The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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September 3, 2012

Becoming Home Free: Five-man vocal band with Mankato roots reaches national plateau

What is now a national touring sensation began as little more than an impromptu vocal performance for a talent show at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Mankato.

The year was 2000. Matt Atwood, Chris Rupp and Adam Rupp were Mankato teens who wanted to win Hosanna’s annual talent contest. But the trio of childhood friends had no idea their first public venture would springboard them into venues large and small across the United States.

“After that, people wanted to hire us,” said Atwood, a 2000 graduate of Mankato East High School. “The whole thing just took off.”

Home Free is a five-man vocal band that has its underpinnings in the barbershop style but expands the genre with intricate vocal instrumentation and decidedly contemporary arrangements. The group features two tenors, a baritone and a bass as well as Chris Rupp’s nationally recognized beat-boxing skills that add highly complex vocal instrumentation to most of the group’s selections.

Singing a wide repertoire of original material, doo-wop classics and contemporary hits, the group has become a popular booking for outdoor festivals, corporate events, cruises and private parties.

This month, Home Free wraps up a summer-long tour of outdoor fairs and festivals, including four performances at the State Fair today and Saturday. The group will take a short hiatus in September before embarking on a 16-date fall tour of the Midwest in October, which includes a date in St. James.

In December, Home Free will return to Hosanna in Mankato for its annual holiday show.

“Since our initial roots are here,” Atwood said, “we always come back to do a show.”

Home Free’s roots spread quickly from Mankato.

After the Hosanna talent show, people asked if they could hire the group for parties and birthdays. Atwood and the Rupp brothers kept Home Free going as a hobby in college -- Atwood attended Minnesota State University and the Rupps went to Gustavus Adolphus College -- and began branching out after they graduated.

To get their proverbial foot in the door, they developed an education program in which band members held a day-long workshop with students and then held an evening concert, splitting ticket sales with the hosting school district.

During one of those concerts at Lakeville South High School, a talent agent in the crowd was impressed enough to offer Home Free a spot on a 75-city national tour.

“From that point on,” Atwood said, “it’s been smooth sailing.”

Earlier this year, Home Free completed its fifth CD release, the much-anticipated live album “From the Road.” And the effort showcases the group at its performing best.

Many of the members have backgrounds in theater and it shows during the playful interludes between songs and banter with the crowd. During a rendition of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” a member yells out “instrumental break!” and is followed by several measures of complete silence.

With its complex, layered harmonies, Home Free sounds just as comfortable on classics like “Rockin’ Robin” and “Lil’ Red Riding Hood” as loungier tunes like Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet.” They touch up Train’s “Soul Sister” with jazz-style phrasing and include a beatbox solo and an original track written by bass Tim Foust.

And like all the group’s live shows, Home Free closes the album with “God Bless the USA,” a tradition that began when the group played a concert shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

“We get to travel the country and sing for a living,” Atwood said. “We owe that moment of thanks.”

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