Michigan-born Sargon Isho and the acclaimed Indiana University vocal group bring their 25th Anniversary Tour to DeVos Performance Hall this weekend. The backstory at Local Spins.
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From Indiana University to venues around the world, it’s been quite a journey for the members of Straight No Chaser.
Michigan native Sargon Isho – or Seggie to his friends and the world at large – was there almost from the start. He joined Straight No Chaser during his sophomore year at IU.
“I did an off-campus musical,” says Isho. A friend on the show told him about auditions for a male a cappella group on campus. Isho was skeptical, to say the least. “I said, ‘Why do you think I want to be there?'”
Despite this disclaimer, he attended the audition and—surprise—got the part. He sang with the group for the next two and a half years. He savored the time, then after graduation he bid a fond farewell to Bloomington and the group and headed out into the real world.
He was becoming the manager of a cell phone company in Las Vegas when he got another call.
Two years earlier, in 2006, original member Randy Stine had uploaded a performance of 1998’s “The 12 Days of Christmas” to YouTube to share a bit of the glory days with his college buddies. Among those who viewed the video was Atlantic Records Chairman and CEO Craig Kallman. Thrilled by what he saw and heard, he reached out to the group and signed them to the label.
A year later, two members left. At this point, Isho and his former member Tyler Trepp were asked if they were interested in rejoining. Isho said he and Trepp originally joined SNC at the same time in college, and in 2009 they chose to do so again.
Quite a change from wireless selling. And while Isho says he misses parts of working in the business world, he originally went to IU from Madison Heights, Michigan to study music, so it was a welcome change for many.
He is both a skilled trumpeter and vocalist and credits his high school band director with encouraging him to visit Indiana.
“IU wasn’t on my radar, and neither was college. I thought about football and plays.” By his senior year, however, that had changed and the reputation of the IU music school won him over.
“If I had gone to Michigan or Michigan State, I would probably still be in Vegas or pursuing a career in orchestral music. I miss playing in the orchestra,” he admits.
Not that he’s in any way disappointed with his career since rejoining his fellow singers. He has since returned to his native state and has made Rochester Hills his home, although he is often on the road with the band, which has exceeded all expectations.
Since their (re)inception, Straight No Chaser has sold 1.7 million albums domestically and more than 1 million tickets for their shows worldwide, amassing more than 100 million YouTube views and a similar number of streams.
Straight No Chaser brings its 25th Anniversary Tour to Grand Rapids’ DeVos Performance Hall on Saturday (Nov. 26) at 8 p.m. Tickets – $46 to $95 – are available online here.
VIDEO: Straight No Chaser, “The Way It Was”
The group has done three PBS specials and has dozens of other major television credits, not to mention collaborating with the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Kristen Bell. Two of her Christmas recordings, “Holiday Spirits” and “Christmas Cheers” are certified Gold.
Isho says he loves performing with Straight No Chaser. “It’s hard to travel, but being on stage is incredible,” he says. “It’s not work. I thank the audience because they are the reason we can do this.”
Despite the accolades, sales, and touring, he believes there’s still a large audience that SNC hasn’t discovered yet. “We’re not top 40. It’s a niche, a small piece of the musical pie. Nine out of ten people have never heard of us. That’s okay. That gives us room to grow.”
Whether you only know the group vaguely, are a true fan, or have never heard of Straight No Chaser, it doesn’t matter. Isho says the performances invariably leave the audience wanting more.
“It’s an experience. It’s not just a concert. There’s jokes, great productions, on-screen content, hilarious awkward dances. I would put our show against anyone.
“If we look into the audience, we can see who was dragged there,” he continues. “One thing we love is that we can see the change in their faces. At the end of the show we have them.”
Isho says the group will continue to reach out to the vast majority of people who have not heard of the group, if at all. What’s next? Stadium tours alongside Journey or Eminem? Hardly. “We won’t play in arenas,” he says, laughing. He says the smaller theaters and performing arts centers work better for their music and presentation.
“There are projects we are working on. A film was discussed. Coming to Asia would be great. It’s about getting in front of people. Especially now. Things are still unclear,” he says.
For a few hours, he says, the group can help audiences forget their worries and come together to celebrate songs, whether Christmas classics, tunes by Ricky Martin, Eddie Money or Loverboy, even James Brown or Grand Funk. He says audiences range in age from teenagers to grandparents and often come to a show together.
Isho says he and Trepp usually take the lead during the film, Disney and Broadway medleys, and he particularly enjoys the comedy parts. But for him and most of the group, the highlight at the end of each show is when they put down the mics and gather in a horseshoe in the middle of the stage.
“It’s back to how it was in the practice room. The audience leans forward. This is a very special moment.”
VIDEO: Straight No Chaser, “Christmas Like”
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