The line for tickets to the Midnight Ramblers’ fall show, “Midnight Rambler’s Day Off,” wound around the lobby of Strong auditorium — competition for the best seats in the house was fierce. T-shirts, stickers, CDs, and even Rambler pencils were being hawked at the door, as songs from past years blasted through the speakers and into the ears of waiting audience members.
The Ramblers kicked off their set with Panic! at the Disco’s “Miss Jackson,” one of the songs that took them to the ICCA semi-finals last year. Junior Ben Emmerich sang lead vocals, backed by sole senior Ben Ramey. It was a bold choice for an opening number, especially since last year’s soloist, alumnus Justin Maldonado, was in the audience. But even those who recognize last year’s rendition must admit that Emmerich did an amazing job, setting the tone for the night, and putting to rest any suspicion that this group is going anywhere but onwards and up.
After the graduation of five members last year, the Ramblers have some big shoes to fill, especially in the percussion department. Anyone who’s seen a Ramblers show in the past few years will be happily familiar with the vocal percussion of Keegan Cavanaugh Stricker, who graduated in May. But the group has more than stepped up this year, with Emmerich, sophomore Shawn Cummings, and especially first-year Ethan “E” Ferwalt, taking over the job with admirable and undeniable skill.
Speaking of newbies, the Ramblers introduced a whopping five this year — Fewalt, and fellow first-years Larry Chen, Ozor Kumi, Jack Bell, and Dan Carter. (“He’s our third Dan, had to fill in our supply from last year,” said Emmerich.) The Ramblers, as a whole, are a very young group this year, with more than two-thirds of the members being sophomores or first-years. But that doesn’t mean this is a year of recovery for the all-male acapella group. The group has not faltered a step, as displayed by the dozen soloists who sang everything from this year’s pop hits to jazz tunes from the 70’s. Chen’s silky smooth tenor in “Do You Wanna Do Nothing With Me”, and sophomore Sean Lee’s solos in “Satisfied” by Galantis, and “Airplane” by BTS blew the socks off everyone in the audience. “Airplane” was sung – mostly in Korean – by Chen, Lee, and Cummings, and was a collaboration between the Ramblers and Rice Crew, this year’s guest group. Rambler’s General Manager junior Bryce Davis described the Crew as “a mix between Kpop and American hip-hop,” and their high energy performance (with the Ramblers dancing alongside them) had the audience grooving in their seats.
The song that opened the Ramblers’ second act was actually chosen by the audience in a clever fundraising tactic. During intermission, audience members could vote for by placing donations in one of three hats. The winner was overwhelmingly Childish Gambino’s “Redbone.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Midnight Ramblers show without their iconic interspersed video clips. This year, the theme was centered around “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Their videos were an incredible parody of the film, with some zingers and Rochester references thrown in for good measure.
There was also a touching tribute to Paul Burgett, who passed away earlier this year — a video compilation by Ramblers past and present performing “The Genesee” to honor the late dean. The group closed with a rousing rendition of “God is a Woman” by Ariana Grande, soloed by Bell, and as always, their trademark alumni number, “Kiss Him Goodbye”.
The show was sweet, amusing, genuine, funny, and altogether, as junior Dan Lasalle (or Nat King Cole) might say, “Unforgettable.”
Correction (11/7/18): The original version of this article stated that Sean Cummings played trumpet during the performance of “Redbone.” In fact, Cummings played trumpet during “Unforgettable.”