This is the story of eight young vocalists on a quest to hear, learn, and sing a cappella music at VoCAL Nation, the annual festival for the Contemporary A cappella League.


Due to an oversight by the van rental company, getting out of Raleigh by our target time of 9am didn’t happen. However, once we packed up the van (and after a quick drive-through breakfast) we were on the road headed for Washington DC. I know what you are thinking, “eight people heading to an a cappella festival, they probably sang all the way.” And you would be wrong. In fact not a note was sung all the way to DC. The trip up was equal parts sleeping, discussing internet memes, our jobs, and the importance of the Oxford comma. Keep in mind that we being such a young group, this adventure was the first time that all eight of us would have to spend any long stretch of time together not intently focused on rehearsing. We stopped at the Wegmans in Fredricksburg, VA, which I must say, impressed all of us Wegmans virgins in the group.


Our original plan had been to check into the hotel first, freshen up, change into our gig clothes and then go to the venue. However, our late start combined with DC traffic at 4pm on a Friday made that a risky idea. We might not have made it back in time to perform. So we instead agreed to head straight to the venue for sound check.
When we arrived at the Arlington Temple United Methodist Church, parking was not easy to find. The height of the van prevented us from parking in the nearby decks. Thanks to a very generous church staff member we scored a parking spot in the church lot. This provided the perfect base of operations for the rest of the evening. There was a Gold’s gym directly across the street that offered a day-pass for $7.50. This gave us the opportunity to shower and change into performance attire.
We went to sound check and spent a good 15 minutes getting used to the stage and the sound of the room. Due to the acoustics of the room, we all had to recalibrate our internal timing to account for the echo in the room. A little disconcerting, but that’s what sound checks are for. Later, we all assembled in a nursery room to warm up and attempt to stay calm. We were sounding pretty good and there was a relaxed mood throughout the group.

Singing at the CAL Showcase

Other than some buggy microphones, our performance went extremely well. The links here are to YouTube recordings of our performance. We opened with Bottom of the River by Delta Rae, followed by Find My Way Home by The Gabe Dixon Band and ended with Cosmic Love by Florence + the Machine. Our soloists killed it and we all had a lot of fun.

The showcase gave us all a chance to see what our fellow CAL groups were up to. All the groups had a lot to offer and a spectrum of styles and talent was on display. The afterparty at Continental Pool Lounge was a great opportunity to meet and mingle with our fellow vocalists.

Workshops and Professional Showcase

The workshops on Saturday were extremely insightful. The highlight for us was the master class for our group taught by Barry Carl and Lindsey Chismark. Their advice on how to gel better as a group as well as key corrections in our technique were very helpful.

Professional Showcase

What a fun time! Vox Pop from DC opened and were followed by The Glue from Switzerland. I don’t even know how to categorize the sound from The Glue but I won’t soon forget it. After intermission, Afro Blue Vocal Band came on an performed many of their hits from The Sing Off. They didn’t miss a beat and were cheered by all including what seemed like a very large contingent of Howard University alums in the audience. The featured group of the evening, Cluster, then took the stage and from the opening note performed with style and agility. Their beat-box battle culminating in a virtual vocal turntable was mind-blowing to say the least.


As we all piled into the van to come home we were still on a huge ‘aca-high’ from the weekend. We were full of ideas for how we could improve our sound and were encouraged by all of the positive feedback we received from our performance. The trip home was uneventful and included some singing, some sleeping, and more internet memes.
-John Hollingsworth, Bass

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