Winners of NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” Twin Cities vocal group Home Free found a perfect blend for national stardom.
LA CRESCENT, MINN. – All the teenage girls in the long post-concert line at the La Crescent Arts Center were hopelessly giddy. Except Eve Kramer.
The 17-year-old was calm and patient, clutching a wooden cutting board as she waited to meet the five guys known as Home Free, the Twin Cities’ instant singing sensation thanks to their Dec. 23 victory on NBC’s “The Sing-Off.”
The board was a replica of the cover of Home Free’s brand-new album “Crazy Life,” which she wood-burned as a project for art class. She wanted the singers to autograph it.
“It was everything I expected and more,” the senior from Trempealeau, Wis., said of the show. “I didn’t know they were that funny. Their harmonies are tight. I love their arrangements.”
The first Minnesota music act in 25 years to win a recording contract on a TV talent show, the a cappella quintet — no instruments, just voices — hit No. 3 on the iTunes chart when “Crazy Life” was released by music giant Columbia Records. Now Home Free is headlining the first Sing-Off Live Tour, a 32-city trek coming to Minneapolis on Friday.
It’s a big change for five guys accustomed to traveling in a conversion van. Fourteen years after the group was started by two music-crazy brothers from Mankato, Home Free hopes it has made a leap toward stardom, or at least a step up from playing 200 concerts a year at county fairs, small colleges and cruise ships.
But first, there was the 600-seat auditorium at La Crescent — the final gig they had booked before winning national fame.
Humor and harmonies
Three things about the guys in Home Free: They are tall (lead singer Austin Brown is the shortest at 6 feet 1 ½).
They wear Western clothes — shirts, cowboy boots and big belt buckles.
And they truly harmonize. Ranging in age from 27 to 34, they get along like brothers who are the best of pals.
Their fast-paced 70-minute concert was a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll and a whole lot of fun.
Texas-bred bass singer Tim Foust managed to playfully tease every member of the group — one for wearing purple jeans, another for singing Rebecca Black’s “Friday” on a Saturday and so on. With a speaking voice as deep as his singing, Foust even taunted the fans by threatening to sing a soaring Dolly Parton song.
As with any a cappella ensemble, though, it comes down to the vocals. And Home Free hits a home run.
“They’re incredibly talented,” said Scott Hoying, lead singer of Pentatonix, which won “The Sing-Off” the previous season.
Hoying knows a little bit about succeeding in a world where no instruments are allowed. Less than a year after winning NBC’s contest for a cappella groups, the three-year-old Pentatonix is selling out theaters, including a recent date at the State in Minneapolis, and it counts more than 5 million subscribers to its YouTube channel.
“Austin has a killer voice,” said Hoying. “Their bass singer is unreal. He taught our bass singer a couple things, like how to sing lower. Combining a cappella and country is really cool. There’s a market for that in country.”
His advice to Home Free: “Find a niche and commit to it. And be the best at that. Now they’re kinda country and kinda pop. They need to get signed with a high-up country manager with Nashville connections and promote their music to country radio. They should do a killer original [song] and go on tour with Luke Bryan.”