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The packed house at Marin Veterans’ Memorial Center and the audience at home were treated to a great night of entertainment courtesy of Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals last night. Bringing in seven regional champions and a swan song appearance for last year’s champions, just about every style and genre was showcased throughout the evening in San Rafael, California.
Emcee Angie Doctor started things off by bringing 2017 national champions The Sound Exchange to the stage to open the show with an upbeat medley, and introduced their new alto, Christina Case. The Sound Exchange then took over introduction duties and brought a lot of humor to the competition.
Boston Regional Champions, Sound Off, led off the competition with a soulful, pop vibe, singing “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man, “Rise” by Katy Perry, and “Walk On Water” by Thirty Seconds to Mars. Lush chords, fluid movement, and powerhouse solos highlighted a set that was later awarded Best Original Arrangement for “Rise,” arranged by music director Kevin Guest.
Up All Night represented the Mid-Atlantic and was the only barbershop group to make it to finals this year. A quartet out of Vienna Falls Chorus in Virginia, Up All Night sung five songs during their 12-minute allotment: “Let’s Start Tomorrow Tonight,” “I’ve Got A Feeling I’m Falling,” “If I Had My Way,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” and “Go the Distance.” The set brought everything from a tender ballad to a fun, contemporary style uptune, to a new barbershop classic. Their stellar performance earned them third place overall.
New York sent Feedback as their champions, which, with only three members, brought a unique concept and arrangements to the stage. They presented a particularly strong arrangement on “Wayfaring Stranger” and also treated the audience to a stripped-down version of “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Say You Won’t Let Go,” and “California Rain.”
Business Casual, a Bay Area-based group representing Los Angeles, returned to Finals for their second year in a row. Experience in this competition was evident as they approached their set with confidence-even sass. Opening with “Faith” by Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande, Business Casual captured everyone’s attention and never let go. They follow that with a Post Modern Jukebox inspired arrangement of “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and closed out with “Yo Vivere.” Excellent stage presence, intricate arrangements, and pure joy earned Business Casual the national title.
The second half of the show kicked off with 20/20 out of the Pacific Northwest. Fresh off their trip to Moscow, where they competed and performed in one of the world’s largest a cappella festivals and competitions, they showcased understated talent with performances of “Honey, I’m Good,” a slowed-down and jazzed-up “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, and “Yet.” They closed out with a cover of Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.”
Due North of Minneapolis traveled in to represent Chicago and brought a similar high-energy, audience engaging set of their Chicago champion predecessors, The Sound Exchange. With well-known tunes like “Seven Bridge Road,” “Walking on Sunshine,” “Pretty Woman,” and a classic rock medley featuring just about all of your singalong favorites, they had the audience clapping and singing along. Stand out of their set, however, was definitely their soulfully delivered version of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” with Alissa Peanasky on solo.
Closing out the competition, veteran jazz ensemble, Ro Sham Bo represented the Bay Area with strong jazz arrangements, leading off their set with a modern #MeToo version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” complete with extensive props. They continued their story with “Pare Cochero” and closed out the night with “Who’s Lovin’.” A thoroughly entertaining package, the group took home both Audience Favorite and second place.
The Sound Exchange closed outage 34th Annual Harmony Sweepstakes season with a set of highly engaging, upbeat songs prior to the awards being announced.
The 35th Annual event will kick off with regional competitions starting in late winter, culminating with Business Casual hosting Finals in San Rafael in May 2019.