by Britt Aamodt
Simon and Garfunkel learned to harmonize their voices as children growing up in New York.
With Lennon and McCartney, it was the same thing. McCartney went to see this kid John Lennon play with the Quarrymen. After the performance, McCartney shambled over to Lennon and dashed off some riffs on the guitar. Whaddya think of that, sonny boy?
Lennon liked what he heard and the two spent the decade of the 1950s bending over Buddy Holly records, listening to the Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley, trying to figure out the mechanics of rock ‘n’ roll — and harmony.
A peculiar magic occurs when singers meet at a young age and are able to mature together as vocalists. It’s like their musical DNA intertwines, and where before there were individuals, now there is a band with a sound all its own.
That magic applies to Mankato-based a cappella group Home Free Vocal Band, performing at Zabee Theater, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 5.
Three of the band’s members, Matt Atwood, Adam Rupp and Chris Rupp, met in fourth grade. The Rupp family was musical. Adam and Chris’s mother was a professional pianist.
So it made perfect sense that the three rowdy kids would pile around the piano occasionally to sound out cool songs on the radio, plunk random chords and sing.
They did a lot of singing, which led them to colleges with music and theater (in Atwood’s case) programs, and after college back into each other’s company. It was time to take this singing thing to the professional level.
They formed Home Free Vocal Band, an a cappella group, meaning no accompaniment, no instruments, just pure voice. But don’t picture five men in striped shirts and straw boaters harmonizing on “Sweet Adeline.”
“People expect us to be another barbershop group,” says Atwood. “We couldn’t be further from it. We manipulate our voices to not just sing four-part harmony but to mimic a band. We harmonize but more like a guitar or bass harmonizing with a voice.”
Atwood and Rob Lundquist sing tenor. Chris Rupp takes baritone and Tim Foust bass. Then there’s Adam Rupp who provides vocal percussion. Essentially, he’s a human drum machine. He even gets his own drum solo.
When Home Free started out, an agent advised the group to pick a target audience and narrow their material to that audience. If they wanted to attract boomers, they should sing oldies. If they wanted to cultivate teens, they should stay current with Top 40 hits.
“But we wanted to appeal to everybody. Our agent hated the idea. But we thought we could do it,” says Atwood.
The bet paid off, because, says Atwood, “we have people who drive hundreds of miles to come to our concerts.” And they’re still drawing crowds after nearly 12 years together.
Home Free Vocal Band chooses songs that resonate with their all-ages audiences. They’ve been known to sing Disney (“When You Wish Upon a Star”), popular standards (“Blue Moon”), country (“God Bless the USA”) and R&B and rock (“I Feel Good”, “Stand By Me” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”).
They even trot out the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel.
They’ve also been known to clown around on stage. Actually, the hijinks are part of the act. Atwood and fellow band members script gags and jokes, and slot them into the between-song patter.
Lundquist only joined the group four years ago, but Atwood says he’s like a brother already, like someone he’s known his whole life.
The band’s chemistry comes in handy when combining voices on a song, and when script gives way to off-the-cuff stage banter.
“Sometimes Rob will give me a look and I know that means he wants me to take lead on the next song. Or I’ll set up a joke and Rob will come back with a line that makes the joke explode,” says Atwood. “We blend well because we know each other’s voices and personalities. These little things help make the show.”
If you go:
The Elk River Area Arts Alliance presents: Home Free, an a cappella vocal band, performance
When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 5
Where: Elk River’s Zabee Theater
Tickets:: $16/adults, $14 for seniors, and $10 for students
Vocal Workshop with Home Free
Home Free will be offering a vocal workshop from 4 – 4:45 p.m. the day of the performance at Zabee Theater. Band members will work with participants on proper technique and vocal health. This workshop is open to anyone, ages 5 and up.