Droves of students crammed themselves into the North Pod of Memorial Union to see the University of Maine’s premier a cappella group, the Maine Steiners, for Tuesday night’s Java Jive. The crowd, estimated at more than 300 fans, overflowed the room, spilling into the dining area of the union. Sitting, standing or packed like sardines, the audience was there to see the unique vocal stylings that have become the Steiners’ trademark sound.
The 11 Steiners took the stage at 8 p.m., dominating the small forum and silencing the crowd as they broke into “Lonely Insomniac,” led by Nick Caler. The minimal stage lighting allowed the group’s silhouettes to dance across the picturesque winter backdrop, provided by the large window in the North Pod. Ryan Gould, a third-year member of the Steiners and lead soloist, crooned a rendition of “Drive,” by Incubus. The mellow ambiance of the show continued as Lee Pidacks performed a haunting version of Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” the song which earned him Top Soloist honors at the Regional International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) in Hartford the weekend of Feb. 7 – 8.
The Steiners advanced to the East Coast Finals of the ICCA’s for the second year in a row. This accomplishment came as a surprise to Gould.
“After we got third in the ICCA Finals last year, we lost about half of our guys. To advance to the semi-finals in Hartford in what we thought was a rebuilding year with four new members is an amazing testament to our strength as a group,” he said.
The group’s musical director, fourth-year member DJ Janes, elaborated on the significance of the group’s advancement in the ICCA.
“To even get into the ICCAs is a challenge,” Janes said. “Each level you progress, the competition increases significantly, so to make it to the semi-finals in an ‘off year’ for us is quite a feat, but if we can do well there and make it to the finals, I hope we can best last year’s third-place finish.”
One of the group’s new members, Sean Fitzgerald, soloed “Without Your Love,” which livened up the placid, yet attentive crowd. Fitzgerald, James Wieland, Jason Paquette and Mike Robinson are all new members to the Steiners, who used the momentum gained in Hartford to showcase their diverse song base.
Gould soloed the Counting Crows, “Big Yellow Taxi,” adding snippets of humor to the song by interjecting dance moves, including the “Electric Slide,” and the “Macarena,” to the song. Caler then performed one of the group’s older covers, “Real World,” by Matchbox 20.
Following the intermission, the Steiners continued to demonstrate contrasting song styles. They displayed a sense of humor regarding lost love on “Since You’ve Been Gone.” “Crazy Maze,” a duet performed by Janes and Gould followed.
Gould then stole the spotlight with a slow-tempo interpretation of Fuel’s “Shimmer.” Following some of the Steiners’ shenanigans, the group performed “Why Are You Running Away,” by Hoobastank. The group’s closing number “Change in My Life,” showcased the cohesiveness of singers working as a unit, and reinforced their overwhelming rapport with the audience.
The Steiners’ ability to entertain, as well as sing, is an integral part of their appeal, which has allowed them to create a large fan base, both here at UMaine and throughout New England, at schools where they have performed.
“I love the Steiners, because they are so talented. I have seen them at least 10 times, and they never cease to amaze me,” said junior Lindsey Hathorn.
In sporadic interludes between songs, the Steiners showed their collective sense of humor by parodying the “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light spots. The group took shots at the “flamboyant” parking ticket guy, claiming he “put the ass in parking pass.” The overzealous lunch lady was also a subject of a “Real Heroes of U-Maine” parody. According to the group, she puts the “hun in hungry.” The last “Real Hero of U-Maine,” parody called out the unicyclists on campus, telling them “to pull wheelies,” much to the crowd’s delight.
The Steiners’ ability to play to the crowd is the formulaic part of their success. At one point in the show, the group brought two members of the audience on-stage for an a cappella rendition of “Happy Birthday,” to celebrate in their own unique way, which included flirtatious advances from Gould.
Fun and games aside, the Steiners are a socially conscious group. They are performing a benefit concert April 9 at the Maine Center for the Arts for the Make-A-Wish Foundation with all proceeds from the show going to the foundation. This act of philanthropy is particularly generous, because the Steiners are independently funded, relying primarily on CD and ticket sales for revenue.
“I would say the show was an overwhelming success,” Sean Walsh, the director of Java Jive, said. “To see 300-plus people here on a Tuesday night is amazing. This easily doubles any previous numbers I’ve seen since I’ve been in charge of Java Jive. I can only hope to see a fraction of these people here next week for the third night of the quarterfinals of the Java Jive competition. I knew the Steiners had a huge fan base, but this is a real testament to their drawing power; it’s really incredible.”