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House Jacks Play Girl Scout Benefit in Wheeling

Article appeared in today's TGIF supplement

April 29, 2011
By Betsy Bethel/The Intelligencer and News-Register

Listening to a recording of The House Jacks, one might never guess they are an a cappella group. Rich guitar riffs, soaring instrumental melodies on horns and keyboards, heavy bass and explosive percussion sounds serve as the backdrop for lyrics sung by one vocalist or a blend of harmonizing vocals.

The House Jacks certainly know their way around musical instruments - all five guys play either guitar, piano or both. But the only "instruments" they use when performing are their voices.

"We really consider ourselves a rock band without instruments," said Austin Willacy, one of the San Francisco band's songwriters and lead tenors. The band's promotional material touts them as "in your face a cappella" and critics have hailed their "vocal gymnastics" as "terrifyingly funky," "amazing," "dynamic" and "untouchable."

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The House Jacks

Ohio Valley residents will be able to hear it for themselves as the award-winning House Jacks are set to perform a benefit concert for the Girl Scouts of the Black Diamond Council at 8 p.m. tonight at the Wheeling Island Casino Hotel Racetrack.

"Proceeds from this event will benefit the many leadership development programs that Girl Scouts has to offer young girls," said Princess Young, event specialist with the Black Diamond Council.

In a phone interview from California, Willacy said the band is pleased to support the Girl Scouts. He was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout growing up in Shaker Heights outside of Cleveland, and earned Eagle Scout status at age 15. He said the skills he learned in scouting and the opportunities he had to mentor younger scouts have shaped who he is today - compelling him, for instance, to reach out to educate and mentor kids through various music workshops.

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Deke Sharon founded The House Jacks in 1991 in his hometown of San Francisco. Willacy met Sharon during their college years in New England. He also knew through a mutual friend about Sharon's band in San Francisco. After moving there himself, Willacy happened upon an ad in a local music magazine.

"The ad said The House Jacks were looking for a singer. They wanted an experienced high tenor. Oh, hey! I'm an experienced high tenor. They wanted someone who looks good and moves well. Hey! I look good. I move well. Oh, man, I thought - they're looking for me!"

So Willacy answered the ad and joined Sharon. He and Sharon have been the core of the band since then and are joined now by Troy Horne, Roopak Ahuja and Jake Moulton.

"What we do is we write our songs using instruments and then we arrange them to fit our five voices," Willacy said. Each singer has his specialty. For example, Horne has the bass voice and Moulton is a beat boxer extraordinaire, Willacy said.

"Whoever is not singing the melody is involved in creating part of the soundscape for the song."

Each member has his own musical influences, too - from R&B to rock and pop to jazz and blues to country and gospel.

Willacy said a "side effect" of an a cappella performance is the transparency of the performers, allowing for a more intimate relationship with the audience -"It's huge in terms of the way we interact with the crowd," Willacy said. "It's sort of like a long conversation with the audience. There's a lot of interaction, a lot of spontaneous stuff that happens."

While the bulk of the performance constitutes original music from five studio albums, Willacy said a crowd favorite is the request portion of the show. The guys will try anything - Toxic, Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder, U2, the Eagles, Carole King, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Ray Charles ... even Britney Spears and Pink.

The group is well known in the California region but also tours in Europe and across the United States.

They provide professional consultation, background music and go-to-commercial music for the NBC's a capella singing competition show, "Sing-Off," and they can be heard on the jingles for "Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40." Their latest album, "Level," recently won three Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards for best pop/rock album, best pop/rock song ("Red Dress") and best original song (Willacy's "You Were Everything").

The Building Futures event is sponsored by Chesapeake Energy, Glessner & Associates, Monteverde Group and WesBanco.

"We are thrilled with both the individual response that we've had to the event and with the level of community support that Black Diamond Girl Scout Council is receiving as an organization," said event chair Lea Ridenhour. "We are so thankful to have a presence in Wheeling and in the Ohio Valley and grateful to our community for its recognition of the value of Girl Scouting."

Tickets are available at the door. A VIP reception will take place starting at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for general admission. For information, call the Wheeling Girl Scout field office, 304-232-8601.



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