A cold January mid-week night in Cardiff. Not exactly bucket list material and we didn’t know whether the locals would turn out to support Home Free, a band that have had little to no commercial exposure in the UK.
They came to prominence in the US on the 2013/2014 Sing Off television show and have cornered the market with acappella interpretations of country songs. They were making their Welsh debut in a venue that is usually part of the UK comedy circuit. It lends itself well to that type of intimate stand up performance with its low stage, and the front rows of the audience are almost within touching distance.
It was very quickly apparent that our fears about the band’s pulling power were totally unfounded. The locals turned up. Not only did they show their support in numbers, they made it very plain that there was huge love and respect for a band that have perfected the world of social media and You Tube to connect with their fan base. Home Free encourage audience feedback and participation. It would be hard to envisage a better venue.
Touring country artists are often bound to leave their bands at home to save costs. Home Free can tour here in the UK and we can see them just as they intended. No set up costs or road crew. They turn up with their microphones and away they go. We had the chance to chat with their sound engineer post-show and commended him on the sound quality. He informed us that they utilise the systems in the venues and that he uses whatever is provided when they are on tour. Only occasionally do they install their own sound systems whilst performing shows at home.
Credit therefore to the Glee Club. An acappella group is hugely reliant on the sound quality and on this occasion, it was faultless. Tim Foust wouldn’t be able to demonstrate those notes from his boots otherwise! Without a support band, Home Free made an early appearance and opened with a melody of ‘Fishing In The Dark’ and Little Big Town’s ‘Boondocks’.
Steve Young’s ‘Seven Bridges Road’ followed before Tim Foust and Austin Brown introduced themselves and their colleagues. It was usually the Faust/Brown double act that did most of the talking and whilst much of this was loosely scripted, it was clear that they pride themselves on providing a little more than their collective singing prowess. A close audience will have the chance to respond, and as they say “there is always one”. Nothing that the Home Free guys couldn’t cope with however, and it was all very humorous.
It was the close harmonies and exceptional vocal talent that the crowd had come to see. Despite the up-to-date material, Home Free are this century’s foremost barbershop quartet. Their performance is based upon the uniquely American art form that has encompassed many musical genres, but particularly lends itself to country music.
Zac Brown Band’s ‘Colder Weather’ and June Carter Cash/Merle Kilgore’s ‘Ring Of Fire’ are songs that were given the full vocal treatment together with a couple of Home Free originals. Particular crowd favourites were Maren Morris’s ‘My Church’ and the country standard ‘Wagon Wheel’, songs that we all hear so many times but not quite like this.
Adam Rupp doesn’t say very much. By that we mean that he doesn’t actually contribute greatly to the general chit chat that the band encourage between songs. His role is rather more specialist. He provides the beats and the rhythms that give the band their signature sound. It’s difficult to imagine that someone can actually create the sounds of a full drum kit simply by manipulating their voice and their mouth the way he does.
You are drawn to his role in the band and it was a high point when he remained on stage as the other members took a break for his solo spot. He began with his ‘drum solo’ before moving onto a superb beatboxing rendition of ‘Beat It’, complete with the Jacko dance routine. 10 minutes of the show that was a terrific interlude and showcased his immense talent. A standing ovation was the least the crowd could give back.
The band have become synonymous with the Christmas season. They have released 3 holiday albums and although we were just out of season, it was a huge pleasure that Home Free performed ‘Children Go Where I Send Thee’, which they performed on Kenny Rogers’ holiday album ‘Once Again It’s Christmas’ in 2015. A huge personal favourite and a great foot-tapping song that they have made their own, albeit without Kenny’s contribution on this occasion.
If anyone needed to be educated about the talent that these five guys possess, just play the You Tube video. It was our first Home Free concert. We guess that the guys will be back so it won’t be our last. The good folks of Cardiff turned out in their numbers on a very inclement winter’s night but we doubt whether anyone regretted it.