The sound of pitch-perfect harmonies filled Dorton Arena, where five a cappella singing groups from Duke, N.C. State and UNC were the opening act Thursday for the series of concerts on tap at the 2012 N.C. State Fair.
Outside the arena, the sounds of fairgoers, vendor barkers, ride tunes and millions of colored lights blended a different harmony on the state fairs opening day.
Indoors, the Varsity Vocal Showcase featured Rhythm & Blue from Duke, Ladies in Red and Grains of Time from N.C. State, and the Clef Hangers and the UNC Loreleis from UNC. Each took the stage for 20 minutes.
It wasnt the barbershop quartet show most might imagine cover songs ranged from Cee Lo Green and Justin Bieber to Zac Brown Band and Gotye. The renditions sometimes sounded so intense, it was easy to forget there was no instrumental backup.
TV fueled popularity
Employees of the N.C. Department of Agriculture who work the fair each year came up with the idea. Paul Jones, a public information officer for the fair, said the popularity of TV shows like Glee and The Sing-Off and the movie Pitch Perfect has renewed interest in a cappella singing.
We knew there were a lot of great groups around here we could spotlight, Jones said.
The UNC Loreleis are among the best-known of the groups performing Thursday night. Maggie Sparling, the business manager for the Loreleis, says they do two or three gigs a week and even more during the holidays. They sing at campus events, charity events, at the UNC Childrens Hospital and for private functions.
The 17-member ensemble has also auditioned on the TV show Americas Got Talent Howie Mandel liked us, Sparling said and opened for Ben Folds at the Durham Performing Arts Center in 2009. In 2004, they sang the National Anthem at Yankees Stadium for the second game of the American League Championship Series.
Sparling hopes all those events and the one at the fair will boost the popularity of a cappella and influence more high schools to organize similar groups.
My high school didnt have an a cappella group or a glee club, she said. And I really wish they had. I wish Id had that experience from high school.
Thursday was Sparlings first trip to the N.C. State Fair. A junior from Winston-Salem, she usually attends the Dixie Classic Fair in Forsyth County and was looking forward to comparing foods and sights from both events.
N.C. States Ladies in Red was the youngest group performing Thursday, and President Krystal Rodas of Wake Forest said the Dorton show has been their largest venue so far.
I dont get nervous, Rodas said. I get excited. I have a lot of excess energy before we take the stage, but then its OK.
It was a big deal to be asked to do this because we only had seven members at the time, the smallest of all the groups, she said.
The Ladies added six members this fall and now compete with 13.
Cream of the crop
Jones said they targeted groups based on which had been around the longest on campus and which had the most name recognition.
We wanted to keep it more local for the first one, Jones said. So, we culled it down to very local schools and ended up playing off the ACC rivalry a little bit.
But this rivalry was not as cutthroat as the State-Carolina-Duke basketball match-ups. Since the concert was a showcase and not a competition, no group was declared winner. Instead, each earned money based on how many people bought tickets to the show on behalf of their group.
Phoenica Zhang, the musical director of Dukes Rhythm & Blue, says any money their group earns at Varsity Vocal will go toward recording albums, paying for sound equipment and funding other performances.
Rhythm & Blue was the only co-ed group performing Thursday night. Zhang, a sophomore from Arizona, said that gives them a distinctive sound.
Co-ed sounds very different, she said. It can be a richer sound.
Josh Apke, president of the Grains of Time, who sang the National Anthem for President Obama at an event in the RBC Center in 2011, said the groups have no competitive feelings toward each other.
I love the Clef Hangers, Apke said. And I just saw a friend from high school who is in the Loreleis. Were one a cappella family.
Actually, Apke means it when he says family. He and Rodas are engaged to be married. But, both juniors, they say that will have to wait until after graduation. Theyve still got a lot of singing to do.