Inside D.C. entertainment

A cappella weekend: Washington hears voices!

November 10, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Area group Capital Blend performs Saturday in Silver Spring.

Vocal music has never exactly been cool, but thanks to shows like The Sing-Off and Glee it's certainly closer to the mainstream than it was when Sara Bareilles was a member of UCLA's coed a cappella group Awaken (her song "Gravity" appeared on one of their albums long before she added instruments to it on her 2007 album Little Voice). Washington’s never been a mainstream town, though, and there are always lots of a cappella groups performing around the area. This weekend features some of the best national vocal acts as well as some notable locals.

Rockapella and UMD Faux Paz

Thursday, Nov. 10, at Strathmore, $22-88

Arguably, Rockapella is where it all began -- or, at least, where a cappella first entered the mainstream. The group spent five years as the house band on the kids' PBS game show Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego? in the early 1990s in addition to writing the show's earworm of a theme song. With that and a memorable Folger's commercial, Rockapella's place in our audio memory was pretty much sealed. The group has had a number of lineup changes since its formation in 1987; no original members remain, but longtime (and legendary) vocal percussionist Jeff Thatcher has been in the group since 1993. Opening the show will be the University of Maryland's coed group Faux Paz

Capital Blend

Saturday, Nov. 12, at Fenton Street Market, Silver Spring, free

Since a cappella generally requires no instruments or equipment, groups can perform anywhere – like, say, an outdoor market in downtown Silver Spring. Local adult all-female group Capital Blend will be singing as you shop this Saturday around 12:30 p.m.

The Bobs

Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Barns of Wolf Trap, $22

The Bobs were nominated for a Grammy in 1984 for their arrangement of "Helter Skelter" -- what else would you expect from a quartet founded by two (they claim) ex-singing telegram workers? The Bobs take on songs that wouldn't seem like a natural choice for just four voices (they pull off a killer distorted guitar solo on a cover of Cream's "White Room") and write a ton of originals which feature their delightfully off-kilter sense of humor. The Bobs have a new member, Angie Doctor, since longtime member Amy Engelhardt is now in grad school, but this show will feature both Engelhardt and Doctor, as well as selections from He Said, She Said, an album of duets between Doctor and Bobs' Dan Bob Schumacher.

Sonos and Snowday

Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Arlington Temple United Methodist Church (1835 N Nash Street, Arlington), $10

Los Angeles vocal quintet Sonos make pedals and effects a large part of their sound — which is why fans were surprised when the group competed in this year's The Sing-Off, a competition that doesn't allow electronics (after the group was eliminated, Sonos member Christopher Given Harrison explained their decision to compete sans effects). In concert, though, their effects -- and their voices -- are outstanding, and their repertoire includes original tunes, indie faves (like Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal"), and reimagined classics (their dark, almost creepy take on the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back" is what first put them on the map). Opening this show is Snowday, a local group that was formed with a mission to bring a cappella into education. The group mostly performs private shows at local schools, so this is a rare chance for the rest of us to see them.

IN ADDITION TO THIS WEEKEND, there are a few other a cappella shows this month....

UMD Generics and UMD Treblemakers

Saturday, Nov. 19, at the University of Maryland Memorial Chapel, $7.

The Generics (Maryland’s all-male a cappella group) and Treblemakers (yes, puns are all-too prevalent in a cappella, and U.Md.'s all-female a cappella group is no exception) are teaming up for a mid-semester show up on  campus. It promises to be considerably less painful than the Terps-Wake Forest matchup.

Straight No Chaser

Sat. Nov.19, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore. $29-$49

There are two Straight No Chasers: one is a group of undergrads at Indiana University and one is a professional touring group made up of former members of the undergraduate group. It's not really as confusing as it sounds: in 2008, the president of Atlantic Records saw a video of the 1998 Straight No Chaser and invited the alums of that group to reunite to sign a multi-album record deal. The current group consists of many of the original SNC's founding members (the group formed in 1996) as well as several other alums, and while their new recorded material doesn't push many boundaries (there's a lot of straightforward holiday tunes), the group is a nice introduction to a classic a cappella sound.

Afro Blue with Howard University Jazz Ensemble

Sunday, Nov. 20, at Kennedy Center Millenium Stage, free.

Howard's jazz a cappella group Afro Blue has been killing it on this season of The Sing-Off. It seems like a shame to put instruments behind them, but this seems like a good pairing, and the Kennedy Center's web site even promises a dance floor for some swing action.

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