vocals all around. I do not recall the exact songs they performed but do know they had a very tight sound and had great stage presence. They showed that Chicago knows harmony!

Shircago has appeared at the Chicago Sweeps a few times before. They are definitely one of the most unique groups in the Chicago area. They performed "Movin On Up", "Walk Like An Egyptian" (each with alternate parody lyrics) and a Jewish song whose title escapes me at the moment. All songs were well-arranged and had solid solists. The famous Bangles tune was well-received by the audience.

More For Your Money presented 4 guys with loads of vocal chops and arranging skills. First off the vocal percussionist, Sean P. Gorecki, is well known in the Chicago area through his appearances with Vocal Chaos, InVox, Underground Sound, Six Figures and other vocal bands. He impressed the audience with his crisp and precise VP and particularly the VP/bass combination skills he demonstrated on one number (I don't recall the title...where's my brain today?). Second, C. Alex Juarez received the Best Arrangement award for his take on "Kryptonite" by 3 Doors Down. All vocalists were strong in their own right and certainly deserve attention. This was MFYM's first appearance at Sweeps.

Stripped is one of those groups who can do virtually anything. They can do jazz, contemporary, classical and anything in between. Their singers are talented in a variety of music and vocal styles and this group doesn't just sing, but they write and arrange too! In fact, Mariama Czarnowski won Best Original Song for "It's Time" -- a memorable song about a mother and daughter. Stripped won 2nd place and has appeared at the Chicago Sweeps in the past.

We can't forget about 5One. They're the group that came outta nowhere last year and took 1st place in Chicago and 4th place at Nationals. They proved a good group never dies. Apparently they have been shuffling around with graduations and relocations, but came together to host Saturday's show. They performed several Rockapella tunes, very well I might add, and threw in their own interpretations of The Beatles' "Paperback Writer" and several other favorites. They tried to impress the audience with a series of a cappella jokes. Some worked and others didn't ;) but it was a very fun time. Their Vocal Percussionist did a cool demonstration of his skills and even got the audience involved as well.

Andrew Blendermann always does a wonderful job of producing this show and makes sure the groups are top quality. Kudos to him and his team for always giving the audience a fun, enjoyable evening of a cappella music, and bringing attention to groups that might not otherwise get the opportunity to perform in the Chicago area.

Jeff Swearingen
PR Director, Vocal Chaos
Co-Producer, AcappellaFest