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April 4, 2020

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The Minnesota-based a cappella group Tonic Sol-fa wowed the crowd during their Saturday, Feb. 1 performance at the Lakeside Center at Nicolet College in Rhinelander.
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The Minnesota-based a cappella group Tonic Sol-fa wowed the crowd during their Saturday, Feb. 1 performance at the Lakeside Center at Nicolet College in Rhinelander.
2/6/2020 7:30:00 AM
Pitch perfect: Tonic Sol-fa delivers foot-tapping a cappella performance at Nicolet
Stephanie Kuski
River News Features Reporter

Tonic Sol-fa had its Lakeside Center audience clapping along and bopping to the beat all through the night Saturday as the Minnesota-based a cappella group performed songs from their newest EP "All For One."

Right from the start of the sold-out show, part of the Nicolet Live concert series, the group was "Rockin' on Top of the World," quickly prompting the audience to clap and sing along to their catchy beat.

The New York Times has described Tonic Sol-fa as "a vocal kaleidoscope unique to the human voice," and rightly so. Each group member delivered a distinct sound which elevated their collective harmony.

Lead vocalist Shaun Johnson commanded the stage with unmatched showmanship from start to finish. He kept the audience laughing between sets with an especially witty banter and a few lighthearted anecdotes sprinkled in between.

Greg Bannwarth, tenor and vocal percussionist, has an impressive vocal range. Bannwarth and Johnson complimented each other well, tag-teaming many of the leads throughout the night.

Baritone and vocal percussionist Theo Brown performed a unique rendition of beatboxing, with Brown using his voice to keep the beat in a variety of different ways, giving the group a unique sound all their own.

Jared Dove's performance as the bass singer of the group was unquestionably sensational. His powerfully deep voice had a commanding presence among his talented group mates, which elevated their shared sound to the next level.

Separately, each member's voice had a completely different sound, but collectively, their harmonies were pitch perfect.

The group featured a selection of original songs and covers as well as new music from their latest EP "All For One."

They also tested the waters and even tried out some new moves in performing "Drip Drop," which, by the sound of the audience's applause and laughter, have been approved.

Other songs like "North to Alaska" and "Highway Patrol" featured Dove's fantastic range in bass while "Free at Last" highlighted the group's harmonizing riffs.

It was moving to witness what great feats these men were capable of performing with their voices alone.

Johnson, for example, played a surprisingly convincing trumpet with his voice only in the opening chords of "Mistakes," and throughout the night, the vibration of Dove's not-so-subtle bass could be felt from the back row.

In addition to their gifted voices, the group was jovial and quick-witted throughout the night, performing "Dos a Beer" as a way to explain how they got their name "Tonic Sol-fa." The sing-along fan-favorite had the audience laughing and clapping along.

Johnson and crew were wonderful in interacting with audience members between sets, creating a very welcoming space that was entertaining throughout the night.

The evening came to a close with a standing ovation and a fun, lighthearted rendition of "Northside Gal."

The four-man group began their a cappella career over two decades ago at St. John's University in St. Cloud, Minn, Dove explained. The original group started in college, but has transformed over the years into its current form. Three of the four men have been performing together since 2000. Brown, the newest member, joined the group roughly five years ago.

"Back in the day, we used to have to go convince everybody to come out and see us. We had to explain in-depth what a cappella was," Dove said. "We didn't have movies like 'Pitch Perfect' to pave the wave for us, so it was all uphill. But the payoff was great, because once you got to the show, you had fans for life."

Dove said the group tours across the country throughout the year, especially during their Midwest Holiday Tour which features fan favorite Christmas tunes.

"We travel all over the country, but it's nice to have these shows close to home," Dove said. "In one way, shape or form, we're always doing something Tonic Sol-fa related. It keeps us busy."

In addition to holiday music, Tonic Sol-fa features melodies from across a wide variety of genres, including gospel, country and pop music.

Dove described their sound as "a healthy mix of everything," and said the group is able to please a variety of listeners in featuring an assortment of genres.

In doing so, Tonic Sol-fa has released 10 albums and sold over two million copies, reaching a combined audience of over 250,000. They perform over 100 concerts each year across 48 states and have made numerous national appearances.

And they're no strongers to Hodag Country.

"We have been to Nicolet College a number of times, so for us to come back and do this show, we're building on something we've already done in the past," Dove said. "We have a nice following up here."

Lois Kettner and Amy Malek, Tonic Sol-fa fans who followed the group to Saturday's performance at Nicolet, said they enjoyed listening to a handful of their familiar songs as well as music from their newest albums.

"Their harmonies are fantastic and they blend so well together," Kettner said. "They also project so much enthusiasm and draw it out of the audience."

"They have a good connection with the audience and bring some comedy into it," Malek added. "They made everybody feel very welcome, and I love how they get the audience involved with some of their music."

After the show, the ladies made sure to pick up a signed copy of their latest EP from the guys themselves.

Janice Scheeler, another spectator during Saturday's performance, had not seen an a cappella performance before, but said she enjoyed Tonic Sol-fa.

"I had no idea what to expect," Scheeler said. "I am amazed that they can make all of these sounds with their voices."

Bob Feldman, an a cappella fan, said Tonic Sol-fa's tone was very different from other groups he's heard, but said he liked their uniqueness.

In addition to a local fan-following in Rhinelander, Tonic Sol-fa has also won numerous contemporary a cappella awards for best pop album, gospel song and Christmas original and has been featured on television, in movies and music videos.

The group said they hope to make their way back to the area soon to continue expanding their fandom.

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