Crowd-Surfing to A Cappella? Of Course – at a Face Vocal Band Concert

Scott Malonson
The singers in Face Vocal Band have been making rock music with their mouths for fifteen years in Colorado. This Sunday, the act will headline at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Five dollars of every ticket sold will go to music education grants, and the singers were able to raise over $25,000. We spoke with vocal percussionist Mark Megibow and tenor/songwriter Cody Qualls about the potential a cappella music holds, what Face does differently than other groups in the genre, and the outfit's philanthropy.

Westword: Tell me about the fundraising that you do. What do the music grants you’re funding benefit?

Cody Qualls: Part of our mission pretty early on in our inception has been to work with youth [in] middle schools and high schools. We [visit] about fifteen to twenty of those every school year. We raise money for voice programs, music programs…It just depends on what school we’re going to, sometimes it can be a little different. In the daytime [we’ll] work with the kids, then do a fundraiser and concert in the evening. It’s a really fantastic way to connect and raise money for the program.

For this particular concert, $5 of every ticket sold has gone to these education grants we’ve created. We have a former high school teacher in the group and Mark used to teach in public school as well. And one of the things we’ve recognized is sometimes grants are available for music programs in public schools, but they don’t always allow for the flexibility that their program needs. Sometimes they’ll say, “Oh you can use this money for a field trip or to have a guest speaker to come in.” But sometimes the program just needs a trumpet or a computer program or a keyboard. Whatever they need, we wanted to create grants to allow them the flexibility, within structure and in an appropriate way, to use this money for what the program really needed. To be where we’re at now and have raised over $25,000 worth for grants – we’re blown away at the success. We just got the word a couple days ago, and we all kind of had to sit down and catch our breath a bit. It’s turned into something really, really special.

Were you involved in music programs when you were in school, growing up? Why do you find music programs to be so important?

Mark Megibow: All of us in Face can point back to our childhood music education. For some of us, it’s been a lifelong dream to be on stage and be able to call it our full time job and be able to do what we do. We feel a very strong connection to the programs we grew up in, and this is our way of paying them back and paying it forward. We all know arts programs are frequently sacrificed when there are budget cuts, and this is our way of ensuring that schools in Colorado and kids in Colorado have access to musical experiences and kind of pass that torch.

Do you typically play covers or original songs? From what I’ve seen of a cappella, it’s typically covers.

Megibow: Predominately covers. For Red Rocks, a quarter of the show will be original music. Cody is one of our songwriters.

Qualls: Yeah, we’ve been writing more and more original music; it’s becoming a bigger part of our show. Our fans now don’t just come out for the covers. They come out to hear the original Face material.

Lyrically, what do you focus on? I’ve encountered a lot of artists that pull from personal experiences, which can be kind of sad, and in my experience of a cappella, the music can be rather uplifting. What is your approach for Face’s original songs?

Qualls: I would say the lyrics are challenging. They’re uplifting, and sometimes they’re painful. When I’m writing, it’s always coming from a place of substance, even when we have songs that appear to be a dance floor number. I’m usually speaking from personal experience: from my own suffering, my own growth or my own wishes for the world…you know, it’s interesting, you’re being really honest about how you’ve experienced acapella, and that’s one of the things Face has really come up against.

Megibow: When we started fifteen years ago, a cappella wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now…There wasn’t a lot of public knowledge about [a cappella] or public appreciation for it. Many of us were in college a cappella groups, and we wanted to make something that was more mainstream accessible. So from the beginning, we had a completely different view on it, in terms of thinking about it more like a rock band. I tell people that it’s like being at a rock concert. Our music is upbeat happy rock, so it’s all fun, upbeat music, but it’s going to be rock-concert energy and rock-concert music. But the only [equipment] on stage is the microphones. I’ve never really heard something described like that before. We’ve done some shows this summer where there’s actually been some crowd surfing! I mean, when is the last time you saw crowd surfing at an a cappella concert? So we’ve been doing this for fifteen years, and in the meantime, a cappella has increased in popularity tenfold, with groups like Pentatonix. We believe we’ve been able to ride that wave of popularity and fifteen years later, we’re able to headline Red Rocks, which fifteen years ago would’ve felt more like a pipe dream. We’ll be playing in front of five or six thousand people on Sunday, with a vocal rock-band show.

Face Vocal Band, 6 p.m. Sunday, August 6, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 West Alameda Parkway, $15-$100, 720-865-2494.