Home Free wows audiences

FAIRMONT – Home Free, the Minnesota-based quintet that won NBC’s “The Sing-Off” in December, brought their talents to Fairmont this past weekend. The group headlined a concert Saturday night at Fairmont Raceway.

Home Free was formed in 2000, and members have come and gone. Currently, Austin Brown, a Georgia native, is lead singer. Tim Foust, a Texan and the newest member of the group, joining in 2011, possesses a resonating bass. Tenor Rob Lundquist supplemented his musical career by bartending at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. Brothers Adam and Chris Rupp are Gustavus Adolphus graduates, with Chris providing baritone and Adam doing background beat-box, or vocal percussion.

Appearing on “The Sing-Off” rocketed the group into the national spotlight. Originally, they had hoped to simply garner a little publicity by being on the show.

“I think we definitely were surprised when we won,” Brown said, while he praised the talent of the competing groups. “Our main goal was just not to be the first group eliminated.”

Although the final show of “The Sing-Off” didn’t air until mid-December, the show was taped in September. The group had to keep their victory a secret until the last installment was broadcast.

Their uplifting performances, blending pop and country sounds, won over the show’s judges and the viewers. Their personalized rendition of Johnny Cash’s trademark song “Ring of Fire” was a risk that paid off.

“At first, we thought it was such a crime to change it. It’s sacrilegious,” Chris Rupp said.

Their version has become so popular that concert-goers often shout out demands for the song if it isn’t performed early in the program.

The five spend a lot of time together, performing, rehearsing and traveling, but like the harmony they produce on stage, their relationship also is harmonious off-stage. There’s obvious mutual respect, interspersed with a lot of joking and teasing.

Fame has brought its benefits.

The group signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. Their debut album, “Crazy Life,” immediately hit No. 1 on the iTunes country chart, and No. 4 on the overall iTunes chart.

“We were right behind Beyonce,” Brown said.

“And nobody even knew she was putting out an album,” quipped Chris Rupp.

But there are sacrifices.

“Balancing your home life” is difficult, Brown said.

“We travel all the time – that’s great – but we have to leave friends and family,” he said.

“We had been doing about 200 shows a year,” Lundquist said.

The number of shows hasn’t changed, but the audiences now have a different response.

“Before, we had to go out and win over the audience,” Brown said. “Now, we start singing, and they start screaming.”

And Lundquist has retired as a Guthrie bartender.

“Once the (television) show was done, I emailed them, and said I didn’t think I’d have time anymore,” Lundquist said. “But that was the coolest non-singing job I ever had. I got to meet so many famous people.”

Home Free will be spending the summer on their concert tour. They will appear on the Bud Light Stage at the Country Music Association’s Music Fest in Nashville on June 7 and return to the Midwest to play at Iowa county fairs in Manchester and Tipton.

For those who missed the concert Saturday night at the race track or want to see another performance, Home Free will appear Aug. 8 at Jackpot Junction in Morton.