Chipfest 2014 Review

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This past Saturday, the Bison Chips, Bucknell’s only all-male acapella group, held their annual Spring Concert. The group put on a truly entertaining show that showcased just how talented (and funny) each member is. The set-list included a great variety of songs that gave every member their moment to shine. The Harvey Powers Theater was pretty packed, despite the lack of people on campus due to the holiday weekend. The concert kicked off on a high note with an entertaining video in which the Chips each discover their “super powers,” followed by an upbeat rendition of “Hodja.” The performance of soloist Rodney West ’16 truly makes this song and the rest of the group vibed off his energy.

The concert took a turn towards the soulful with the Chips’ rendition of Zac Brown Band’s “Natural Disaster”. Harrison Mills ’14, Will Smart ’15, and Andrew Kilman ’15, added great harmonies for soloist Robbie Johnson ’16, that covered up felt like an under-rehearsed accompaniment by the rest of the group.

The Chips followed with the 1950’s classic, “To Be Loved”. Seeing as his voice is straight out of the doo-wop era of the 50’s, soloist Michael Strauss ’14 nailed this song. It was a very fitting choice, considering its “classic acapella” feel. To balance out the oldies, the Chips followed with a rendition of JT’s “Mirrors”, sung by their fearless leader, Justin Honigstein ’14. The song felt a little awkward and unenergetic, but the three part harmony on the chorus sounded great.

Up next was “Oh Shenandoah,” an American folk classic. I really commend the Chips for choosing this song. Its not one of the crowd-pleasing pop classics that many groups choose to fall back on. It was definitely a complicated arrangement, both in terms of the harmonies involved and the staggered entrances throughout the song. It was great to hear Harrison sing this because I haven’t seen him step into the spotlight very much in the past and his style of voice fit the song perfectly.

The Chips balanced out the folk classic with a mashup of “Bright Lights Bigger City” and “Magic” that included solos from George Beatty ’15 and Jimmy Sorenson ’15, as well as a rap by Kilman and Eric Gowat ’17. The mashup let their sense of humor shine and was really entertaining.

Up next was one of my favorites of the concert, “Seven Bridges Road”. Because there was no soloist, the song showcased the group’s talent as whole. The harmonies were spot on, showing that they can nail a song without relying on a soloist to take the spotlight. Props to the tenors for hitting those high notes.

Up next was a rendition of the little known EDM jam, “Wake Me Up” by some dude named Avicii. This song really improved since their performance of it at Christies in the fall. Kilman, the soloist, seemed more natural on stage and the accompaniment was a lot stronger. The group followed with “Wayfaring Stranger” sung by Justin. This song always gives me chills, and is one of their most impressive. Justin kills this solo, and Connor Small ’15 highlights just how good he is at beat boxing. Props to the Chips for a great arrangement and to Justin for a memorable solo that shows how much the Chips will miss his voice next year.

I feel like it wouldn’t be an acapella concert without a rendition of Mungo Jerry's “Summertime.” Despite the predictable song choice, it was definitely, as Justin put it, the “funnest” song of the concert. The performance included a full on dance break mid-song and hilarious solo performances. It was great to see the entire group clearly having a blast on stage.

Next was “Smiling Face” by James Taylor. The performance was a true testament to Strauss’s ability as both a vocalist and performer. While the background vocals were not as strong, Strauss’s performance saved the song and the “snap and sway” vibe of the group complimented his performance well.

The final song of the concert, other than their oh-so-familiar closer “Coney Island Baby”, was “Go the Distance”, most well-known as that song from Hercules. This song is a Bison Chips traditional closer that they haven’t done in recent years because they worried it would be too difficult. This performance sums up my general feeling of the entire concert. The Chips are a lot better than they have been in recent years, and they proved this by nailing this song; definitely not an easy task. The song ends the concert on a literal high note by the tenors that is finally met by the entire group as the finish with strong harmony. I was really impressed that they could perform such a difficult song so well; it was a great end to a really great concert.

Overall, Chipfest 2014 was a pleasure to watch. While each member of the group had their moment to shine, the most impressive aspect was how strong the group was when there wasn’t a soloist to take away the focus. They clearly worked on their stage presence as well; the performances felt a lot more natural and effortless. While some of the members still seemed uncomfortable on stage, the group as a whole was casual and witty throughout the concert and kept the audience engaged. Though they are losing some of their key members (Harrison, Strauss and Justin), their newest members are strong enough to take up the reins.

If you missed Chipfest 2014, make sure you come out to Night Before Finals next week, as all of Bucknell’s acapella groups will be performing!