My SoJam Highlights as a First Timer

my festival pass - SoJam, here I come!
When I said that I was going to SoJam, the reactions ranged from "Nice, what is that?" to "All that way for a weekend of a cappella...On your own???" 
It is actually Twitter's fault. While following Vocalblog, I got caught up in an onslaught of overwhelmingly enthusiastic Tweets from SoJam 2011. Those who know me know that I can also be enthusiastic about things a cappella, but this was a completely new dimension, and it made me curious to see what the hype was about. The seed for my trip was planted.
As fate would have it, I was in for six weeks of hardcore a cappella from September on, filled with choir competitions, the Bonner Jazzchor "Bottle This Moment" CD Release Tour, and culminating in SoJam.
So was it worth it? Definitely! Here are my personal highlights:
 
1) Finally meeting dear Facebook and Twitter friends - Tone Siwela and Tara Marie Ahn - a cyber SoJam story. I struck up a great a-cappella-based friendship with both of them because of their effervescent 2011 SoJam Tweets, and meeting them in person was like a reunion of dear old friends.
 
2) The pre-SoJam meeting at Jimmy V's with CAL founder Tom Keyes, the A Cappella Recording Guru Bill Hare, Mr Vocalblog himself Florian Stadler, the CASA Ambassador for Ohio and Africa Tone Siwela, and myself ...Aca Nerd.  Learning firsthand about the history and purpose of The Contemporary A Cappella League and discussing the regional benefits and the international relevance...Extremely informative...especially when interspersed with travelers' anecdotes!
 
3) Chucks! This is THE Burger Temple of Raleigh. Try a Dirty South with Sea Island Red Pea Chili, crispy tobacco onions and Ashe County Mountain Cheddar. The owner won't hesitate to explain where all the ingredients are bred or grown. Delicious!
 
4) What does an a cappella ensemble from Singapore do when it realizes that a great fan cannot come to its concert because he can't close his Chinese restaurant? A flashmob, of course! MICappella sang a beautiful contemporary Chinese song after ordering their food, much to the joy of the restaurant owner and astonishment of the customers. Extremely cool!
 
5) UCD MIX. I was excited about the collegiate a cappella competition. I had heard all sorts of things varying from "If you like Beatbox, CPR, and Octavers..." to "You can't beat the enthusiasm of these youngsters"...all of which proved to be true! The ones that stood out that night, however, were MIX from the University of Colorado Denver. They were innovative and edgy with strong soloists but still a perfect blend, as well as fantastic drama in choreography that told the story. They practically goldfished me. I could have seen them among the Top 3 in the Vocal Ensemble competition at the Aarhus Vocal Festival. I. Was. Impressed. Needless to say, they won! Congrats!
 
6) Hot on the heels of this experience came the MIX Masterclass with the Swingle Singers...great to see how Excellent can become Superb with a few tips on stage presence and tuning from the experts. MIX blew me away with their intensity even without stage props, costumes and microphones. We will hear a lot more from them in the future.
 
7) Canadian party a cappella group Eh440 kept the audience entertained between the competition sets. They gave myself and Tone a ride in their car, and we all sang Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" in 6 improvised parts on our way to the SoJam After-Party (#carjam), and they even took us in as VIPs! A cappella bonds...just like that!
 
8) A customised Vocal Jog for Dee around the Sheraton block with Florian Städler between discussions about EVA and CASA in the quest for an elusive taxi to the North Carolina University campus for the workshops on Veterans' Day.... an almost impossible task but we made it.
 
9) MICappella...Asian a cappella took the stage by storm last Saturday. Not only are these guys cool to hang out with, their mix of pop, rock and ballads interspersed with stories of myths about Singapore ... (They are neither in China, Malaysia nor Japan!!) , crowd approval gestures Asian style, a bass from hell, a mad beatboxer and strong vocalists made for a fired-up audience and good vibes all around. The modern day lighter song, aka "hold-up-your-flashlight-on-your-smartphone" during a Chinese ballad was literally a brilliant moment for all.
 
10) And then came the Swingles. All of a sudden there was a refined, pure, clear, beautiful sound encompassing us all like a tunnel of light shining into a clearing in the forest. The bass and the vocal percussion were defining but not intrusive, balm for my ears... Sara Brimer's soaring soprano, Clare Wheeler's unbelievable scats, Oliver Griffiths soul- wrenching tenor, Jo Etson's refined mezzo... I was moved to tears by the Swingles for the first time, and I have seen them at least 4 times in the last 2 years. Their performance was a display of elite a cappella--aristocracy if you wish--hand-picked and handed down over the 50 years of the group's existence. Yes, the Swingles totally own their art form!
 
PS.  Sunday morning brunch at Jimmy V's ... scrambled eggs, sausages and bacon, scones, bagels, fresh fruit and yoghurt, and coffee served in a real cup for the first time in 5 days! How I had missed that. And no, I will not descend into a German rant about Schwarzbrot, but this brunch really compensated for all the fast food and coffee to go.. I could laugh and sing again!
 
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