The moment we decided that I would be a nine foot tall golden statue in Atlanta is the moment I knew that it would be a trip of a lifetime. Did I think I would fall off the chair and break an arm in the middle of the competition? Yes. Did I think it was hilarious that I popped up from behind a curtain that we meticulously walked on stage? Yes, we all did. Truthfully, we had no idea what was going to happen that weekend but we were excited/stressed/anxious/nervous/happy/crazy/all of the emotions. SoJam was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my college career and will certainly be a weekend I will never forget. So here I am! I’m here to show you what SoJam was like through the eyes of a collegiate competitor.
I’ve been a member of Lark for two years now and was there to witness it’s initial inception in January 2014. After being completely shocked by our win at BOSS 2015 (no, I’m not being modest, we were SHOCKED. We all cried for approximately three days before and after the competition), we knew we had to go to Atlanta. Our brand is really important to us, that’s why song theme and concept are so significant in our work. We kind of wanted to shock Sojam by doing things that were unexpected. Thankfully, competitions like SoJam and BOSS embrace our weirdness and our allow us to be true to ourselves which we really appreciate. Anyway, enough about us… on to the competition!
There were six groups chosen to compete through three rounds of competition. Who were the other groups, you ask? Five of the most amazingly talented vocal bands I’ve seen, consisting of the kindest/most badass people around. We were so afraid to look up the other groups, but of course we are self-deprecating musicians, so we went ahead and tortured ourselves by witnessing their talent. I can’t speak for the whole group, but I was intimidated. I was an absolute wreck the last week before we left. When we actually arrived in Atlanta, I felt pretty okay about everything, right until we met up with all of the groups to discuss the competition and pick competition order. We didn’t know when we would be soundchecking, so we all arrived kind of half-ready for the night. We had our hair in curlers and wrapped in scarves and half faces of makeup. We looked ridiculous, and it was a little intimidating to see all the other groups gathered in one place not looking ridiculous, but we just grabbed our order number and went back to getting ready.
Soundcheck was a breeze, because The Vocal Company nails it every time, but I was freaking out. Soundchecking made it feel really real; we could hear the group before us for a few minutes, and they were AMAZING. So naturally I panicked. I remember walking from where we were staying to the competition and literally sitting outside of Starbucks quietly breathing (hyperventilating?) while everyone was grabbing coffee. We fled backstage and were put in a tiny dressing room where we all just tried to calm down and focus.
If you’re wondering why I was so nervous, it’s because I was the lead in the first song. Where was I singing lead? On top of a chair. I was literally standing on a chair in a long gold gown that made it seem like I was nine feet tall and atop my head was a golden crown made of branches. The round was ten minutes long, and we were choosing to risk it by doing this kind of crazy and shocking two minute song and then just leaving. We were in a big concert hall, so there wasn’t anything to hide me as I got into place. We had practiced walking on with a curtain and setting up behind it, so I could pop up when the time was right. This is actually the most hilarious thing of all time. I could almost never keep a straight face because the image of me popping up behind a curtain was just way too funny. It was pretty dramatic, and I just knew I had to absolutely kill the performance or it was going to be a bust. I had to climb onto a chair with four yards of fabric gathered in my arms, and half-way through the song, I had to get off of that chair and walk forward. I was having nightmares of me falling off that chair, but luckily everything went smoothly.
It was stressful waiting to hear if we made it to the next round because we had costume changes and weren’t sure if we should change or not. When word came around, we panic-changed and headed on the stage. The second song we performed was the song that we thought was our weakest. It’s an arrangement of “Mad Hatter” by Melanie Martinez. We collaboratively arrange everything as a group and it felt like this song was going no where. It came as a real shock to us that people loved it. It was and is the most popular song we’ve ever done which is crazy to think about because we were really starting to hate it before SoJam. Some songs take an hour to arrange and some take weeks or months. It’s an interesting process.
While waiting for the final two groups to be announced, we found out that that very day Paris was under attack. Patrice was reading an article out loud explaining over 100 people were dead and that number was quickly climbing. Our emotions were already heightened from competition and this was absolutely devastating. I can’t explain it but coincidentally the last song we performed was actually a song in French with a long and emotional spoken word at the end about the loss of a loved one. It was a surreal experience performing that song and I doubt we’ll ever be able to perform it with that same emotion and intensity again.
When we found out we won the competition we all just hugged each other and cried. It was really important for us to share those songs with our community and we are grateful that we are so well received by them. The rest of the weekend was a blur. We finally got to meet all of the competitors and made a lot of new friends and connections that are still so meaningful to me. My favorite part of these competitions and festivals is the networking after all the hard work is done. The next day was full of masterclasses and educational sessions where we continued connecting with new friends and colleagues. These weekends are always so crazy. We spend a few months doing all of this preparation and work and then we show up and pour our emotions out, cry, meet new people, cry some more, fall out of a van (I’m a real klutz sometimes), cry because I fell out of a van, masterclass with Naturally 7 (WHAT?!), meet more new people, and leave. It’s over in a flash, but the experience is truly, truly, truly invaluable. SoJam is an experience not to be missed.