A cappella group Straight No Chaser returns to A.C.

The 10-man band Straight No Chaser has performed nearly 100 shows in Atlantic City over the last three summers.
The 10-man band Straight No Chaser has performed nearly 100 shows in Atlantic City over the last three summers. (ANDREW ZAEH)
Posted: August 24, 2013

When the 10-man band Straight No Chaser started their 11-date run at Harrah's in Atlantic City on Wednesday night, it wasn't the a cappella pop sensation's first extended stay in the area. The multi-crooner act, which started in 1996 at Indiana University, has taken part in several residencies in A.C.

"Our roots have been planted in Atlantic City since we did 40 shows at Harrah's Casino three summers ago," says Straight man Walter Chase. He reminds us the vocal ensemble did 50 more shows at Harrah's the next year. Since then, they've gone back and forth between Caesars and Harrah's.

"We're in A.C. more than any city, including our home base in Indiana," Chase says. "We're not the Rat Pack by any means, but we're certainly a chatty, interactive show that's good for grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and granddaughters."

The group has even created a takeoff on the Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl," called "Jersey Girl," Chase says. It poses musical questions about the reasons for the Garden State's nickname.

Chase comes from Easton, Pa., and member Jerome Collins hails from Allentown. "Before we got to Indiana University, "we lived 15 minutes from each other but we hadn't met," Chase says. "The first time I heard or saw Jerome was the first day at I.U., when we were in the same choir together."

A wealth of colleges (Harvard, Yale, University of Pennsylvania) have a cappella presences far beyond that of I.U., he says: "These colleges have a cappella fraternities, a cappella rushes. I.U. wasn't quite there yet when I was in school." It was only after the original 10 members of Straight No Chaser left that the a cappella choir blossomed there. Legacy groups and female vocal groups have come out of the woodwork.

Younger rivals are out there now. In the a cappella world, it's almost a punks vs. classic rockers standoff, reminiscent of the mid-1970s. "We support all of our a cappella brothers and sisters," Chase says, "no matter what. There are no rivalries."

There was, however, a faction within Straight No Chaser that made sure they had harder soul and rock edges ("we were big on Usher and Aliyah") to go with trad-barbershop. That mix of pop, Christmas songs, original compositions, and standards got them signed and won them an audience of fans that includes Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Dolly Parton, who sang with them on their new album, Under the Influence. Even Phil Collins came out of retirement to sing with them.

"We've been lucky," Chase says. "We started out singing on campus to whoever could tolerate us long enough to this. We were as shocked and elated as you to hear that artists like Elton and Phil Collins wanted in."

Straight No Chaser plays at 3, 8, and 9 p.m Friday through Sunday at Harrah's Casino Hotel, the Concert Venue, 777 Harrah's Blvd., Atlantic City. Tickets: $35, $45, and $55. Information: 855-234-7469, 702-777-2782, www.harrahsresort.com.

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