I attended my first SingStrong festival this year. If you’ve never been, here (in no particular order) are 14 reasons why you might want to check it out.
Unlike the ICCA/ICHSA or CASA festival competitions, SingStrong’s Aca-Idol features collegiate and semi-pro groups competing with each other for a cash prize of $1,000 and a professional photo shoot for the winner, with no second place. Much like the reality show from which it gets its name, Aca-Idol features live feedback from a panel of judges immediately after each set — a panel which included an actual American Idol this year in the person of Blake Lewis. The audience also gets to vote by phone for their favorite group. This year’s winner was new “supergroup” The Lobby, featuring names you might know from other Embassy groups.
- The Spotlight Showcase
CASA festivals have AcaBombs; SingStrong has one big lunchtime show with mics and real sound run by Clear Harmonies. This is a great opportunity for non-competing groups to show their stuff — including my own group, Uncommon.
- The Single Singers
If you already know The PickUps from CASA festivals, or even the original Single Singers from the London A Cappella Festival, then you know what SingStrong’s Single Singers are all about. If you want to sing at SingStrong but aren’t part of a group, you can join this massive a cappella choir directed by actual a cappella pro and Stiletta founder Judy Fontana. You also get a group lunch, multiple rehearsals, and a full performance on the big stage. In short, you get to feel like part of a real a cappella group, albeit a very large one.
- Lots of headliners
Where CASA festivals give you a satisfying appetizer and entree at the pro showcase, SingStrong is more like a tapas bar: lots of small plates, all incredibly delicious. Acts that wouldn’t necessarily warrant full sets on their own perform for 10-15 minutes each. Just look at the variety on that poster!
- Sunday matinee
And speaking of headliners, SingStrong gives you three shows in which to enjoy them — including a Sunday matinee that ends the festival with a bang.
- Diana Preisler
A professional (and Oscar-nominated) voice over artist, she served as the offstage announcer for Aca Idol. She co-produced the festival. She ran the most popular workshop: Rockstar 101, a SingStrong exclusive that is essentially a fast-paced public masterclass for two lucky groups. She co-hosted all three pro shows alongside her co-producer Jonathan Minkoff.
And on Saturday night she did this:
And on Sunday, she brought her mini-me daughter out on stage, and the cutest thing ever happened:
- Everything in one place
South Lakes High School in Reston has been SingStrong’s home for years, and it seems designed for this kind of festival. Classes and shows are in the same building — which enables things like a second, high-school-only competition on Saturday afternoon, as well as the Sunday matinee — and the silent auction for charity (more on this in a bit) takes place in the centrally-located cafeteria.
- Kaila Mullady
Kaila is a “beatrhymer” and a top-ranked female beatboxer at the this year’s American Beatbox Championships. I couldn’t find any video of either of Kaila’s incredible SingStrong sets, and words fail to accurately capture what she does. Instead I’ll just wait while you watch this. Let me know if you need help picking your jaw back up off the floor when you’re done.
- More intimate
I don’t have numbers, but SingStrong felt like a smaller, friendlier festival than what you might be used to from CASA. The class schedule was certainly less jam-packed — and less choice often means better choices.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of TEN when they were on The Sing-Off, but they converted me with their live performance. They are much better and tighter now than they were on TV, and the “Happy” on-stage dance party that closed the second Saturday show was pure aca-magic.
- After parties in the hotel bar
This is so obvious and yet so brilliant, not to mention convenient (if a bit pricey). No random bar to drive to, no waiting in line outside in the cold, lots of comfy seating, and your bed is just an elevator ride away. And of course…
- Open mic at the after party
We’re at an a cappella festival, so who better to provide entertainment than the attendees themselves? Euphonism and Snowday kicked things off, and it just got crazier from there. A definite highlight came when all the vocal percussionists from the Idol groups and headliners joined forces for an epic on-the-spot jam session.
- $13,000 raised for charity
Yes, a cappella is great and all, but SingStrong also benefits an actual good cause. SingStrong uniquely features a silent auction with prizes donated by local businesses and a cappella industry pros. 100% of proceeds from the silent auction, as well as a portion of SingStrong merchandise sales, support the Alzheimer’s Association and local music programs. And apparently we did very well this year, with almost $13,000 raised.
- Bringing the local community together
If you practice the art of a cappella in VA or DC, SingStrong is your festival. Yes, Aca-Idol attracts groups from up and down the East Coast. But it also features groups like the Notochords and the RAMifications from VCU, who aren’t yet big names in the national scene but compete every year at SingStrong. And on Sunday, the whole audience sang “Happy Birthday” (in perfect four part harmony of course) to Bob Simon, the 100-year-old founder of Reston. It doesn’t get much better than that!
So, did we miss anything? What was your favorite part about SingStrong 2014? Sound off in the comments, and see you next year!