Homegrown vocal group blasts off

T minus 5 practices for A Capellastock in the choral rehearsal room on campus. The A Capellastock event will be held on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m.

Music fans seeking a successful blend of their favorite styles of music found what they were looking for Saturday night at the Ogden Amphitheater, where WSU’s own vocal group T minus 5 played host at A Capellastock 2011.

A capella music is performed entirely through the voice, without instrumental accompaniment, although performers frequently use the voice to imitate instrumental sounds. A Capellastock, now in its seventh year, was started by the members of T minus 5 as a way to bring the nation’s premier vocal groups together for one night on the same stage.

“It’s the largest one-night a capella show in the world, as far as we know,” said Jeff Peterson, who sings with the five-man group made up of WSU alumni while also managing much of its public relations. “We try to pull in a lot of big acts.”

In the past, groups known widely in vocal music circles have appeared onstage at the event, including local groups Eclipse, the Saltaires and Octapella, as well as more nationally recognized groups like the Nylons, Toxic Audio, Barry Carl of Rockapella, and Groove For Thought, who was featured on the last season of NBC’s The Sing-Off.

“Especially to have a group made up of WSU grads that runs a show as big as this . . . it’s something to be proud of,” said Shawn Satterthwaite, T minus 5’s baritone and vocal percussionist, who also does a lot of the arranging for the act.

While T minus 5 headlined again this year, another group featured was Sonos, a Los Angeles-based group that plays with a lot of electronic gadgetry on stage, much to the delight of the audience. They will also be featured on the upcoming season of The Sing-Off. Also performing were The Coats, a favorite of the Seattle area; Infrared, a University of Utah-based group, and Vocalocity, a group that also originated in Weber County.

“The show is such a variety of musical styles,” said Mandi Martensteck, who originally made friends with the five members of T minus 5 when they were all in music classes together at WSU, and has stayed in touch with them, helping often with visual presentation and staging for the group’s bigger shows. “It’s a tradition for a lot of families at A Capellastock. There’s younger junior high kids, college kids, everyone. Even the elderly like this music.”

T minus 5 tries to take into account all audience preferences when planning out their shows.

“When people hear the words ‘a cappella,’ they automatically think ‘barbershop’,” Martensteck said, “and that is not what this group is. This is rock-and-roll.”

Karsten Longhurst, the group’s musical director and tenor, teaches choir at Ogden High School and tries to put together music that he knows his students would enjoy.

“We like to mix a little old school and new school…into our songs,” said Longhurst. “With newer age A Capella groups, you have people who are willing to do anything to make it sound cool. There are tons of different styles.”

Longhurst, like all the group’s members, has a large background in classical, more academic music, but he said he understands the necessity of making their product profitable first.

“Our job is to entertain,” Longhurst said. “If you’re going to get paid for what you do, you’d better appeal to an audience.”

Following the lead of other cutting-edge vocal groups and with the help of sound engineer Rick Lowe, T minus 5 has tried to work in visuals, sound effects and electronic gadgetry. Satterthwaite, who also works as a band teacher at Northridge High School, uses his voice, along with some additional help through electronic manipulation, to make the sounds of a drum set. This technique is commonly referred to as “beat-boxing.”

“I am a grandpa, and I do some beat-boxing,” Satterthwaite said, “so my grandkids sometimes jokingly call me ‘G-Diddy’.”

T minus 5 has been together since 2000, when the original members met in the WSU Singers. Within three years of the group’s formation, three singers had been replaced. As of now, the five current members have been performing together for nine years. Along with Peterson, Longhurst and Satterthwaite, the group is rounded out by Jared Allen, tenor, and Jeff “Fish” Salmond, low bass.

“We had this idea to start a contemporary, more modern kind of sound,” Peterson said. “The five original members won the Weber State talent show that first year.”

Until recently, the group has lived within a 25-mile radius of each other, and they’ve always made time to rehearse. Allen, who recently moved to Casper, Wyo., said he still feels so dedicated to the group that he drives down for performances. They do a lot of practice and organization over video conferences and e-mails.

“The truth is, we don’t know any other way,” Peterson said. “Music will always be a part of our lives.”