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This year’s All A Cappella Live was not only a competitive gathering of a cappella groups from the greater Boston area, but also a celebration of WERS 88.9’s sixty-fifth birthday. Before any a cappella groups had yet graced the stage, the audience of Emerson College’s Cutler Majestic Theater serenaded the station with Happy Birthday wishes.
Afterward, to get the show up and rolling, three of Emerson College’s own a cappella groups–Acappellics Anonymous, Noteworthy, and Treble Makers–performed, each singing three songs before the five competitors took the stage.
Acappellics Anonymous were first up, taking the theater by storm with three perfectly choreographed tunes: “End of Time” by Beyonce, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” by Cage the Elephant, and “The Four Chord Song” by Axis of Awesome. Acappellics Anonymous has been absolutely unstoppable this past year, taking the prize for Emerson’s Organization of the Year as well as Best Choreography and Best Soloist in the North East Quarter Final Division of the International Competition of College A Cappella.
Emerson’s very first a cappella group, Noteworthy, was up next, singing “French Navy” by Camera Obscura, “Tears Dry On Their Own” by Amy Winehouse, and “3 A.M.” by Matchbox 20. Noteworthy’s president, Celia Lechtman, not only performed but also acted as one of three judges for the All A Cappella Live competition. As a judge, Lechtman stated that she is “most interested in arrangements. Musicality is particularly important to Noteworthy, so I like when groups put a new twist on a song, or do a little more than ooh’s and aah’s, [especially] if they try to make it more colorful and mimic the instruments in the song.”
With twanging, twirling, mock-instrumentation solos, Treble Makers’ opening tune, “Cowboy Take Me Away” by The Dixie Chicks, did just that. The group’s next two numbers, Peggy Hill’s “Fever,” and Beyonce’s “Best Thing I Never Had,” were absolute crowd pleasers as well. Formed as recently as the fall of 2011, Emerson’s Treble Makers were the youngest group to perform at All A Cappella Live 2014, though their boundless energy and talent would never suggest it.
After a brief intermission, Brandeis VoiceMale was the first group to comete. The set oozed retro-class the moment the eight Brandeis gentlemen took the stage in matching black suits with royal blue undershirts. They performed “Thinking ‘Bout Somthin’” by Hanson, “Winter Time” by Chris August, and a rich rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Although they were the smallest of the five competing a cappella groups, their sound was deeply resonant throughout the entire Cutler Majestic Theater. In addition to competing in various local a cappella competitions in the Massachusetts area, VoiceMale plans to release their fifth full studio album this May and travel across the country to perform at various educational institutions, charities, and private events.
The clowny and bopping Dartmouth Aires sang next, performing Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” with arguably more enthusiasm than Pharrell himself. They came clad in all sorts of colorful getups that seemed to only illuminate their energetic presence, which Music Director Max Gottschall believes is one of their most important assets. “Energy is just something we harp on constantly. We do a big warm-up right before we go on stage to get our energy up,” Gottschall explained. “We are constantly on [each other’s] backs about getting bigger. Nothing – no dance move, no smile, no attitude – is big enough… We’re always pushing ourselves to be as energetic and as big as possible.” Equally spirited “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry and Juicy J came second, complete with a fully fleshed mock-instrumental drops and rap verses. They finished their set with Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” a tune that was immediately met with audience approval. “We like to have a big connection with the audience,” Gottschall said, “When we start ‘Wrecking Ball’ and sing the first ‘we clawed, we chained,’ everybody goes ‘Yeah! I know that song!’ That’s what we’re all about. We love to have that connection with the audience.”
Last year’s house favorite, the Harvard Opportunes were up next. They performed Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man,” One Republic’s “Counting Stars,” and a beautifully meandering Beatles Medley to close. Although the judges enjoyed their genuine sound and overall attitude, they thought the solos could be a bit tighter and the arrangements could have been a bit more purposeful.
Boston University’s all female group, Terpsichore, came fourth. They took to the stage in stunning black dresses and heels, treating the audience to “Love You Love Time” by Jazmine Sullivan, and two combinations; the first featured Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” mixed with Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels” and the second combined Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” and Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing.” The Terps are known for their ability to integrate opposite genres of music, as well as their performances in hospitals, charities, and homeless shelters.
Last but certainly not least, the all-male UMass Dynamics closed the show. They played “Bottom of the River” by Delta Rae first, and finished with an incredibly inclusive medley of Daft Punk’s album Random Access Memories. In their seven years of existence they have recorded four full length a cappella albums, and plan to release another by the end of the year.
Finally, after a period of intense deliberation and voting by judges and audience members alike, the winner of WERS’ All A Cappella Live 2014 was announced to be The Dartmouth Aires. The group received the title of ‘Best in Boston,’ and earned the $850.00 cash prize. “I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do with our prize money,” admitted Aires Music Director Max Gottschall, “but we’re in the process of making an album that hopefully we’ll release by the end of this year. It’s an expensive process… we need every penny we can to see that the album gets out.”
In celebration of their win, The Dartmouth Aires performed “Up The Ladder To The Roof” by The Nylons, a legendary a cappella group from the late seventies. “This song is one that we sing at every show,” explains Gottschall. “It lets us showcase our choreography, it’s high-energy, relatively simple, an audience pleaser, and absolutely classic.”