Pentatonix and Cracker Barrel Team Up For Unbeatable Combination

CMA Week brought out several musical stars from other formats to Music City, ranging from Justin Timberlake to John Mellencamp to Fall Out Boy. One other act from outside the country lines in town during the week was a capella sensation Pentatonix. Needless to say, the town lived up to their expectations – and then some.

“Nashville is such an amazing place,” reflects founding member Scott Hoying. “Everyone has been so nice, and the vibe has been so relaxed. The CMA Awards is our favorite awards show we’ve ever been to – for that reason. From the Red Carpet to the show to meeting the stars was such a pleasant experience. We got to have a moment on stage singing ‘Elvira,’ which was so much fun,” he said of their tribute to new Hall of Fame members The Oak Ridge Boys on the ABC telecast.

Who were some of the artists the group was the most excited about seeing backstage at Bridgestone Arena? “We were really excited to see Justin Timberlake,” Mitch Grassi said to “We also had heard so much about Little Big Town. We all appreciate their harmonies. There were so many great artists there.”

The group is celebrating the success of their self-titled album, which debuted atop the Billboard 200. Hoying said it was a moment to remember. “It’s such an amazing and validating feeling to know that we can put original music out as an a capella group – and to have it go No. 1. It’s something that no one thought was possible. I don’t even know if we did or not, so to have it happen was incredible.”

The sales of the album were helped by partnering up with restaurant chain Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, which Hoying says aided them in outpacing the competition. “The whole week was such a roller coaster. We started out on top, but then were knocked down to No. 2, then the Cracker Barrel numbers came in and we were ahead. It was really cool.”

Pentatonix represents a slight departure from the restaurant’s music branding program, but one that the company is very excited about. “Cracker Barrel is known for highlighting music from a diverse range of artists and musical genres,” said Cracker Barrel Senior Marketing Manager Julie Craig. “Partnering with Pentatonix shows our breadth of offering and the evolution of our music program. We are excited to bring the newest sounds of these platinum-selling recording artists to our guests.”

The marketing agreement is a natural one for the group, says member Avi Kaplan. “It makes a lot of sense for us, because three of our members came from Texas, and Kevin is from Kentucky. They know the south, and I love the food and the environment. We always strive to keep things very wholesome and very family-friendly. Cracker Barrel just made sense for our audience.” When asked about their favorites from the menu, the group is definitely fans of their breakfast items, such as pancakes and biscuits and gravy. In fact, they just might get a chance to sample some of their favorite items as the group are planning some surprise appearances at locations across the United States. “We’re going to surprise some fans at Cracker Barrel, and do some singing. It’s going to hopefully be a special experience, for us anyway.”

What makes a song work for the group? Hoying has his theory. “It has to be a really good song, for starters. We can’t really rely on production and things to make it cool. We only have our voices, so we want it to be a good song with great moments – whether it be an original song or a cover. When we pick a cover, we really look for a song that people have heard a lot so we can show them that it can be done in a total different way.”

Kevin Olusola says there are other factors that make a song work, as well. “It also has to play to our strengths, vocally. There have been songs that we’ve tried that didn’t. If we can’t feature high notes or the trio doing their thing, as great of a song as it’s going to be, it’s not going to work for us.”

The sales have been there for the group, but Kaplan says proving that they do make all their own vocals and music on stage is something he takes a great deal of pride in. “That’s one of my favorite parts of being in this group. People will listen, but sometimes they’ll think ‘I don’t think they can do that live,’ or it won’t sound the same. But, then they will come to our shows, it feels so good to say that we can recreate what we do on our albums.”

When asked about how Pentatonix got their start, Hoying gave the scoop. “Three of us grew up together, and have been friends since we were kids. We were going to audition for The Sing-Off, and decided to add a couple more members – Avi through a mutual friend, and Kevin on You Tube. There was a video of him right at the time we were looking for a beat boxer who could also play cello at the same time. We called him up and we all met the day before the audition, which was crazy. From that point on…things just continued to snowball.”

Their current single, “Can’t Sleep Love,” has been gaining traction, and Hoying admits it sounds a lot different now than in the original form they heard it in. When we listened to the song, it was unfinished, but we knew it would play to our strengths. So, we asked the songwriters to finish the song. It’s just a cool song – one that I feel is a little bit retro, but modern enough with certain hooks that would captivate as many people as possible.”

One of the highlights of making the album for the group was recording “If I Ever Fall In Love,” which features a guest vocal appearance from Jason Derulo. Watching the vocalist approach his craft was something that Kirstin Maldonado definitely appreciated. “He was so great in the studio. We really enjoyed watching him work. It was so rapid fire because he’s such a perfectionist. He came into the sessions with all these ideas. He was really amazing.”

Perhaps the standout track on the project is the touching “Light In The Hallway,” of which Hoying said “Mitch and I wrote that one with another songwriter named Audra Mae, who is actually based in Nashville. We just started having a heart to heart with her about life and family and it got very emotional. We were actually talking about our nephews, because I just had one that was born. So, we started to get in the vibe to write a lullaby. We wanted it to feel like Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight, My Angel,’ and it came together rather quickly. We wrote it in a couple of hours, and Mitch and I broke down crying at the end. It was such an emotional experience – one of the best songwriting sessions I’ve ever been involved with in my life.”

Pentatonix made a little bit of chart history with last year’s holiday platter, That’s Christmas To Me. The album, which hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200, became the highest-charting holiday album by a group in over five decades. Grassi says the group and Yuletide music simply go together. “I feel what we do is so family friendly, and Christmas is so family-centric. I think a capella just lends itself so well to Christmas music. It started off being more choral-based hymns and carols. It just works so well.”

Pentatonix Tour Dates

12/5/2015 The Masonic San Francisco, CA

12/6/2015 Microsoft Theater Los Angeles, CA

12/8/2015 Lifestyle Communities Pavilion Columbus, OH

12/9/2015 Indiana Farmers Coliseum Indianapolis, IN

12/12/2015 Allstate Arena Rosemont, IL

12/14/2015 Fox Theatre Atlanta, GA

12/15/2015 Ted Constant Convocation Center, Old Dominion Norfolk, VA

12/16/2015 Peabody Opera House St Louis, MO

12/17/2015 Silverstein Eye Centers Arena Independence, MO

Author: Chuck Dauphin

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