Even with The Sing-off getting a lot of attention from both mainstream media and the aca-blogosphere, one question can be heard more often and more loudly: “Isn’t it November yet?” As a synonym for “CAN NOT WAIT!” this phrase tells us: Something big is going to happen on November 11-13 in Durham, North Carolina. An event that causes excitement all over the vocal music scene of the USA. And as I will have the privilege to join my US friends at THE USA’s a cappella festival highlight, I thought I had to speak to the head of the team that makes SoJam possible: Mark Hines, the festival’s executive producer.
VB: Great to have one of the true movers and shakers of US a cappella on the phone. Hi Mark, where are you right now?
Mark Hines: I’m here at SoJam Productions in North Carolina and we just had a conference call with the festival team. And all looks pretty good: The classes are set, tickets sales are coming in and it looks as if we might be sold out again this year which would mean record attendance.
VB: That sounds fantastic. But before talking about all the great things ahead in Durham, NC, we would like to learn a bit more about our interviewee. Who is Mark Hines and what does he do besides SoJam?
Mark Hines: Well, right now I don’t feel that I’m doing much anything besides SoJam (laughs). I actually work a full-time job with a good friend of mine doing home audio and video productions and I’m also an a cappella music producer with Vocal Company and Nick Lyons – so there’s a lot of work to do right now.
VB: Probably 80-hour weeks for you, with the festival coming up. You are the festival’s executive producer – what does this practically mean, what is your job in the SoJam team?
Mark Hines: The festival is run through approximately hundred google documents, which are the starting point for many of our activities. What I actually do – for example in our phone calls – is to steer the boat, set up the itinerary for the conference call and then have lead the discussion with members like Kristin LoBiondo, Jennifer Fiduccia, Ben Stevens, Dave Sperandio. Of course we have everyone talk about where we are and adress the issues that we talked about the week before – we basically make sure that we’re all on the same page.
VB: CASA, the Contemporary A Cappella Society seems to play a big role in the development of the community in general and the festival in particular. How important is CASA for SoJam?
Mark Hines: CASA is extremely important for SoJam and the community. I would say, that CASA is certainly the reason that SoJam is at the level it is today. We started SoJam with the AACI, The Alliance for A Cappella Initiatives, but joined forces with CASA in 2008. Since then CASA has such a thorough reach and all kinds of ressources that we weren’t accustomed to.
VB: From the external perspective it is really amazing that according to all sources, the whole SoJam team consists of volunteers. How can this work out resulting in a line-up and workshop programme of that quality?
Mark Hines: You know, that’s a really good question…I’m not really sure what it is that drives us. We just love what we do and it’s so great to see all these people come and interact with the stars of the a cappella scene. It’s fun and it’s exciting, it’s just that thrill that makes us all come together and live a weekend of our a cappella dreams.
VB: Let’s have a look at the festival’s programme. What’s new and what’s special about SoJam 2011?
Mark Hines: Mmh, new and special. Let’s start with The Boxettes: We think they are really special and we are very excited to have them this year. From a curricular standpoint, we have so many courses, e.g. vocal percussion, how to act on stage and the whole festival just gets bigger and bigger and better. We have a new technical producer we’re really excited about, the sound system should be pretty awesome. Bringing back Naturally 7 I guess is not new but for sure it’s exciting. And of course we have some new things that I can’t speak of yet…some suprises for the SoJam fans.
VB: For those who don’t have tickets yet, can you sum up the most important reasons to come to SoJam?
Mark Hines: Why you should go to SoJam? Well, I would say in the US it is the quintessential a cappella festival: We kind of borrowed good things from festivals of the past, put all the good things together and that’s how we got this unique festival. For tickets, go to www.sojam.net and note that most of the tickets both for concerts and workshops are limited, we only have limited space in the venues and tickets will certainly sell out in the next two to three weeks.
VB: So people of the US of A (and of course from elsewhere in the world, too), go to the SoJam website and book your trip to the festival. Mark, is there anything that you want to tell our readers, something the a cappella world should know about your festival?
Mark Hines: There would be so many thing to say – it’s hard to put my finger on just one thing. If you’re reading this and are interested in helping out, getting involved and being a part of this absolutely amazing festival team that we have here at CASA, feel free to contact me or anyone in the SoJam team. And of course, we at CASA got a lot of other cool festivals coming up, too: We got one in L.A., we got one in Boston – festivals are sprouting up so we are happy to get in touch with people who want to help us out organising these events.
VB: Mark, thank you very much for taking the time – great having you! I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person in less than 7 weeks from now.
Do you want to learn more about one of the greatest a cappella festivals on earth? Then go to www.sojam.net or even better go to Durham in November. You can be pretty sure to meet the most exciting bunch of a cappella enthusiasts you can imagine. And I would be happy to meet you there in person – just let me know that you are coming and when to meet up via Facebook or Twitter. C U @ SoJam!