On Tuesday, Oct. 16, “Voices on Fire III: Electric Boogaloo” took place in Minsky Recital Hall. The annual event has a unique premis: vocalists consume one or more incredibly hot peppers before performing, either with a group or solo. The performances included songs from a wide scope of genres, from a capella to opera and everything in between.
The pepper that every participant consumed was the Thai pepper, which has a rating of between 50,000 and 100,000 scoville units. According to Andrew Cloutier, a fifth-year student and the evening’s “Master of Ceremonies,” a Thai pepper is 40 times hotter than a jalapeno. Many performers had physical reactions to the peppers, which made the audience erupt in laughter.
At the start of the event, Cloutier stepped onto the performance stage wearing a chili pepper tie and a huge grin. He welcomed the audience to the third installment of the event, and talked about an attempt to get Prilosec to sponsor the event.
“Unfortunately, they don’t respond to my emails. They think it’s a joke. Well, it’s not,” Cloutier said.
After his brief introduction, the performances commenced.
Performers had a lot to say about the peppers, a few interrupting their own performances to comment on the heat of them. Kayla M’Lynn Gayton, who performed Mozart’s “Deh vieni non tardar,” was one of these performers. Mid-song, she stopped to tell the audience, “God, there’s so much saliva,” which elicited laughter from audience members.
Julia Waldron, who performed “She Used to be Mine” from the musical “Waitress”, paused to tell the audience, “this is so hot, oh my goodness gracious.” Many others made their trouble handling spicy foods clear to audience, with vocalist Mari Smith telling the attendees, “I think pepperoni is spicy, so … ” before consuming her first pepper.
Both the Maine Steiners and UMaine Renaissance performed as well. The Renaissance performed “It’s Raining Men,” while the Steiners performed “1-5-6-4,” which is a common chord progression in pop music, giving each member a brief solo. Andrew Cloutier even joined the Steiners for their performance, with some feigned reluctance. Every member of each group consumed at least one pepper, sharing pained looks during their performances.
For the event’s finale, every performer came out onto the stage to eat another pepper and perform “Ring Of Fire” by Johnny Cash. Performers were offered milk backstage following their performance, and during the finale several brought it out with them, including one Renaissance member who clutched a carton of almond milk during the final number.
After the performance was over, many performers and attendees crowded in the Minsky Recital Hall lobby and where they were offered the opportunity to sample the peppers themselves. Second-year student Ayanna Bedard decided to take the risk.
“So I ate three peppers,” Bedard said, “and at first it was just spicy. And then it started to go into my throat, and then it turned from … a spicy feeling to a painful one, and all I could think was, ‘How did these people sing?’”
Although Cloutier will be graduating this year, both groups hope to continue the Voices on Fire tradition in the coming years. Despite the falling temperatures, “Voices on Fire III: Electric Boogaloo” was definitely the hottest event of the semester.