‘Sing-Off’ winners are Home Free: Country vocalists enjoy new success on tour

mhymowitz@centredaily.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Home Free will perform at the Bryce Jordan Center as headliners for “The Sing-Off” tour.

PHOTO PROVIDED

  • if you go

    What: “The Sing-Off Live” tour

    When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28

    Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park

    Info: www.bjc.psu.edu, 865-5555

Home Free has been around for more than decade. But in the past few months, things have changed for the group.

Sold-out shows. Screaming fans. Constant recognition.

That’s just life now for the country vocal band, the most recent winners of NBC’s “The Sing-Off.”

“It’s crazy,” said baritone Chris Rupp, who started the group 13 years ago with his brother Adam, the group’s vocal percussionist. “It’s on a whole new plane.”

During a performance at the South Carolina State Fair last summer, they drew a crowd of about 15 or 20 people. Some suggested the group try out for a TV singing competition, Rupp said. The vocalists had heard that suggestion before. Unbeknownst to those fans, the guys had done just that.

“We weren’t expecting to get on,” Rupp said. But, “we did well.”

That’s a bit of an understatement: Home Free beat out nine other a cappella groups to win season four of “The Sing-Off,” as well as $100,000 and a recording contract. The group’s debut album, “Crazy Life,” was recently released.

The season was filmed during the summer but didn’t air until December, so the results had to be kept under wraps. The guys went on tour after filming ended but couldn’t reveal their success.

“It was weird, knowing we won ‘The Sing-Off,’ ” Rupp said.

The Minneapolis-based quintet is used to touring — bass Tim Foust said they perform about 250 shows a year. But on “The Sing-Off” tour, things are different. While Home Free is a familiar sight at festivals and fairs and on cruise ships, they are performing in large arenas. Even the transportation is better: For this string of shows, the guys are trading in their RV for a tour bus.

With 36 shows in 39 days, it will be grueling, Rupp said. But he’s ready: “We’re road warriors.”

A first for ‘The Sing-Off’

As the first country group to perform on the a cappella competition, Home Free stood out from the first episode with a performance of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise.”

“Finally, we get a little bit of country on our show. That was incredible,” host Nick Lachey said at the time.

The judges, singer-songwriters themselves, had nothing but praise for the group.

Jewel highlighted the band’s “tight” harmonies, and former Ben Folds Five frontman Ben Folds applauded Foust’s sound and tenor Austin Brown’s lead vocals.

“Country music has a tradition of telling a story with a song and staying focused on the song,” Folds said. “And a lot of times it’s hard to stay focused on a song in a capella because there’s a lot of stuff going on, and you guys kept it focused on a song. That sounded like a record to me. That was really, really great.”

Minnesota may not seem like a country hotbed, but Home Free’s sound changed with the addition of new members.

A few years ago, the group needed a new bass vocalist and brought aboard Foust, a Texan. Not long after, Brown, from Georgia, joined the lineup. Tenor Rob Lundquist joined after his previous a cappella group retired.

“The show transitioned from pop to country,” Rupp said.

More than just music

A capella music has a simple appeal for Rupp: It’s fulfilling.

“Just using the human voice is so unique and approachable to people,” he said. “The connection you can make is magical.”

Hoping to make that connection on tour along with Home Free are fellow season-four competitors The Filharmonic, a Filipino boy band from Los Angeles, and VoicePlay, theme park singers from Orlando, Fla. Maxx Factor, a female barbershop quartet from the show’s first season, will be a special guest at the Bryce Jordan Center show.

The concert will feature a couple of battle songs — a wrinkle added to this past season of “The Sing-Off” in which two groups sing the same song in a last-ditch effort to keep from being eliminated — and memorable opening numbers, Rupp said.

Fans of Taylor Swift or Hunter Hayes will find a similar sound in Home Free, he said. (One of the tracks on “Crazy Life” is a Hayes medley.)

Those who aren’t fans of “The Sing-Off” or country music still might want to listen to the group’s spin on the genre.

“People who don’t like country like what we do,” Rupp said.

A Home Free concert is about more than just music. Fans often are surprised by the amount of humor during the group’s shows, he said.

“It’s a fun a cappella show,” he said. “Get ready to have fun with us.”

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