Los Angeles A Cappella Festival: 2015

The following is a repost of a blog I wrote for The Vocal Company’s detailing my experience at LAAF 2015.

It’s been a week since #LAAF2015, and now I’m back in the Rochester snow recording with The YellowJackets. While it’s good to be home, I’m already pining for moments I left behind in the California sunshine. #LAAF2015 was one which reinforced my love of music, music’s ability to breed relationships, and how strong those relationships can become.

I love festivals – I love meeting up with people, sharing ideas, and seeing live music. All of those things remind me of why I love doing what I do. Those things enable me to do it more, and help me do it better. At the start of Friday night’s college competition I started to get that familiar itch I get; the reminder right under your liver that feels like a tongue, licking the underside of your gut as a reminder that you aren’t creating. It’s the feeling that you’re surrounded by so much talent and potential but, instead of putting the pieces together, you’re just tweeting about sequined dresses.

Luckily, for my creative itch, the first thing I got to observe on Saturday morning of LAAF was Bri Holland recording Jeff Smith and Trist Curless of M-Pact for the collaboration track (She Came To Give It To You, originally by Usher). What a way to wake up! Jon Smith left the figures pretty open for the guys to groove on… and groove they did! Not only did I gleam some insight on how they approach stacking their sound as a band, but I was overwhelmed by the musicality between both Jeff and Trist. As individuals they can make minute decisions with complex musical detail; as a combo, they can create a foundation anyone could sing over with confidence and style.

Trist specifically has made a large tangible impact with his bass singing in people I’ve recorded. 2015 has been such a strong year for vocal basses. Every group I’ve recorded has had one bass who is skilled in not only pitch and rhythm control, but also deep timbrel control, an eclectic music listening history, and an attitude of experimentation. Many of the basses I’ve worked with in the past two weeks, specifically, sited Trist and Jeff’s “Get Into the Groove: Creating a Rock-Solid Vocal Rhythm Section” and performance on Saturday night both inspiring and instructional.

Another instructor that I kept hearing about through others was Erin Hackel from UCD. Multiple men and women I worked with, in the days following her “Singing in all Styles” and “Healthy Belting” classes, commented that those ideas were already unlocking how they understood their bodies and extended their vocabularies in terms of how they communicated internally. I got to edit some of the tracks on Mix’s last album and spent a good number of hours listening to singers she’s worked with over the course of months or years. Getting to actually see her talk about singing and stand up and feel my own body with her was a treat; having people continue to tell me about the same experience while working with them has been a true joy!

Jon and Andy led a class called “Young MD’s – Creating a Successful Rehearsal Environment”. While I haven’t known Andy too long, I’ve known of Hyannis Sound for years – the group has produced work that’s definitely impacted me and influenced me to become the professional I am today. It’s always cool to not only connect with individuals and groups, but to also see your friends, coworkers, and new acquaintances do the same. We just had a TVC meeting going over details of this festival and wound up talking for an hour and a half because other members of the team had been at NE Voices and LACF also gathering tips, making friends, and having adventures, all of which we wanted to unpack for each other.

Every year, thousands of people join and leave a cappella groups. I’ve seen hundreds of people burst into tears, spent hours listening to speeches, and personally dropped mad bills on t-shirts and gifts (both practical and silly). Never before have I seen a passing of the guard so smooth and sentimentally overwhelming as the introduction of Kenton and farewell of Morten as M-Pact’s baritone.

The more I think about it, the more “All Blues” is clearly the defining moment of LAAF for me. Not only did Morten CRUSH, Kenton CRUSH, but Trist did the most flow-inducing bass solo I’ve ever seen in my life. I totally fell into the song so hard that I forgot where I was, who was with me, and what my life was all about. The only thing that mattered was the figure Trist would occasionally return to a sit on, savoring the moments between Morten and Kenton, two notable but distinct tenors. It was a true moment of rejoice not only for m-pact, but for music!

For a minute, I hesitated posted this tweet in this article, mostly because I don’t want Jeff Smith to take it the wrong way – as aforementioned, I love his and Trist’s groove together. Instead of thinking to replace an element, I was more thinking in the spirit of collaboration – Kevin Fox is someone I’d love to hear drum around a bit more. While Women of the World were amazing at what they did, I was left wanting a bit more. While I understand the historical importance of remembering the songs of the past in the way they originated, music that gets me excited is music that steps beyond what is expected.

To the concert’s credit, and my delight, my wish was granted! Midway through M-Pact’s set, Women of the World rejoined them onstage to sing one of my favorite songs: Peder Karlsson’s Gota, originally done by The Real Group! Everyone in my party was in disbelief as not only we got to hear Women of the World’s beautiful harmonies combined with M-Pact’s stellar rhythm section (not to mention M-Pact’s stupid good uppers). We got to hear them sing a song my whole row had been singing the whole month before (and several years before that!).

These are just a few of the highlights from my trip to California for #LAAF2015. I worked on singles with After School Specials (Claremont University) and SanFran6 (from The Sing Off!), co-produced a track with Bri Holland and #Fourty4B, listened to Next Level’s “Mary Brown” on Hippy Hill in Golden Gate Park, walked to Amoeba Records to buy a signed Bobby McFerrin album (for $12), sat outside on the grass in January in shorts and Birkenstocks in ear shot of three a cappella groups singing popular songs, and partied at Rob Dietz’s place. It was the whirlwind a cappella experience I always hope for in a CASA festival; one of the truest and most immersive experiences I’ve had to date. I can’t wait to be in attendance at the next festival and meet you!


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