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Atlantic Records Recording Artists

Straight No Chaser Ryan Ahlwardt * Jerome Collins * Walter Chase * Seggie Isho Michael Luginbill * Charlie Mechling * Dan Ponce David Roberts * Randy Stine * Tyler Trepp Tonight’s program will be announced from the stage. This performance includes one 20 minute intermission. When Straight No Chaser—a 10-man a cappella group originally formed by college buddies more than a decade ago—first began, none of its members ever imagined being featured on national TV or topping the charts. A dozen years later, the group’s major-label debut, Holiday Spirits, went on to sell more than 110,000 copies. Fueled by appearances on ABC World News Tonight, CNN Headline News and The Today Show, among others, the album spent 14 days in the number one slot on Amazon, and five days at the top spot overall on iTunes. The group’s now famous version of The 12 Days of Christmas peaked in the top 10 on the Christmas radio chart and reached the top 15 at Hot AC. On its first-ever headline tour in December 2008, Straight No Chaser sold out shows across the country. “Back in college, we started this group just for fun—no one ever thought of it as a possible career path,” says original member Randy Stine. “It’s hard to comprehend that 10 years after our last performance, we’d be back together recording for a major label with an album that reached number one on iTunes, heading out on a international 50-city tour. Along with all the fun is a lot of work, but it’s a complete labor of love, and one that we never dreamed possible.” Here’s how The 12 Days of Christmas, the Internet and one serendipitous YouTube

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viewing changed the course of 10 unsuspecting lives. Straight No Chaser is neither strait-laced nor straight-faced, but neither is it vaudevillestyle kitsch. As Stine comments, “We take the music very seriously; we just don’t take ourselves too seriously.” In the process, the group is reinventing the idea of a cappella on the modern pop landscape. Originally formed 13 years ago while students together at Indiana University, the group has reassembled and reemerged as a phenomenon—with a huge fanbase, millions of viewers on YouTube and a contract with Atlantic Records. In an era when so much pop music is the product of digital processing and vocal pro-tooling, Straight No Chaser is the real deal—the captivating sound of 10 unadulterated human voices coming together to make extraordinary music that is moving people in a fundamental sense…and with a sense of humor. In the fall of 1996, Indiana University was a rarity among colleges—a campus without a single a cappella group. Other schools often had multiple ensembles—Yale boasted 15! Ten students came together to remedy the situation—hand-picked by group founder Dan Ponce not only for their outstanding voices, but for their personalities. Standing alone, the group knew it had to stand out to succeed. Purposefully avoiding the stereotype of the traditional college a cappella group, the guys treated themselves more like a local


band that just happened to use their voices as their instruments. As Ponce recalls, “We needed to be a group that would blend in terms of both sound and character.” The formula worked. It wasn’t long before the ensemble was headlining concerts, and within two years, touring nationally. Straight No Chaser opened for artists like Lou Rawls, performed at Chicago Cubs and White Sox games and even made its way to Carnegie Hall, where the group blew the crowd away at the National Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. The original line up of Straight No Chaser released three albums which sold more than 50,000 copies. The key to its success was the unique approach and attitude that it brought to the art of a cappella. Straight No Chaser forged a unique style based on a combination of musical brilliance balanced with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor. “We would dip into something contemporary that you wouldn’t think an a cappella group could pull off. But instead of having people say, ‘oh that was funny,’ we wanted them to say, ‘wow, I can’t believe they did that,’” Stine explains. “But at the same time, we’d try to make each other laugh on stage, because if we weren’t having fun, how could the audience enjoy the show? If we had a good time on stage, then the audience would have a good time as well.” In 1999, with college graduation looming, the members of Straight No Chaser chose their replacements—putting a plan in place to ensure that the new tradition they had created would continue on with successive generations of IU undergrads. Then, in April 2006, the unexpected happened—Indiana University decided to host a reunion concert for the original members. In honor of the event, Stine produced a DVD of one of their 1998 concerts, and he posted clips from it on YouTube to share with the other founding members. Suddenly, concert footage that was nearly a decade old was available to be seen by millions of people worldwide…and

