Hi everyone, it’s Dan, Fermata Town’s Business Manager and founder. This past weekend, I headed down to Washington, DC to check out the 2012 VoCAL Nation a cappella festival. A bunch of Townies and I had attended the BOSS a cappella festival in April and with VoCAL Nation as the next big festival put on by the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America (CASA), I decided to make the trip down to the nation’s capital to soak in some more high-quality a cappella.

Friday evening featured an amazing lineup in the Contemporary A cappella League (CAL) showcase. Hosted by local favorites Cartoon Johnny, the night was broken into two sets that saw each of the CAL groups perform 3-4 songs. The first set opened with the ladies of Empire, an all-female group out of New York City followed by Keystone, a co-ed group from Philadelphia, PA. Keystone also wrote a great recap article of the weekend which can be found here. Cognitive Resonance, a co-ed group from Raleigh, NC put on a high-energy set before our friends The Red States from NYC closed out the first set. The Red States debuted a new arrangement that opened with the oldies Mr. Sandman jingle before it transitioned into a rocking version of Metallica’s Enter Sandman. It was definitely a crowd pleaser and my favorite arrangement of the night.

The second set featured two local groups along with a pair of groups that traveled many miles to make it for the weekend. Euphonism opened things up, rocking the stage with some awesome effects, using some pedals to recreate some awesome guitar sounds. Euphonism is based right out of DC and has a few recognizable names in the a cappella community among their many talented members including Amanda Aldag (CASA Vice President) and Charlie Friday (Clear Harmony Productions). The Seekers, a co-ed group from Detroit, MI followed them up with a fun set before Clearly Vocal changed it up a bit with some swing jazz. This quintet from Tyler, TX had such tight harmony and amazing blend. They were also the best dressed of the evening in suits and ball gowns. The five singers that make up Clearly Vocal are two married couples and a bass and combined, the five have a total of 11 children! The showcase wrapped up with The Capital Hearings closing things out with some non-contemporary tunes including With a Lily in Your Hand.

It was an AWESOME event that showcased so many talented CAL groups!

Saturday was nothing short of a marathon a cappella day for me. I was up at 5:30 am to go for a run in the 2012 VoCAL Nation Jog… I was the only runner that participated but nonetheless kept the tradition alive! Footage here.

I then headed over to the Strathmore complex which was where the workshops would be held throughout the day. I made sure to attend an early-bird workshop at 8AM with Mark Hines titled Getting the Corporate Gig. I had attended Mark’s Serious Business workshop at BOSS and really took a lot away from the owner of The Vocal Company so decided to come back for more. The next workshop at 9AM was called Amazing Rehearsals with fellow New Englander Joe Antonioli of Vermont. Joe showed the group several great warm up activities as well as in-rehearsal exercises that can help keep the energy high and group focused. He ended with a really fun activity called Spotlight which was basically a form of organic arranging where one person in the group would step out and sing a solo to any song and then the rest of the group would create the back-up parts. And then at any time, someone can jump in and start a new song and the group would adjust. In five minutes, the group was able to perform portions of 15 songs. (I guess this wasn’t very good, but we had a lot of fun and were getting into it and didn’t want to cut people off!)

At 10AM, I went to a vocal percussion panel featuring four very talented vocal percussionists. Brian Watts of Cognitive Resonance, Christopher Abramson of Vox Pop, Rachel Chalhoub of The Executive Board and Selame Scarlett formerly of Capital Green led the show and went over technique and some personal styles that were very interesting and informative.

During the 11:30AM break before lunch, I performed a four-song set with an a cappella group called The PickUps. Basically this group was formed to give people from all over the place the chance to get together and sing while at the festival. It started a few festivals ago and has been very popular. I had seen The PickUps perform at BOSS and when I heard they were going to put on a set at VoCAL Nation I jumped on board.

After eating lunch with Michael Morris of Recording A cappella Review Board (RARB) and Allegra Kuney of Voices in Your Head, I went to the 1PM workshop with Barry Carl, the bass from Rockapella who is most famous for his low register line in the Carman San Diego theme. This workshop was called Performance Prep and it was very interesting to see how one can mentally get prepared for a show. Barry worked with The Executive Board and in less than 20 minutes was able to get them from sounding very good to un-freaking-believable right in front of our eyes.

At 2:30, I sat in on Matt Caruso’s Aca-Jedi Mind Tricks workshop. Caruso is the owner of ACappellaPsych and was convinced that by the end of his talk, 80% of us would have been fooled at some point during his time. I’d say it was probably closer to 100% because some of the tricks he was pulling right in front of us were amazing, and so simple. But it just goes to show that a little psychology mixed in with music can’t hurt but actually help with productivity and quality of music.

The final workshop of the day was at 4PM and I sat in on an Open Masterclass with Cartoon Johnny and Clearly Vocal. This was neat to watch two super talented groups in action.

After a few hours of down time, The PickUps performed again in the Strathmore lobby prior to the Professional Showcase featuring Afro Blue and Cluster. So as far as I’m concerned, I opened for Afro Blue and Cluster :)

The professional showcase kicked off with Vox Pop, another local CAL group that won the contest to open for the headliner. Fermata Town’s good friend Brian Brandler, formerly of Common Sound in Boston, is now singing with Vox Pop so it was very neat seeing a familiar face rock out at such a great venue. He also allowed me to crash on his air mattress all weekend so kudos to Brian on a great set and hospitality over the weekend!

Next up, a group called The Glue took the stage for three songs. Hailing from Switzerland, these guys were hilarious putting on not only a great sounding but entertaining set.

Closing out the first half of the show were favorites from Season 3 of The Sing Off, Afro Blue. They put on a 45 minutes set featuring many tunes from the TV series as well as a few other jazzy arrangements that left the audience on their feet heading into the break. After the show I got to meet them too!!

Little did everyone know that we’d be back our feet… several times… for the final act, Cluster. A five-person group from Italy, Cluster was the biggest surprise of the night. They’d had a good run on Italy’s version of The X-Factor but other than that were not very well known in the US besides a few 2010 CARA’s. This show was actually their first-ever performance in the United States but after hearing them rock out for over an hour, they better come back! Wow, talk about turning some heads. These five super-talented musicians left everyone wanting more… and more… and more. And they never disappointed because they kept coming back with new tricks. The moment where they may have won everyone’s hearts for good was during their version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It was the most heartwarming song that I’ve ever been on hand to hear and I was fortunate enough to pick this one song to actually record. Check out the clip on youtube.

Overall, VoCAL Nation 2012 was a tremendous learning experience. I hope that in the future, Fermata Town can attend a CASA festival together and maybe even one day be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to perform. One can dream ;)