“Country Evolution” — Home Free LIVE!
On Saturday, February 20, 2016, country music’s number one accapella 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, NJ.
As 2013 winners of NBC-TV’s The Sing-Off, this 5-piece vocal band has performed previously in New Jersey in Atlantic City and at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank. This, however, 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 like 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 (sorry ladies, he’s taken) comes from the Garden State (and she even brought 15 friends with her to this Grunin Center performance)!
“We love the Jersey accent,” explains Austin.
Adds Home Free’s tenor, Rob Lindquist, a native of Minnesota,“We started fist-pumping as soon as we got over the state line.”
But how much do they like Jersey music?
Well, when asked if they might ever consider covering a Jersey artist like Bruce Springsteen, the group replied in unison, “We are open to anything.”
Home Free creates not only country music but, also, theater, with only stools and microphones and the raw talent and imagination of 5 incredible voices. Each song is a different style, a treat for the senses.
Many of their songs start with a simple vocal, building in texture and harmony as voices join in — each voice just as important as the next — whether that voice sings melody, harmony, bass, tenor, baritone, or beatbox.
Then, each voice transforms the song before your eyes and ears creating pure ear candy for the audience to wave their arms along to creating an irresistible “feel good’ groove — for instance, on such classic country tunes as Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” and Florida Georgia Line’s “Friends in Low Places,” and on newer fare like Andy Grammar’s “Honey I’m Good” and Keith Urban’s “Little Bit of Everything.”
At the Grunin Center, Home Free’s musical director and founder, baritone Chris Rupp, from Mankato, Minnesota, even invited the audience to sing along with the band on two songs, splitting the audience into two groups — one singing Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” and the other singing Alabama’s “Song of the South” simultaneously — thus encouraging an impromptu singing competition a la the show that propelled their careers: The Sing Off.
And even though no one could possibly hit Texas bass singer Tim Foust’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 are unashamed to say they 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.
8-year-old Angelica from East Windsor, NJ, 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!”
Other fans reveal that, in addition to superlative musicianship, they also like the “down home” atmosphere that permeates a Home Free concert experience.
For example, with bass singer Foust’s deep voice resonating and vibrating the house from its foundation to its rafters — even while speaking! — the audience willingly obliged to his request that, “We don’t require ‘polite’!,” thus hollering and clapping their approval song after song after song.
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 NY, are alternative rock fans who made the leap to accapella 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 comicly mirror-dancing with one another, the members of Home Free completely captivated the audience with their snappy chatter, raw talent, and intricate vocal arrangements on well-known classics in addition to 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, Home Free beat boxer, Minnesota native 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 completely mesmerized as Adam sat alone, center stage, on a stool, air-drumming, while creating incredibly realistic sounds of snares, tom-toms, bass drums, dj turntables, cymbals, hi-hats, and more with nothing other than a microphone and his incredible talent, 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.
It was no surprise when the crowd jumped to its feet in one of several standing ovations of the night.
Another highlight of the evening came when — as red, yellow, and blue lights rained down on the five singers — 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.”
At the conclusion of a mesmerizing evening, ever the polite country boys, Adam, Chris, Austin, Rob, and Tim thanked their crew, the employees of the Grunin Center, and, especially, the audience, for sharing an incredible experience with them. 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.