When audiences go to see a cappella group The Bobs, they’re treated like family.
“Anyone who comes to the show can even take ‘Bob’ as a middle name,” said Richard Bob Greene, an original member since The Bobs’ formation in 1981, and also the group’s chief songwriter. “We’re very inclusive.”
That invitation will be extended to audiences at Saratoga Springs, when The Bobs perform at the Saratoga Music Hall at 7 p.m. Sunday.. The “Bob” name has become a major part of the singing group’s mystique; everyone associated with the group takes the name, which is often defined as an acronym for “best of breed.” But as Greene explained during a phone interview from his home in California, the name actually came about from a lack of options at one of the group’s earliest gigs.
“One of our first gigs we went to, they had a theater marquee, and they said, ‘We’ll put your name up on the marquee,’ Greene said. “They said, ‘Here’s the letters we have,’ which wasn’t very many. So it was like, ‘Uh, there’s only like 12 letters in here. Well, here’s two B’s, an O and an S.’ It was like Scrabble, we got a triple word score.”
The Bobs will be one of the last events of the second annual SaratogaArtsFest, which will be held in downtown Saratoga Springs today through Sunday. The festival will include about 100 different events throughout the course of the weekend, including music performances, theater, dance, visual art exhibits, literary events, workshops and demonstrations.
When: Today through Sunday
Where: Various venues in downtown Saratoga Springs
How much: Admission by ArtsPass only. ArtsPass is $30 for adults, $25 for seniors 65 and up, $15 for military members and students, and $5 for children 3 to 11.
More info: ArtsPass available at the SaratogaArtsFest Gallery and Information Center, 328 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Call 587-2052 or visit www.saratogaartsfest.org.
This year’s mix of local, regional and national acts will feature, among others, The Martha Graham Dance Company at 8 tonight at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, The Albany Symphony Chamber Orchestra at 5:30 tonight at the Universal Preservation Hall and Shakespeare and Company at 2 p.m. Saturday at Epiphany Theater.
The ArtsPass provides either free or discounted admission to the majority of the events, and is available at the SaratogaArtsFest Gallery and Information Center, 328 Broadway. A complete schedule of events for SaratogaArtsFest can be found at www.saratogaartsfest.org.
The number of events at the festival has more than doubled from last year’s inaugural event, said Marie Glotzback, president of the SaratogaArtsFest board of directors.
“What we’re trying to do is build awareness of the arts in our audiences, and the larger draw will come from the mix of levels of artists,” Glotzback said. “The idea is to enhance the program and build on the strong foundation of arts already here, and increase the visibility of artists by having a whole weekend full of programming.”
The Bobs are a new addition this year to the SaratogaArtsFest lineup, although the group has quite a few ties to Saratoga Springs. They have performed at Caffe Lena numerous times, and at one point also recorded a soundtrack for a TV sitcom pilot that was never filmed, one of the writers of which lived in Saratoga Springs at the time.
“It’s one of our favorite places between New York City and whatever’s north of that; it’s the best place to be between New York and Canada,” Greene said of Saratoga Springs.
Greene joined The Bobs when he responded to a classified ad placed by two recently unemployed telegram singers — Matthew Stull and former Bob Gunnar Madsen. The current incarnation of The Bobs consists of Greene, Stull, Amy Bob Engelhardt and Dan Bob Schumacher. Before joining The Bobs, Greene, the group’s bass singer, worked as a studio musician, playing bass with a number of jazz groups.
“I had gone to a show and seen another a cappella trio; I looked at it and said, ‘Hey, that looks like fun,’ ” Greene said. “The next day, I saw an ad for a new wave a cappella group. I had no idea what that meant.”
Apparently, Greene still doesn’t know precisely what a new wave a cappella group is.
“You know, it’s one of those things,” he said. “My teenage daughter, when she was in college, she used to write papers, and the teachers would always say to her, ‘Well, what’s it gonna be about?’ Her answer was that the content will be defined by the process. So that’s what it means to be a new wave a cappella group — the content is defined by the process.”
The Bobs began with a handful of covers arranged for a cappella, including the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” “David Byrne rather liked our version of ‘Psycho Killer,’ ” Greene said.
Greene and Madsen earned a Grammy nomination in 1984 for their arrangement of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” “White Room” by Cream is another favorite, and features Engelhardt vocalizing the song’s electric guitar solo in a surprisingly close approximation to Eric Clapton’s electric guitar.
However, The Bobs have become most known for their quirky, humorous and often twisted originals. The group’s 14 albums, including two best of records, feature original songs with titles such as “I Hate the Beach Boys,” “Please Let Me Be Your Third World Country,” “Never Date a Musician” and “Disappointment Pants.” Just about anything can become a Bobs song, said Greene, who will often come up with the title of the song first, as with the song “Tight Pants Tango” from the group’s most recent album, 2007’s “Get Your Monkey Off My Dog.”
“We’re on tour one time, driving around; I’m driving, and my cellphone goes off in my pants pocket,” Greene said. “I’m reaching, trying to get it out, and it’s playing a little Latin melody. So Matt says, ‘Richard’s doing the tight pants tango.’ Who hasn’t had that experience of trying to get to their phone?”
Greene often tries to find subjects that audiences will relate to, although the group will usually take a subject to a “ludicrous extreme.” The Bobs even held an online contest for the best song title, the result of which ended up on the group’s 1997 album, “I Brow Club.”
“We had thousands of suggestions,” Greene said. “The one we picked as the, quote, winner, was ‘There’s a Nose Ring in My Soup,’ which we do as kind of a sing-along. Because what could be more rousing than swaying about and singing ‘There’s a nose ring in my soup?’ ”
Greene writes about two-thirds of the group’s material, although it is often a joint effort. Most of the time, Greene tries to compose a song’s main melody without an instrument, although he will flesh out arrangements on a piano.
But the music is only one part of The Bobs’ show, which can include healthy doses of theatrics and, of course, humor.
“When [audiences] come to see our show, we can guarantee that they will see things they don’t expect to see, and hear things they won’t expect to hear,” Greene said.
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