Most people are likely to associate a cappella singing with an old-fashioned barbershop quartet, but the concluding event at this year's Columbia Festival of the Arts uses unaccompanied voices in a different way.
Billed as the first professional country a cappella band, Home Free performs on Saturday, June 28, at 8 p.m., at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake.
The group has been bringing its country sound to much of the country for a long time. If they've been getting a lot of public attention in recent months, it's because Home Free was the winner of the fourth season finale of the NBC program "The "Sing-Off" last December.
For that nationally televised program, Home Free sang an arrangement of Hunter Hayes' "I Want Crazy." Among the advantages of winning was a $100,000 cash prize, and also a Sony recording contract. This year the group released an album titled "Crazy Life."
Musical groups are constantly looking for a sound that will set them apart, and clearly the a cappella country tunes have worked for this award-winning group.
"In the a cappella world, there are a lot of styles represented — jazz, barbershop, doo-wop, pop — and there are some fantastic names out there performing, but as we looked around we realized there was no one there specializing in the country genre," said baritone Chris Rupp, who is one of the five members of Home Free.
The other members of the group are tenors Austin Brown and Rob Lundquist, bass Tim Foust and vocal percussionist Adam Rupp. All have formal musical training on various instruments.
Although the members of Home Free only use their voices, they often emulate instrumental sounds with those voices. That's why Chris Rupp does not use the term a cappella to describe the group, but instead observed that "a country vocal group is a better way to describe us. Since we're imitating the full band sound using just the five voices, it's a more apt association."
These five voices have had years to refine their sound. The group formed in Mankato, Minn., in 2000, while some of the members were still in their teens.
Having studied the barbershop quartet tradition along with their other musical studies, Home Free more or less fit within that tradition in its early years. However, the group's sound gradually changed and so the country music designation increasingly applied to it.
"We had some country songs in our rep to begin with, since we have some strong country roots in the group already, and so it was an easy transition," Chris Rupp said of the group's musical evolution.
Home Free's singular status within the realm of a cappella music prompted him to add: "We're now defining the genre, which is both good and bad. We don't have anyone to model after, but at the same time no one can say we're doing it wrong!"
Home Free performs Saturday, June 28, at 8 p.m., in the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. Tickets are $45-55, or $40-50 for seniors and students. For ticket info, call 1-800-955-5566 or go to http://www.tickets.com. For Columbia Festival of the Arts info, call 410-715-3044 or go to http://www.columbiafestival.org.