see it they did, in mind-blowing numbers. With no promotion, Straight No Chaser’s version of The 12 Days of Christmas (interpolated with Toto’s Africa) received more than 7 million views in December of 2007 alone, becoming the hottest viral video of the season. Stine sold out every copy of the DVD he had put together, and his supplier couldn’t produce new copies fast enough to keep up with rising demand. In a turn of events that the spiritually inclined might describe as a “higher power” moment, Atlantic Records Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman happened to be among those millions of viewers. “It was completely random and totally unexpected,” says Kallman. “I was surfing YouTube to check out what was new, when I saw this brilliant, fresh and totally compelling performance. And then I saw how many hits they were getting, and I had something of an epiphany. So I emailed Randy right away.” Stine, not surprisingly, thought it was some kind of prank. “The head of Atlantic Records e-mailing me at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day and saying he was interested in our group? I thought, ‘yeah, right.’” Fortunately, Stine decided to check it out anyway, and he and Ponce soon found themselves having dinner with Kallman in Los Angeles. Within a few days, the entire group flew to Atlantic’s offices in New York, and a deal was in the works. “I think their potential is unlimited,” said Kallman at the time of the group’s signing. “The incredible combination of amazing voices, great material, fantastic senses of humor and huge charisma sets them completely apart from what anyone usually thinks of when they think ‘a cappella group.’ They’re just a great group, period. I believe they have a terrific future ahead of them in the musical mainstream.” In the years since the group graduated from college, the original members of Straight No Chaser had embarked on a variety of life paths—some pursuing professional careers in music and theatre,

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some going into other fields entirely. But suddenly presented with the unforeseen opportunity to come back together, make a major label debut, and take the music to a new level, the members all agreed to seize the head-spinning moment. Taking off from the runaway success of The 12 Days of Christmas, Straight No Chaser made its Atlantic debut in 2008 with Holiday Spirits, a captivating collection of Christmas songs. The goal, as Ponce explains, was to deliver “powerful arrangements of the Christmas music that everyone loves. So many Christmas albums stray too far away from the original songs, and I think that can be a turn-off. Ultimately, it’s the time of year when people want to hear songs they’re familiar with and be able to sing along. We want our arrangements to re-energize the classics that everyone loves.” At the same time, Straight No Chaser showed its musical versatility with two original composi-

tions by Ponce, Indiana Christmas and Christmas Wish. Yet last year’s success of Holiday Spirits marks only the beginning of the group’s second life. Summer 2009 saw the release of Six Pack, an EP of cover songs ranging from Amy Winehouse’s Rehab to a medley of Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours and Over the Rainbow. Last month, Straight No Chaser released Christmas Cheers, a brand new full-length album with all new holiday songs. The group also embarked on a 50-city U.S. tour, further building on its reputation as a not-to-be-missed live act. The birth of Straight No Chaser’s second life is a story of talent, drive and some very good luck indeed. But its goal remains the same as it was back in the college days. As Stine says, “we want the audience to not miss the instruments, be surprised by what we’re doing and in the end, appreciate the songs in a whole new way.”

straight no chaser profiles Ryan Ahlwardt is a singer-songwriter and music educator from Fishers, Ind. Ahlwardt served as musical director of Straight No Chaser while earning his undergraduate degree at Indiana University (Bachelor of Science in Marketing 2003). Ahlwardt performed as an a cappella singer onboard Celebrity Cruises for two years out of college, along with fellow SNC alumnus Michael Luginbill. Since 2005, Ahlwardt has released three independent albums and shared the stage with acts including the Beach Boys, Martin Sexton, Gabe Dixon, Ben Lee and Corey Smith. When he isn’t on the road with Straight No Chaser, Ahlwardt teaches guitar and voice lessons, arranges music for SNC and performs as a solo artist. Ahlwardt lives outside of Indianapolis, Ind. with his wife Lauren. Jerome Collins is one of the star soloists and original members of Straight No Chaser. He has worked on various musical projects since graduating from Indiana University. Collins has performed in many musicals in theatres around

