On Saturday, country music’s number one a cappella group, Home Free, sang to a sold-out crowd at The Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts at Ocean County College in Toms River.
As 2013 winners of NBC television’s “The Sing-Off,” this five-piece vocal group has performed previously in New Jersey in Atlantic City and Red Bank, but this was their first performance in Toms River, a stop on a world tour promoting their latest Columbia Records CD, Country Evolution.
People of all ages traveled from other states such as New York, Connecticut and even Florida to see this concert, a tribute to the loyalty of their fans and the talent of these young men.
When asked about their Jersey fan base, high tenor Austin Brown, from Georgia, smiled and revealed that New Jersey has a special place in the boys’ hearts since his girlfriend comes from the Garden State (and she even brought 15 friends with her to this performance). “We love the Jersey accent,” he explained.
Added Home Free’s tenor, Rob Lindquist, a native of Minnesota,“We started fist-pumping as soon as we got over the state line.”
Home Free creates not only country music, but theater with only stools and microphones and five incredible voices. Many of their songs start with a simple vocal and build in texture and harmony as voices join in — each just as important as the next — whether that voice sings melody or harmony … bass, tenor or baritone … or beatbox.
Each voice transforms the song, creating pure ear candy for the audience to wave their arms along to, creating an irresistible “feel-good’ groove — on classic country tunes such as Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” as well as newer fare like Andy Grammar’s “Honey, I’m Good” and Keith Urban’s “Little Bit of Everything.” Home Free’s musical director and founder, baritone Chris Rupp, even invited the audience to sing along with the band on two songs, splitting the audience into two groups — one singing the Old Crow Medicine Show hit “Wagon Wheel” and the other Alabama’s “Song of the South”— thus encouraging an impromptu singing competition a la “The Sing Off.”
And even though no one could possibly hit bass singer Tim Faust’s modulating and undulating bass notes on the Oak Ridge Boys’ classic, “Elvira,” they still “Oom Poppa Mow Mow”-ed on request with infectious delight.
Home Free’s fans have various reasons for liking the group. Some are intrigued by the notion that all of the band’s sounds are created by the members’ voices alone and, as a result, they want to be a part of the live experience the band presents. Eight-year-old Angelica from East Windsor, for example, loves how the boys “make so many different noises” with their voices.
But just how do they do it?
When asked, answers vary from “Practice — even if it annoys those around you” to “Don’t be afraid to experiment” to the ever-popular “Lots of spit!”
Home Free also attracts a multitude of fans who may not normally listen to country music. For instance, 21-year-old Robin, from North Jersey, and her friend, Francesca, from New York, are alternative rock fans who made the leap to a cappella country music.
Explains Robin: “Home Free can take a song — whether it’s an original or a cover — and make it fun and catchy and make it into something you want to listen to by always adding something new.”
Fans also enjoy the affable nature of the group’s members — for example, the easy-going and friendly manner of tenor Rob Lindquist, known for having “the voice of an angel and the beard of a man.”
Whether Rob and his buddies were hamming it up on funny songs like “Baby Got Back,” unabashedly hawking actual Lego versions of themselves to the younger members of the audience, or comically mirror-dancing with one another, the members of Home Free captivated the audience with their snappy chatter, raw talent and intricate vocal arrangements on both well-known classics and original compositions such as “Don’t It Feel Good” and the uber-popular, “Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget.”
And in the middle of an evening full of superlative performances, beat boxer Adam Rupp — affectionately referred to by his fellow band members as a “freak of nature” — transformed himself from a singer and vocal percussionist into a human drum machine.
The crowd was mesmerized as Adam sat alone, center stage, on a stool, air-drumming, while creating realistic sounds of snares, tom-toms, bass drums, DJ turntables, cymbals, hi hats and more with nothing other than a microphone. His hands synchronized to the sound of his voice as he truly became a human drum set — visually and aurally — with lights pulsating to add to the effect.
Another highlight of the evening came when they performed, stepping, swaying, and kicking, a knock-your-socks off medley of hits including Ed Sheehan’s infectious “Thinking Out Loud” and Marvin Gaye’s classic Motown smash, “Let’s Get it On.”
Concluding with unique versions of Lee Greenwood’s country anthem, “God Bless the USA,” and Johnny Cash’s classic, “Ring of Fire,” the members of Home Free clearly proved themselves to be a main force in today’s Country Evolution.
For info on Country Evolution, as well as concert dates and more, go to homefreemusic.com. For information on future events at The Grunin Center — including a performance by New Orleans singer Aaron Neville on March 18 — go to grunincenter.org.