HomeA Day in the Life of a Harmony Sweeps Contestant

Jeeves's picture

I was lucky enough this year to be in a group competing in the Harmony Sweepstakes. The Mid-Atlantic region - where my group (Tonic and Gin) competed - has been a melting pot of some of the best a cappella groups around the world, not just the U.S. Groups like Cartoon Johnny call this region home, and groups like Vocaldente, who won it all last year, have come to Alexandria, Virginia for a chance at the prize. However, for many people, little is known about what goes on behind the scenes of the contest. I was quite new to this myself. So I thought it’d be interesting to follow me as I go through my day preparing, competing, and celebrating The Harmony Sweepstakes. This article is dedicated to Janet – Thanks for the shout-outs!

10:30am: Alarm goes off and I roll out of bed. Call is at 2pm, but I like to eat a good breakfast before shows as well as focus on the task ahead and warm my vocals. The first thing in my head when I get out of bed is my solo that I’ll be singing tonight. Breakfast is a fried egg sandwich (three eggs), with salt, pepper, and Old Bay, with a glass of OJ.

11:45am: I realize that the shirt I was going to wear tonight is still in the washing machine. I pull it out, and throw it in the dryer and pray that it’ll be done in time for me to leave. It does get dry.

12:30pm: From where I live, it takes me about an hour to get to Alexandria. To make sure I get there on time, I leave a good 30 minutes early and stop at the local BP gas station for two bottles of revive Vitamin Water.

12:45pm: I return home because I forgot to grab the address of the competition, and my GPS apparently doesn’t know where “The Birchmere” is.

1:00pm: Finally leave for Alexandria – so much for being early.

1:45pm: I should be about 5 or 10 minutes away from The Birchmere. Unfortunately, my GPS dumped me right in the middle of Cherry Blossom Festival traffic. I forgot that was going on today in D.C. as well.

2:00pm: I’ve received a couple of calls from my group members and have informed them of my situation. They say they can’t pick a number for the line-up until all the members are present – i.e. I’m holding things up. I say that I should be there in about 15 minutes.

2:30pm: I arrive at The Birchmere. Ted, the gentlemen running the gig, is discussing how the night will run with the six groups present (including mine). When it comes time to pick numbers for the line-up, he calls groups up alphabetically – we’re last on the list. We go up together with a group before us and choose a number at the same time. We’ll be third out of six.

3:00pm: My group and I find a spot in the building to warm up and run through our set. Everyone is in good spirits and our sound is really good. Don’t know if that’s because of the strange acoustics of the room or what. I’m feeling good about tonight.

3:30pm: After warming up, and running our set, we go back in to the main room for our sound check. We sit and listen to the group before us to see how the sound works in the room.

3:45pm: We are allowed 12 minutes for our sound check. Best practice for a sound check is to make as much use of it as you can – if you have 12 minutes, use all twelve even if you think you’re ready. Sound check was strange – we had six monitors set up for a stage about 18 or 20 feet left to right. We’re using wireless microphones, which is nice. When we started sound check, there was no bass in the monitors – sound engineer said he couldn’t change the mix of the monitors, which I could understand since two groups had practiced on those monitors before us. But they were female barbershop quartets probably not using that bass mic. The mix in the monitors made things very hard to hear. We ran through our set as best we could. Things sounded fine in spite of the monitors.

4:00pm: We met back in our warm-up spot to discuss the sound check and to run through our set again. We know this is going to be hard, but we’re adamant and are sounding better with each run of our set.

4:15pm: My group and I head down the street to a local café called Caboose Café. They have really good sandwiches.

4:45pm: Back to the Birchmere to hang out before the show. Doors open at 6:00, so we have a lot of time. I spend some time getting to know the other groups. One of my favorite things about gigs like this is meeting other groups and finding out who they are. It’s interesting how many different kinds of people are in these groups. I even met up with someone who coached my barbershop quartet back in high school about 7 or 8 years ago.

6:00pm: Doors open and people are pouring into the Birchmere. My group and I go back out and warm up and sing through our set again. Best we’ve sounded all night. Groups begin to change into their outfits and prepare a little for the show.

7:30pm: Show starts. Ted introduces last year’s winners, Vocaldente, who perform five songs before the show starts. They will also be MCing the night, so they introduce their theme for the night – German Education. Every intro will be a “lesson” in German history, social studies, or something that will end up leading into the next group. These guys are really funny.

8:00pm: First group goes on – Female barbershop quartet. You wouldn’t believe their sound. They’ve been singing all day long and their voices haven’t tired. They are going to be the ones to beat tonight.

8:15pm: Second group. We’re on deck. We go and quietly run through our set at the on deck circle. We sound really good. I’m excited to get out there. It’s been a long day of waiting.

8:30pm: Our time to shine. We go on stage, grab our mics, and begin our set.

8:40pm: We get off stage, very disappointed in our sound. Not sure what happened – all night we were rocking it, and it just fell apart. It’s amazing, those things that you prepare for months for and it’s all over in 10 minutes – Weddings, concerts, competitions like this. No matter how much prep you do, it all comes down to those last 10 minutes.

8:45pm: Next group goes on stage, while we join some of the other groups at the in house bar. There are closed-circuit televisions to watch the other groups, but I don’t think we feel like watching. Our minds are on our set and will be for a while.

At some point, I’m joined by a lady named Janet. Very sweet lady, she spilled her glass of wine and came back to the bar for a new one. We talked for a little bit. She was telling me that she couldn’t believe the talent it takes to get up on stage and sing a cappella like these groups do. She said she really liked our last song and said I should try out for American Idol – went on to tell me how she met someone from American Idol on a plane to Las Vegas once. Anyway, Janet, thanks for lifting my spirits and helping to remind me that this isn’t the end all, be all of what we do. There is so much more left.

During intermission, we hung out and talked with the other groups about nothing in particular. It seemed that no one really wanted to talk about the show; we all had done everything we could. There was nothing else to do but wait for the results.

The rest of the night is really what you would expect. Vocaldente came back out and did the rest of their set. Ted came out afterwards and invited everyone who competed back up for one last hurrah. Best Arrangement was awarded. Audience Favorite was awarded, and of course, first, second, and third place winners.

All in all it was a fantastic night. I had a great time meeting all the other groups and performing, of course. And at the afterglow, I have to thank the girls from Lustre for letting me sing a tag or two with them! Congratulations to the ladies of MaXXFactor for winning and good luck at Nationals.

I hope this gives you a better idea of what happens at Sweeps, behind the scenes. We’re all really one big family. There are no harsh feelings towards anyone. Actually quite the contrary – the camaraderie between groups is energizing and sure helps relieve nerves. I can’t wait for next year.