The RockNRoll Chorus (Summer Tour 2019)
Jersey-Based “Rock-Appella” Brigade Hits Historic Savannah
by Christopher Long
Thursday. 9am. July 25, 2019. “‘Sup, dude?” I asked my teenage compadre, Vance, via my mobile phone device. “Uh, nuthin’, dude,” he groggled in a sleepy summertime fashion. “Wanna cruise up to see The RockNRoll Chorus tonight?” I inquired, as if it was a perfectly logical question. “Ab-so-freaking-lutely,” Vance fired back, now mustering significantly more enthusiasm. In short order, the cooler was stocked fully and the tank was gassed up completely. Debit cards? Check. IDs? Check. Pantera and Arctic Monkeys CDs? Check. And by 11:30am we were hitting the open road – a 300-mile pilgrimage (each way) from (near) Cocoa Beach, Florida to Savannah, Georgia. It would be an 18-hour round trip adventure – straight up and straight back. Hard core. It’s how we roll.
A bona fide lunatic, Joe Cantaffa first cooked-up the crazy concept for The RockNRoll Chorus back in 2006. The New Jersey-based veteran vocal teacher created the “rock-appella”-style group as an ultimate opportunity for teenage students to learn the ropes of the entertainment industry in a variety of authentic, professional settings. In recent years, my annual road trips to see the RNRC in concert have become a cherished component of the summer season – right along with sun-soaked beach excursions, multiple Warped Tour experiences and setting off potentially hazardous 4th of July fireworks.
Despite operating initially on less than a shoestring budget, a handful of hungry high schoolers in cutoffs and T-shirts believed in Cantaffa’s mission and they were only too eager to sign-on. Soon, the group’s debut CD had been produced and released. By 2007, a slew of live concert dates had been slated. The group’s first “season” offered the aspiring young singers and dancers only a handful of live performance opportunities. However, the RNRC schedule now includes a full-scale annual national summer concert tour. State of the art sound and light production is transported in the group’s full-sized, enclosed equipment truck, while the fresh-faced performers travel cross-country in a luxury tour bus – along with a road crew, vocal coaches and security team.
Five hours, six cans of Monster and two bags of pretzel twists later, Vance and I arrived at the magnificent Historic Savannah Theater, where we were greeted in the lobby by “Bubbles,” the group’s head of security. Seated on a groovy couch resembling the back end of a classic bright red Cadillac (fins and all), Bubbles clearly was a massive, intimidating-looking man with a shaved head and boasting a set of “guns” that could easily have crushed my rib cage like a pack of peanut butter Captain’s Wafers. YIKES! Teenage production assistant Jill, also was standing by, ready to offer us our VIP press credentials for the night. Despite their ages, the RNRC cast members are consummate pros. And following a few ice-breaking pleasantries with the production staff, Vance and I were whisked off to witness the group’s intense, backstage pre-show vocal warm-up.
The RNRC signature tagline says it all – No Instruments. Just Voices. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that I couldn’t “see” Cantaffa’s vision initially. But after declining his numerous invitations over the years to check the group out live, I gave up concocting excuses and finally came out to experience an RNRC performance in 2013. No instruments, but holy cow, they sounded like a full band! Plus, the production was incredible. Simply put, I became an RNRC believer instantly. I’ve now seen the group in concert about a dozen times. Even Vance had seen them perform previously and he shared my enthusiasm.
8pm – showtime! Made up of guys and gals, the 24-member 2019 cast proved as talented and professional as any past RNRC line-up. The high-energy, well-choreographed set included “rock-appella” versions of iconic hit songs from the likes of The Doobie Brothers, Queen and Bon Jovi. The show-ending recreation of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was a particular highlight. And like any modern-day professional touring act, the members all could be found after the show, meeting, greeting and smiling from ear-to-ear – hocking swag at their well-stocked merch table. Truth be told, I now own a pair of limited edition RNRC socks to keep my tootsies nice and toasty.
“I wanted to create a project in a non-academic environment for high school kids looking to pursue a career in the performing arts,” Cantaffa once commented to me. “But for the kids pursuing other professions after high school, this is as close to the big leagues as they’ll ever come. And they’ll always remember that summer they spent on the road with The RockNRoll Chorus.” ◼