A sizable audience trudged through the rain on Saturday afternoon to see the final a cappella showcase of Arts Fest-the Critics’ Choice edition. Five groups were selected by local professionals and members of the Arts Council to be featured in the final showcase, giving audience members the chance to hear some of their signature songs and compilations.
The Heightsmen, with some members noticeably absent, were the first to take the stage with their brief performance of “Come Fly With Me.” The boys snapped their way through a mellow rendition of the song and harmonized as well as usual, but seemed to be lacking the traditional Heightsmen charm. Perhaps they were all sung-out after their Spring Cafe on Friday evening-nonetheless, they set a comfortable mood for the following groups.
An upbeat Bollywood rhythm quickly filled the tent at O’Neill Plaza with the arrival of Boston College’s South Asian a cappella group Shaan. The group performed “Zara Zara Touch Me”-a sensual song from the 2008 Bollywood film Race. Soloist Priyasha Chaturvedi, A&S ’14, alternated between Hindi verses and English choruses, resulting in a dynamic performance that lifted the energy in the atmosphere.
In contrast to the other groups, the B.E.A.T.S. (Black Experience in America Through Song) had a three-song set, performing John Legend’s “Who Did That to You,” featured in Django Unchained; “I Believe I Can Fly,” by R.Kelly; and Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much.” The first two sets of soloists impressed with their smooth vocals and balanced choruses, although there were moments of disconnect-one seemed to be looking back at the group behind him, unsure of when to deliver his final line of the song. “Never Too Much” was the strength of the set-the soloists danced along to the catchy “ooh na nas” of the group and played off each other’s vibes quite well. The final song showcased the soulful talent that B.E.A.T.S. is known for, making up for any minor missteps along the way.
Vandross and the ’80s were left behind as the Sharps came to stage with the 2001 girl-power song “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops).” The Sharps, BC’s only all-female a cappella group, tried to do a little too much with their performance-instead of using a simpler song to show off their vocal capabilities, they continued making the set unnecessarily complex. The singers layered in more female-revenge hits-Destiny’s Child’s “Jumpin’ Jumpin’,” followed by JoJo’s “Leave (Get Out)”-all while incorporating jumping, charade bits, and dialogues between group members. It was hard to discern what exactly the soloists were saying, making for an awkward and somewhat disconnected ending. The Sharps, however, did have the most fun with their performance, making a commendable effort to engage with the audience.
Finishing off the Critics’ Choice showcase were the Bostonians with a unique combination of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” and “Brave/Roar.” The mashup of Sara Bareilles and Katy Perry was an apt way to end the showcase, as both songs fit seamlessly together-thematically and melodically. The Bostonians’ crisp delivery of poppy verses was maintained throughout, right down to the “Hey!” of “You held me down but I got up (Hey!).” Keely Bartram, A&S ’16, hit the high notes of the “Brave” chorus perfectly, garnering a thundering applause from the audience with her commanding vocals. One of the most memorable moments of the performance was the buildup of “Roar” repetitions leading up to the final chorus of “I wanna see you be brave.” Her resounding voice lightened the mood of the otherwise dreary space, and many audience members were still buzzing about the performance after exiting the tent. The song marked a surprising and definitive ending to the a cappella showcase as a whole, and it re-energized visitors caught in a mid-afternoon slump for the following Arts Fest performances.