When I was in high school, “a cappella” conjured up images of sweater-clad coeds merrily singing showtunes under an ivy arch. And while at some stuffy East Coast colleges this may be the case, here in SoCal a cappella means a big bright stage, skintight black dresses, and (as USC so modestly advertised) iTunes-worthy renditions of alt-pop favorites. It’s a cappella on steroids, and according to the 2,200 happy listeners crowded into Pomona’s Big Bridges last Friday night, it’s pretty great.
SCAMfest (Southern California A Cappella Music Festival), sponsored every November by the Claremont Shades, brings together the eight Claremont a cappella groups and other groups from schools around Southern California. This year, two groups from UCLA (the Scattertones and Bruin Harmony) and two from USC (Reverse Osmosis and the SoCal VoCals) made the trek, rounding out an already impressive ensemble.
Despite the occasional pitchiness (to use good ol’ American-Idol lingo) and balance issues, no group failed to give an enjoyable performace. A few songs, however, were undeniable winners. Mood Swing’s rendition of Beyonce’s “Listen” induced goose bumps with its raw power, Reverse Osmosis’ version of Coldplay’s “Fix You” rose to epic heights, and the Shade’s reinterpretation of K’NAAN’s World Cup anthem “Waving Flag” ended the night on a feel-good high note.
Several of the groups went the comedic route, with the all-male groups providing the most laughs: Men’s Blue and White’s surprise performances of “Afternoon Delight” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” with clever, silly choreography drew hysterical laughter from the audience, while Bruin Harmony followed the boy-band theme with a faux-sexual “I Want You Back.” Claremont’s newest group, the 9th Street Hooligans, added its own witty quip with an operatic duel of Kelis’ “Milkshake,” and the After School Specials got nostalgic giggles for its “Pokemon Theme,” complete with a Poliwhirl-costumed singer.
SCAMfest is a special event, as both the audience and the performers seem to be equally entertained by the whole spectacle. John Maidman PO ‘11, a member of the 5C a capella group After School Specials and a SCAMfest performer for the third year in a row, said he thinks SCAMfest is a great experience because it brings together people from so many different schools who are all involved in the “goofy” activity of a capella.
“It takes something like Scamfest, when you get to be around all the other people that devote their time and energy to acappella to make you feel like you’re part of a really cool community. Not cool in any traditional sense, probably the opposite of that, if the opposite isn’t hot, but uncool,” he said. “Scamfest is this freak phenomenon where you get to be in front of an audience that’s totally willing to go along with the whole ridiculous game. It’s crazy to be so supported for something so off-the-wall and silly. But the huge crowd of people who come out to laugh and cheer and shout things at the stage make it exciting in a way that snack concerts and other performances aren’t.
Although I’m honestly amazed by anyone who can sing without sounding like an alcoholic crow (a.k.a. me), the performances by SCAMfest’s a cappella groups were genuinely inspiring: poignant, grandiose, or hilarious, they reminded the audience of the beauty in simplicity and the magic of true talent. Bring it on, Harvard—SoCal’s singers are ready to take a cappella to a whole new level.