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University hosts ‘AcaFest’ featuring Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s a cappella groups

| Friday, May 7, 2021

“AcaFest,” Notre Dame’s premier a cappella event, has seen much turbulence in its short history. In the past, the event took the form of a “battle” between various student musical groups, asking attendees to vote for the winning group via text. In 2019, after a four-year hiatus, the event returned as a collaborative showcase between campus a cappella groups. In 2020, COVID-19 eliminated any possibility of AcaFest.

But on Thursday night, AcaFest returned for its 2021 rendition — this time under the lights of the Notre Dame Stadium.

The night’s setlist featured seven musical groups from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s: the Undertones, Halftime A Cappella, Unchained Melodies, The Echoes, Harmonia, Encore! and Bellacapella. Students laid blankets on the field to watch the show, which was also live-streamed, and free food was offered to attendants.

The event began at 8 p.m. with Halftime, Notre Dame’s premier coed a cappella group, who performed arrangements of a variety of contemporary hits, such as “Blow Your Mind“ by Dua Lipa, “Hypotheticals” by Lake Street Dive and “Runnin’” by Naughty Boy.

In the midst of COVID-19 restrictions, the performance was a welcome change of pace for the group, Halftime president Angela Overlack told The Observer.

“In terms of guidelines and restrictions, we had to be outside, we had to be socially distanced and masked,” Overlack said. “I think all of us are just very excited to get out there and perform again, because that’s something that this group thrives off of and it’s something we’ve been missing.”

Overlack also stressed the role of live music in building and rebuilding community.

“I think [live music] is a really strong bonding point for many, not only for musicians, but also for the people that are listening to the music,” she said. “Halftime itself has been a place where … the group not only just goes for the music, but because it’s a family.”

Next came Unchained Melodies, Notre Dame’s only Christian a cappella group, who performed a number of contemporary Christian songs as well as “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer, “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night” by FINNEAS and “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele.

The Echoes, a coed group, followed with a setlist of throwbacks, including “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack as well as “Everybody Talks” and “Animal” by Neon Trees.

Up next was Harmonia, the University’s premier all-female a cappella group, who performed a selection of new and old hits like “Electric Love” by BØRNS, “Prisoner” by Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa and “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.

The group concluded with an arrangement of “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson, a piece Harmonia president Mary Zakowski said brought much-needed “middle school vibes” to their setlist.

“For our setlists in general, we try to have some oldies in there, just because we have parents who typically come when campus is open to visitors, and also because we do events for alumni,” Zakowski said. “We try to have a good mix between older songs and newer songs.”

Reflecting upon the gradual return of in-person musical events in a post-pandemic world, Zakowski recalled her recent experience attending her friend’s senior music recital.

“That was my first recital or artistic performance I’d been to since COVID, and sitting there I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I really miss these events,’” Zakowski said. “It’s really good because you’re able to totally have your mind on something else; it’s a good way to break free from the stress and the pressures of everyday life.”

Harmonia was followed by Encore!, a subset of the Notre Dame Chorale concert choir. The group performed a soulful setlist, including “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse.

Saint Mary’s Bellacapella, the College’s premier a cappella ensemble, was up next. The group began in 2006, when a small number of Saint Mary’s students wanted to form a band, but upon realizing they had no money for instruments or professional equipment, the group decided upon a cappella. As part of their AcaFest performance, Bellacappella sang “Ophelia” by The Lumineers and “Take A Hint” from the Nickelodeon television series “Victorious.”

The night’s final featured performance was that of The Undertones, an all-male a cappella ensemble, who performed a largely contemporary setlist, including “Somewhere Only We Know” by Lifehouse, “No New Friends” by DJ Khaled and “drivers license“ by Olivia Rodrigo.

Peter Jachim, the music director of The Undertones, expressed his excitement for the show, commenting on the special dynamic nature of live performances.

“That’s what makes [live music] so interesting: You can perform the same song 800 different times, 800 different ways, but each and every time you can get something new out of it,” Jachim said. “So even though we use songs that we sang previous semesters, there’s a completely different group, completely different guys, and it’s still able to bring about the same sort of wonder and awe that you get each and every time.”

Following The Undertones’ performance, all seven groups united for the night’s finale: a mashup of “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons and “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors.

While AcaFest marks the final large-scale a cappella performance of the semester, several groups will perform concerts in the next few days: Harmonia Friday at 9 p.m. on Library Lawn, The Undertones Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the Irish Green behind DPAC and Halftime Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on South Lawn.

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a junior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently serving as the Managing Editor of The Observer, and believes in the immutable power of a well-placed em dash. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

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