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Straight To Jersey

05:01 PM Wednesday 3/31/10 | |

When the members of 10-man a cappella group Straight No Chaser passed the torch to the next generation of singers at Indiana University in 1999, there’s no way they could ever have imagined they’d end up the featured attraction at an Atlantic City casino. But that’s exactly what they’ll be for eight weeks this summer.

The group’s whirlwind ride – which has taken them from a 2006 reunion concert at I.U. in West Lafayette that scored them a recording contract to three sold-out national tours and two PBS specials – will set them down July 2 at Harrah’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino for a residency that extends through August 28.

Fans will be able to catch Straight No Chaser every Wednesday through Saturday night at 8 p.m. EDT – with the exception of July 4 – as they journey through several decades of popular music in their own unique way.

While the new show, the theme of which is “Acapella Through the Ages,” was still a top-secret project, I got the chance to chat with SNC’s Dan Ponce, who founded the group and is very much its director, and Randy Stine, who often functions as Ponce’s lieutenant.

Both singers told me that the Atlantic City gig was basically a pipe dream that somehow managed to come true.

“It was something we always joked about, ‘Imagine us in Las Vegas or Atlantic City,’” Stine explained. “But eventually our manager, David Britz, actually talked to the people at Harrah’s. We had a conference call with them and it became a reality.”

Fans of the group’s CDs (including the upcoming April 13 release With a Twist) who've watched their PBS specials or even caught them live before needn’t worry they’re going to get the same show. Ponce has some big plans in mind for the new revue.

“We’ll probably do a handful of our current popular songs, but I would say a good majority of the show is going to be fresh material,” Ponce said. “Walter Chase and I are going to be working on it. We’ll focus on it once the spring tour is finished.

“We have a lot of ideas going already. We’re going to start with some of the classic doo-wop stuff. ‘In the Still of the Night’ is a song we might use. And we’ll go all the way up to the contemporary stuff. But that doesn’t mean we’ll only cover a cappella stuff.

“We’re still in the process of putting the show together, but it’s going to be more of a multimedia experience than our standard show. We may put some video clips in between decades. It’ll be a more scripted theatrical show than our concerts, where we mainly improvise. That’ll be a first for us, so were excited about that challenge. But at the end of the day, it’ll still be the same 10 guys singing great a cappella songs.”

Because things have moved so quickly for the group – their 2008 tour was limited to eight cities but their upcoming spring tour has swelled to more than 40 with second shows added in many markets – I wondered if they were a little shocked by it all.

“The biggest surprise is to see how people have embraced a cappella music around the country,” Ponce explained. “We thought most of our fans were just around Indiana, Chicago, Ohio – the Midwest. But to be selling out shows in the Pacific Northwest or the Northeast or Tucson, Arizona and Boulder, Colorado – we had no idea we had fans there.”

And don’t think for a moment that all of those fans are part of the over 50 crowd.

“You look out in the audience and you see someone who’s in their 70s sitting next to someone who’s six,” Stine said. “In some cases it’s families bringing their kids, but other times it’s the kids who got turned on to us through the PBS specials or through other kids and they’ve brought their parents.”

“After every one of our shows, we always sign albums and meet our fans,” Ponce continued. “What I love about that is the diversity in terms of age, race, gender – we have young kids, we have senior citizens, male, female. It’s so cool to see that diversity because that shows that our pretty niche genre of music is reaching a really wide audience.”

Perhaps what’s most striking – and endearing – about the members of the group is how little their rapid success and newfound fame has changed them. When I ask whether they’ve been approached by anyone to give the Straight No Chaser treatment to their music, it’s clear they’re still basically the same group of friends who bonded over a love of music in 1996.

“We haven’t been approached by anyone in particular saying ‘Hey, do my song.’ But we certainly know that a lot of major artists have heard about us,” Ponce said, prompting Stine to relate a brush with fame in Los Angeles.

“A couple of us went to the Warner Music Grammy party this year,” Stine explained. “That was a thrill for us to get to meet artists that we’d covered before, like Jason Mraz, and get to talk with them. We were kind of in shock when people knew who we were or had something positive to say about one of our albums or said they’d caught the PBS special on television.

“A couple of weeks ago, Josh Groban was tweeting about us and was talking about the PBS special. It’s a thrill to have those kinds of big-name artists even know what the name of our group is.”

So why is it that a form of music a lot of people might write off as a novelty has struck such a nerve with the American public? Simple. A group like Straight No Chaser is in a way the antidote to today’s overproduced music – there’s no place in what they do for electronic “augmentation.” They’re the anti-AutoTune.

“When you turn on the radio, so much of what you hear is so processed,” Ponce said. “With us it’s 10 guys, 10 microphones, voice only. I think there’s a need for that.”

Since both singers mentioned doing songs of the moment in the Harrah’s revue, I wondered how far they’d considered taking that.

“We might do sort of a contemporary, hip-hop, dance club song,” Ponce explained.

How about something as out there as Lady Gaga?

“Her songs are very catchy and she can actually sing,” Ponce said. “I’ve seen her on television and she does have an impressive voice … She needs to do an album with us next.”

So what do Ponce and Stine think about a version of a song like “Alejandro” featuring guest vocals by Straight No Chaser?

“Sign us up.”

Here’s the press conference earlier today at Harrah’s Atlantic City where Straight No Chaser announced their summer residency.


  1. memeisnthome wrote:

    09:47 AM, Apr 05, 2010

    Meh.  (tldr)

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