“Does Pennsylvania have country music fans?” Tim Foust, of country vocal band Home Free, facetiously asked the Bryce Jordan Center crowd.
The answer, of course, was yes — and there might be a few more after the group’s performance Friday as part of “The Sing-Off Live” tour.
The winner of the most recent season of NBC’s “The Sing-Off” highlighted a night of a cappella that also featured pop, rock, barbershop and lots of seat-pounding vocal bass. Home Free was joined by fellow season-four contestants The Filharmonic and VoicePlay, along with guests Maxx Factor, from the first season of “The Sing-Off,” and Penn State’s Savoir Faire.
Energy remained high for most of the performances, with banter between songs, exhortations to follow the groups online or clap along to the performances, and the occasional well-timed body roll to spark audience screams. The Filharmonic’s V.J. Rosales got the crowd on its feet as he took a cellphone video, something he said he has done at every show.
Even barbershop quartet Maxx Factor, which provided a drastic shift in tone after the boy-band choreography of The Filharmonic, kept up a spirited chatter between songs.
“We’re super excited to be here in Happy Valley,” said bass singer Valerie Hadfield-Rasnake, who noted she was no stranger to the state, having grown up in Bucks County. She also noted a Penn State connection in alumna Dawn Adams Clifford, the group’s baritone.
“Everything you hear tonight is 100 percent live, 100 percent a cappella,” the versatile Foust said after the groups’ first opening number, a medley of songs by the pop group fun. He would later offer up an impression of “Sing-Off” host Nick Lachey that neither he nor the others on stage could get through with a straight face.
The show moved at a quick pace, finishing in about two hours. Each of the three main groups (plus the two guest groups) was spotlighted in individual sets and then brought back for group numbers and battle songs
The stage design at the Jordan Center, the selection of familiar songs and the sound quality all evoked the feeling of watching the show on TV — albeit alongside many more people than would fit in your living room. But the performances that weren’t part of the TV show really allowed each group to show off its personality.
VoicePlay took the audience on a “road trip,” with the members interacting exclusively in song. The five main members fought and made up musically, and dealt with a few unfortunate bodily functions.
And Home Free performed “guilty pleasures,” offering its take on bubblegum pop. Tenor Austin Brown, rebuffed by Foust in his attempts to rap during Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and Rebecca Black’s “Friday” — it’s OK for Foust, the group’s bass singer, to rap because “I sound like this and you sound like Honey Boo Boo” — turned the tables when Foust got carried away during his peformance of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.”
His overenthusiastic dancing next to bandmate Rob Lundquist caused the tenor to flee the stage, so Brown offered Foust a deal: The former wouldn’t rap if the latter wouldn’t twerk. Foust wouldn’t agree to the terms, but that set the stage for fill-in vocal percussionist Heatbox to perform “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song.
Heatbox, who replaced new father Adam Rupp, was a force to be reckoned with throughout the night, especially during a battle with the beatboxers from VoicePlay and The Filharmonic.
Another memorable voice belonged to Emoni Wilkins, who performed on the TV show with the group Ten but was on tour with VoicePlay. Her presence was especially noticeable as the only female singer in the three main groups. She showed her range, and showed off some runs, during Beyonce’s “Love on Top” and Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.”
While several performers gave nods to Penn State, Lundquist outshone them all when he launched a “We Are ... Penn State” chant toward the end of Home Free’s set. The group then performed “Ring of Fire” to a standing ovation and the popular battle with The Filharmonic to “I’m Alright” from “Caddyshack.”
When the groups closed out the night with a medley that included Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music,” it was an agreeable sentiment.