Straight No Chaser in Concert
Last night I met up with some friends for dinner and a concert. Invited by my darling friend, Isabel from Alphamom, my husband and I made our way to Haru, a wonderful sushi restaurant with various locations in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Over drinks and fabulous sushi, we talked about the group we were just about to see. I had never heard them, or seen them in concert. However, my husband had told me how he was told that they were an amazing, talented a capella group.
After dinner we headed out to the Nokia Theater in Times Square, and were sat waiting. The stage was very simply set. 10 stools, with a towel and a bottle of water each.
Then the young men of Straight No Chaser came on and from the second they greeted the audience we were entertained. The harmony among them is flawless, the songs were old favorites with an unique twist, as well as some originals sprinkled in between. But the chemistry between them is also wonderful. So much so that it was like watching a group of brothers hanging out, having fun. Right away you like them, you can’t help but like them. They are attractive, talented, funny, relatable.
And to know the story behind Straight No Chaser is to understand this chemistry, this brotherhood which so wonderfully compliments the voices and melodies we enjoy from seeing them on stage.
Their story is as follows:
In the fall of 1996, Indiana University student Dan Ponce hand-picked ten friends to create the campus’s first a cappella group. Ponce chose the members not only for their outstanding voices, but for their personalities. Purposefully avoiding the stereotype of the traditional college a cappella group, they treated themselves more like a local band that just happened to use their voices as their instruments.
The formula worked: it wasn’t long before they were headlining concerts, and within two years, they were touring nationally. In 1999, with college graduation looming, the members of Straight No Chaser chose their replacements – putting a plan in place to ensure that the new tradition they had created would continue on with successive generations of IU undergrads. Then, in April 2006, Indiana University decided to host a reunion concert for the original members. In honor of the event, original group member Randy Stine posted clips from one of their 1998 concerts on YouTube to share with the other founding members. Suddenly, concert footage that was nearly a decade old was available to be seen by millions of people worldwide… and see it they did, in mind-blowing numbers. With no promotion, Straight No Chaser’s version of “The 12 Days Of Christmas” (interpolating Toto’s “Africa”) received more than seven million views in December of 2007 alone, becoming the hottest viral video of the season.
The 12 Days of Christmas Original from 1998
In a turn of events that the spiritually inclined might describe as a “higher power” moment, Atlantic Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman happened to be among those millions of viewers. “It was completely random and totally unexpected,” says Kallman. “I was surfing YouTube to check out what was new, when I saw this brilliant, fresh, and totally compelling performance. And then I saw how many hits they were getting, and I had something of an epiphany. So I emailed Randy right away.” Randy, not surprisingly, thought it was some kind of prank. “The head of Atlantic Records emailing me at 8 a.m. New Year’s Day and saying he was interested in our group? I thought, ‘yeah, right.’” Fortunately, Randy decided to check it out anyway, and he and Dan soon found themselves having dinner with Craig in L.A. Within a few days, the entire group flew to Atlantic’s offices in New York, and a deal was in the works.
In the years since they graduated from college, the original members of Straight No Chaser had embarked on a variety of life paths – some pursuing professional careers in music and theatre, some going into other fields entirely. But suddenly presented with the unforeseen opportunity to come back together, make their major label debut, and take their music to a new level, they all agreed to seize the head-spinning moment.
The birth of Straight No Chaser’s second life is a story of talent, drive, and some very good luck indeed. It’s cause for celebration… but please don’t strike up the band.-Atlantic Records
Fueled by Straight No Chaser’s appearances on the Today show, ABC World News Tonight, and CNN Headline News, among others, Holiday Spirits, their first Christmas album, spent 14 days in the #1 slot on Amazon, and 5 days in the top spot overall on iTunes. The group’s now famous version of The 12 Days Of Christmas peaked in the top 10 on the Christmas radio chart and reached the top 15 at Hot AC. On their first-ever headline tour in December 2008, Straight No Chaser sold out shows across the country.
“Back in college, we started this group just for fun – no one ever thought of it as a possible career path,” says Randy Stine. “It was hard to comprehend that ten years after our last performance, we were back together recording for a major label, with an album that reached number one on iTunes, heading out on an international tour. Along with all the fun is a lot of work, but it’s a complete labor of love, and one that we never dreamed possible.”
In the year since the release of Holiday Spirits, the lives of Straight No Chaser’s members have been transformed. In the wake of the album’s success, the members of the group who had been holding down full-time jobs were able to leave their day gigs to pursue SNC full-time. “Whereas before we were essentially juggling two careers, now we get to put all of our heart and energy into Straight No Chaser,” says Dan Ponce.
For the 2009 holiday season, they have released a new album titled Christmas Cheers, some of which I got to enjoy last night.
What I enjoyed the most from SNC is that they go beyond what we would think an a cappella group would do. With their renditions of modern favorites like Rehab (Amy Winehouse) to classics like Lean on Me, SNC was able to carry their own beautifully. I absolutely loved their Sitcom Medley (OMG, had me laughing to no end) and, yes, even hubby loved the show. We were both elated when we walked out, because the show was really that good.
Straight No Chaser continues to be on the road for a full 50-city cross-country tour, by far their biggest trek to date. In addition, the group has already been hard at work on a new pop album for 2010. Their goal remains the same as it was back in their college days. As Randy says, “We want the audience to not miss the instruments, be surprised by what we’re doing, and in the end, appreciate the songs in a whole new way.”
Many of their Winter tour dates have sold out (check to make sure you still have a chance for seats), but they have already listed their Spring tour dates. Check their website for more info and to purchase tickets.
Check them out in concert, or on iTunes or at a music retailer near you for their latest album. It truly is an awesome gift, either for yourself or someone you really, really like…A LOT.
Straight No Chaser are:
Ryan Ahlwardt, Walter Chase, Jerome Collins,Seggie Isho, Michael Luginbill, Charlie Mechling, Dan Ponce, David Roberts, Randy Stine, and Tyler Trepp
Thank you to Atlantic Records and Isabel for an awesome, fun-filled night!