I am by no means a newcomer to the Midnight Ramblers’ fan base. Ever since Freshman Orientation, I’ve loved the group’s ability to capture its audience with each performance and entertain in a way that far surpasses simply singing.
I have become accustomed to the Ramblers’ concerts, where energizing pieces are contrasted with sweet ballads and homemade movie clips, poking fun at blockbuster films and campus conundrums and leaving audiences in fits of laughter.
This past Saturday, however – when the all-male a cappella group put on its 10th anniversary show, “Ramble On” – was a whole other experience.
With three eras of Ramblers alumni gracing the stage intermittently throughout the current members’ performance, the packed crowd at Strong Auditorium got to witness an extraordinary show that blended high notes and humor with bittersweet reunion.
The energy and enthusiasm of the audience was palpable 45 minutes before show time, when ticket holders were spilling out of the entrance hall to Strong. The opening act – a rendition of “Say Anything” with a solo by freshman Andrew Polec – mirrored that energy.
Polec epitomizes the word “performer,” and his crazy dance moves and eccentric stage personality were the perfect introduction to a night of entertainment.
The group followed Polec’s song with a number of classics. Sophomore Mark Sobel flirting with a man in a banana suit while singing Tally Hall’s “Banana Man” and senior Ben Fusco-Gessick’s version of “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies,” by Panic! at the Disco, were just two of many highlights of the first half.
Throughout the course of the show, the three seniors – Josh Hatcher, Bobby Sanborn and Fusco-Gessick – each debuted a new song. Hatcher chose Jamie Lidell’s “Multiply,” Sanborn picked “Home,” by Marc Broussard and Fusco-Gessick sang Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”
Sophomore Chris Aguilar’s version of “La Camisa Negra” was another big crowd-pleaser. Aguilar is an entertainer in his own right, and it didn’t take long for his enthusiasm and charm on stage to win over the Strong Auditorium audience.
Right before intermission, the Ramblers again demonstrated their knack for showmanship with Flo Rida’s “Low,” featuring solos from Fusco-Gessick, sophomore Roger Hilson and junior percussion-extraordinaire Nick Hamlin. The song was reminiscent of the Ramblers’ rendition of Kanye West’s “Good Life” from their fall show and left the audience wanting more going into intermission.
Both parts of the show were interspersed with alumni performances from different eras. The original Ramblers took the stage toward the beginning of the show and hit high notes with upbeat songs “Walk the Dinosaur” and “Summer of ’69.” The two songs were contrasted with “Crazy Love,” a slower ballad featuring Rambler founder Jon Huang ’00 as the soloist.
The second era of Ramblers alumni performed midway through the first act. Their performance was marked by the jazzy number “Minnie the Moocher,” which featured a solo from Tom Kraus ’05 with the audience echoing Kraus’s refrains. The third and most recent era of Ramblers alumni was a fantastic testament to the group’s ability to perform. The ensemble drove the crowd crazy with songs “Question!” sung by Hatcher, and Tenacious D’s “Tribute,” performed by the infamous Matt Roe ’07. (Perhaps the only complaint of the night was that the audience didn’t get to see a reprise of Roe’s signature song, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” by The Darkness.)
And even though the vocal talent of each of the Ramblers, both past and present, was certainly evident throughout the concert, that was by no means what defined their performance. Every Ramblers concert is fantastic and unique because of the energy that each member brings to the show and because, at heart, each member of this a cappella group is an entertainer.
Nowhere was this more evident on Saturday night than in the performance of KEY Scholar Jeff Le. Le brings an enthusiasm and passion to the stage that immediately endears him to the audience. At the same time, Le was also a testament to the group’s versatility, at one point serenading the crowd with the Journey ballad, “Open Arms,” and then later belting out “Vehicle,” by Ides of March.
The best part of the show was saved for last, when the four generations of Ramblers all went on stage to sing two of the group’s timeless classics – “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Make Me Lose Control” – and then finished the performance with the signature Rambler farewell song, “Kiss Him Goodbye.” It was the perfect end to a night that illustrated the level of performance that the Ramblers have brought to UR in their 10-year history. The audience seemed to agree Saturday night, because when the final song finished and the group took its bow, the entire Strong Auditorium crowd was on its feet.
Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.