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the world, most recently appearing in The Lion King as Simba in Hong Kong. Collins lives in New York City. Walter Chase, a New York City-based freelance music producer and arranger, has written and produced music for bands, staged productions and a cappella groups. He is a vocal coach, a trained studio engineer and hopes to open his own studio in the future. His music production company, Walter Chase Music, works alongside upcoming artists and other multimedia production companies to independently design live performances and produce studio recordings. www.walterchase.com Seggie Isho, originally from Rochester Hills, Mich., served as business manager of Straight No Chaser from 2002 to 2005 while he sang with the group during his undergraduate studies at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. After attending graduate school at the University of Southern California, Isho sang onboard


Celebrity Cruises in 2007 as a member of the Coverdales throughout the Caribbean and Mediterranean. Isho currently lives and works in Las Vegas, where he is director of operations for Wireless Experts. Isho is also the co-founder of GFB Entertainment. Michael Luginbill is a singer/songwriter/ audio engineer originally from Indianapolis, Ind. He performed overseas for several years after college as an entertainer on Celebrity Cruises. Upon his return, Luginbill played guitar and sang lead vocals in Mitchell Street Band, a Bloomington, Ind.-based original pop/funk quintet. In 2006, Luginbill recorded and independently released a solo album and relocated to Los Angeles, to study music production and audio engineering at the Musicians’ Institute. Currently, he is on the road with SNC, while also developing original material for future independent projects. Charlie Mechling is an alumnus of Indiana University, in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind. Some of his theatre credits include: Off-Broadway – Like You Said It (Orlando) and Toxic Audio (bass/bari u/s); Regional – Cinderella (Prince) at Cape Fear RT and Hair (Steve/M. Mead) at Barrington Stage Co.; Tours – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Adam) and Seussical (Wickersham Bro.). Mechling currently resides in Houston with his wife Julia. Dan Ponce is the founder and first music director of Straight No Chaser. Before reuniting with the group Ponce was a reporter for ABC 7 News in Chicago—the city’s top-rated news station. Prior to joining ABC 7, Ponce was a weekend morning anchor/general assignment reporter at WILX-TV in Lansing, Mich. Ponce is an accomplished musician and a former recording artist for RCA Records in Atlanta. While there he also taught piano, voice and violin. He has strong family ties to news. He is the son of Phil Ponce, veteran anchor and host of Chicago Tonight on WTTW, and his brother Anthony is also a reporter for NBC 5 News in Chicago. A native Chicagoan, Dan Ponce received his master’s degree from the

Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. His undergraduate degree is from Indiana University. David Roberts attended Indiana University and performed with Straight No Chaser from 1996 to 2000. After graduation he accepted a job as a sales manager for a convention hotel in Chicago. In February of 2003 he performed as a member of a quartet on Celebrity Cruises, traveling all over the Caribbean, Baltic and Mediterranean. After his time with Celebrity, Roberts attended Fordham Graduate School and received a Master of Business Administration in finance with a focus on entrepreneurship and new ventures. Roberts currently works for a large global bank in midtown Manhattan. Randy Stine is one of the original members of Straight No Chaser, performing with and managing the group from 1996 to 2000. Living in his hometown of Chicago, Stine produced Straight No Chaser’s Live at the Musical Arts Center on DVD. The disc led to the group’s record deal with Atlantic Records—several of the clips received millions of views on YouTube. When he’s not performing or recording with SNC, Stine enjoys snow skiing, video production and cars. Tyler Trepp is originally from Des Moines, Iowa and graduated from Indiana University in 2007. He was the sixth music director of IU Straight No Chaser, producing the group’s sixth album Another Round. After graduation, Trepp started the four-part a cappella group Oceans Four and sang with that group on Celebrity Cruises all around the world, most notably the flagship, Solstice, from October 2008 to May 2009. Trepp still lives in Des Moines. He enjoys golf, Sportcenter and visiting his friends and family.

Atlantic Recording Corporation 1290 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10104 Tel: 212.707.2000 Fax: 212.405.5477 3400 W. Olive Ave. Burbank, CA 91505 Tel: 818.238 6800 Fax: 818.562.9211 http://www.atlanticrecords.com

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Straight No Chaser Program  

A vocal celebration of the season Saturday, Dec. 12 – 7:30 p.m.

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