by Nick Girard
This October, The PickUps will be performing at ACappellaFest in Chicago. By now you may have heard of us, seen us at a festival or watched one of our videos. As our Facebook page says, we’re a hodgepodge of rogue a cappella singers who abandon our groups and join forces to perform at festivals. What you may not know is how The PickUps came to be and why you should consider joining us for ACF.
To talk about The PickUps, you have to start by talking about The Single Singers. Created by Annemarie Homan and Emily May’t Hoen for the 2012 London A Cappella Festival, The Single Singers were a group of LACF attendees who were at the festival without groups, but were still interested in performing. Participants were sent music, assigned parts, given solos and came ready to rehearse and perform. Even though I was a very last minute attendee at LACF, Annemarie was kind enough to let me join. Being in London rehearsing with a bunch of strangers, including members of groups like Montezuma’s Revenge, Blue Jupiter and Domino Vocal Group, not to mention a former Swingle Singer, was scary, but exhilarating. We performed a few songs during a daytime workshop and had our big show in the foyer after the final concert. And although the music wasn’t perfect, that wasn’t at all the point….
The Los Angeles A Cappella Festival was a couple of weeks later and I wanted to bring The Single Singers idea stateside. So, I asked Annemarie and Emily if they minded and asked Dave Spearandio and other LAAF organizers if it would be possible. Even though it was incredibly last minute, everyone agreed. I frantically started contacting people to get involved and they did. Tom Anderson and Deke Sharon generously donated arrangements. Amy Malkoff, Jim Diego, Ariel Arbisser, Rob Dietz and Austin Willacy jumped on board and agreed to perform. We made a Facebook page and began to advertise on Twitter. Even though I’d never met him, Elie Landau volunteered his incredible hotel suite for rehearsal. Johanna Vinson, Ben Bram, Selame Scarlett, Charlie Friday and Dave Grossman all joined in, as did many others. Getting Bill Hare in on the action was a particular high point since, before joining The PickUps, he’d never performed a cappella before, which is pretty incredible if you think about it. Again, the music wasn’t perfect, but we had a ton of fun entertaining the crowd and were lucky enough to have Dave Malkoff, an LA-based television news reporter, make an awesome video of the inaugural group. You hear a lot about the American a cappella community being a rich, supportive one. That first iteration of The PickUps at LAAF really proved that to me firsthand.
Following our success at LAAF, getting people to join The PickUps has been pretty easy. At BOSS in April, many of the same people wanted to participate again and encouraged their friends to do the same. We added a couple of new songs and some new people, rehearsed in our formalwear before the CARA VIP Reception and performed an Acabomb on Saturday, heroically led by Amanda Aldag and Tom Anderson. In July, the third iteration of The PickUps performed in Washington D.C. at VoCALnation, again doing an Acabomb, as well as performing to crowds entering the professional showcase. A cappella superfans Tara Kellerman and Ann LaDuca took pictures and video footage, including this one of Nate Altimari, one of my personal a cappella heroes, doing the lead on “You Are the Best Thing.” Again, everyone was pitching in, doing their part to enhance the ephemeral experience of a one time performance.
After all of these festivals, I hear from people, some I know well, many I barely know at all, saying how much participating in the The PickUps has meant to them. This is a feeling I can relate to. Over the past year, working on The Sing-Off, performing in The House Jacks and Overboard, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with some of my musical idols, people I’ve looked up to for years as performers, arrangers, artists. In many ways, The PickUps is a natural extension of that and a chance for me to give back to a community that has given me so much. Moreover, it’s a chance for people who don’t know each other, or barely know each other beyond the confines of social media, to work together pursuing the thing that brought us all here in the first place: the desire to make music.
Details about our plans for ACF are still in the works, but I strongly encourage you not only to attend ACF, but also to participate in The PickUps if your schedule allows. It’s rare someone can guarantee you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but with our ever-evolving lineup, location and repertoire, The PickUps are truly that.