Friday, August 1, 2014

LET THERE BE ROCK: On Tour With The RockNRoll Chorus (Pt. I)

On Tour With The 
RockNRoll Chorus (Pt. I)

Destination — the Deep
South. The mission —
get the behind-the-scenes 
skinny on the coolest tour
stomping across America
this summer. So, pack a
bag and get on the bus —
I'm takin' ya on the road! 

The brainchild of high school vocal teacher and music industry insider, Joe Cantaffa, the New Jersey-based RockNRoll Chorus was formed as a grassroots effort in 2007. Yet despite operating on less than a shoestring budget, the dozen or so hungry teenagers in cutoffs and T-shirts all were eager to learn the ropes of the entertainment biz. Although I found the group's early recordings to be alluring, I remained generally dismissive of Cantaffa's vision. However, given the now growing buzz surrounding his troupe, I finally was compelled to venture out and see the unique a capella group perform live in Orlando during its 2013 summer tour.

Danielle Burg, Jules D'Aiello and Courtney Jess Ober
prepping for another grueling day on the road.
The RNRC tagline is direct and to the point — "No instruments. Just voices." And from the vocalized guitar parts (cue distortion effects), beat box techniques, soaring voices and arena-style audio / visual production, I was blown away. In fact, as I discovered, the live RNRC show is a bona fide, no-holds-barred rock and roll spectacle. Hence, I recently was delighted to receive a call from Cantaffa, inviting me to join the group on its current summer tour for a more in depth and personal experience. The only problem — I hate being with bands on the road. Hmm, this might not play out too well.

"The most amazing part of 
this group is the family that is 
created amongst the cast and 
staff as they learn the realities 
of being on the road."
-Mary Huhmann
(Tour Manager - RNRC) 

"Quiet on the stage, please!" Calm, cool and calling all the shots, Eric Thompson was focused on organizing the group's pre-show soundcheck upon my 4PM arrival at Full Sail Live in Orlando — my first stop on the tour. Currently serving as The RNRC Assistant Creative Director, Eric has been a part of the operation from the very beginning. Given his rather daunting responsibility of managing  the 20+ spirited teens while onstage, I anointed him immediately as "the Den Mother."

Simply put, Krista Morton always dazzled.
This particular show would be one of the biggest, best and brightest of the tour, as hundreds of Orlando fans packed the state-of-the-art Full Sail Live venue not only to take in an amazing concert, but also to experience the live video shoot for the group's original song, "Heaven in My Soul," as well as an unbelievable remake of Journey's turbo-charged FM  staple, "Separate Ways."

Me with RNRC Head of Security - Rex Smith. 
"The cast has even
more energy this year."
-Rex "The Doc" Smith 

For days, I was constantly surrounded by singing, dancing and unbridled youthful energy — on the bus, at the hotels, in restaurants — everywhere. And when the group hit the stage each night, I was drawn like a magnet, front and center. But who could blame me? With a high-energy show that's packed with non-stop classics from such iconic bands as Cheap Trick, U2, The Doobie Brothers and Bon Jovi, it's tough for any rock fan not to be moved once The RockNRoll Chorus hits the stage. Wow, THIS tour is actually fun!

I took to calling Natalie Lorenzo (L) "Steve Perry" because of 
how incredibly well she nails the vocals on "Separate Ways." 
I nicknamed Kristin Morosoff (R) "Superstar" because that's 
exactly what she's going to become. Heck, I expect both of 
these gals to blow up!
(Eric Thompson, Hudson Eder, 
Renzo Espinosa and Jonathan Seltzer)
RNRC stage tech, Brandon Glovich
The really wild thing was that it took me a while actually to figure out who everybody was. Not because there were so many performers in the cast — I've become quite accustomed to working with large groups of young people in my recent ministry endeavors. The challenge was, that particularly with the girls, with their high heels, form-fitting stage outfits, layers of makeup and Aqua Net-enhanced doos, they each possessed an intimidating onstage presence — like 25-year-old, six-foot rock divas. But to bump into them at the hotel afterwards — in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, with freshly scrubbed faces and hair pulled back in ponytails, they were practically unrecognizable — these confident pros were just kids. And to sit across the table from any of the performers while scarfing down an after-show meal, it quickly became clear that any one of them could be my own grandkid. Wow, talk about show biz smoke and mirrors!

"Being able to witness the 
transformation in each 
performer's confidence 
and ability to command 
the stage is probably my
favorite aspect of being 
a part of RNRC."
-Mary Huhmann
(Tour Manager - RNRC)

But the parents of the young RNRC cast members have little cause for concern while their children are on tour. The performers are all well-supervised — kept under the watchful eye of professional adult chaperons at all times. They also remain protected from worldly harm by ace security veteran, Rex "The Doc" Smith.

Micaela Miyashiro: A petite powerhouse
As a former touring professional, I recognize that an incredible act requires an incredible crew. And I was extremely impressed by 18-year-old stage tech and all 'round go-to guy, Brandon Glovich. As he assisted me in carrying my bags into the venue on the first day, I was intrigued by Brandon's interest in concert production. An aspiring singer, songwriter and musician, I also was  delighted to receive a demo of Brandon's band, and I look forward to reviewing it officially in the days ahead. In short, if I were in a position to sign a band or in need of hiring a world-class stage hand, I'd be digging feverishly through my travel bag for this man's phone number.

Joey Walsh onstage in Orlando, Florida.
It can be said that a live band is only as good as its front-of-house audio tech. And in that regard, soundman John Vines plays a pivotal role in the effectiveness of The RockNRoll Chorus. From large indoor venues to smaller outdoor stages, John had the band sounding like a million bucks everyday. Not only that, but anyone whose pre-show playlist includes gems from Outlandos d'Amour and Abbey Road gets two (very) enthusiastic thumbs-up in my book!

It also was a privilege to connect with a young pro named Ken Dwyer. The video footage he captured is superb and his photography is pure gold. And I'm honored to have been allowed to incorporate his work into this series.

Natalie Lorenzo performing
live in Savannah, Georgia.
The journey from the shows in New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania, down to concert appearances in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and back is one heckuva  haul. However, with longtime bus driver Rick McCarrick at the wheel, The RNRC glides along the highway from gig to gig, across the country in air-conditioned comfort and safety. But perhaps the true unsung hero of the operation is Gear Transport Coordinator and electrician, Bruce Timmerman. Like that special delivery slogan from years ago — Bruce is The Man when "it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight." And if something ain't working when it gets there, he's likely gonna fix it in short order.

By all definitions, this was a  true blue, major league rock tour. Luxury tour bus, massive production / equipment truck, swanky hotels, backstage laminates and accommodations, an all-pro staff, and plenty of typical behind-the-scenes tension — missing cell phones, roll-away lipsticks, lost debit cards, and yes, plenty of good ol' show biz-inspired blood, sweat and tears. (FYI, the blood was mine. Long story.) 

Just chillin' at the hotel with my peeps
from The RockNRoll Chorus in 2014.
Although I'd been incredibly impressed with this group for some time, I still referred to the members as "kids." But I don't  anymore. They are the genuine article. Despite their ages ranging from 13-18, this was the most professional group of performers that I'd ever had the privilege to travel with.

Ready to dive in deeper? Hang on — I've got MUCH more in store. More faces, more photos, more fun to come in the next two installments of this summer series.

Stay tuned!

-Christopher Long
(August 2014)


Check out my entire 
RockNRoll Chorus 
tour series:

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