UW-Eau Claire hosts a cappella ‘The Riff-Off’ to raise money for charity

Nine a cappella groups danced and sang the night away for a cause

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Photo by Sam Farley

Soloist Autumn Andres and fellow members of 7 Days were one of the four guest a cappella groups to perform at Schofield Auditorium for the ‘The Riff-Off’ charity event on Saturday.

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As the sun went down and outdoor activities began to wane late Saturday evening, Schofield Auditorium was only just beginning to liven up.

The room was filled with UW-Eau Claire students, local community members and the rhythmic sounds of singing, clapping and beatboxing.

“The Riff-Off,” a new a cappella charity event on campus, featured a total of nine groups — five from Eau Claire and two from both the University of Minnesota and Marquette University.

Autumn Andres, a senior from one of Minnesota’s groups titled 7Days, said they have never performed at Schofield before; however, for Andres, this wasn’t her first time seeing Eau Claire’s a cappella.

“The Innocent Men actually came to my high school (in Green Bay) and sang a couple songs,” Andres said. “Getting to see how people chose to continue pursuing music outside of a classroom setting, that got me really excited about trying to find that at the university I was going to.”

“Of course,” she said, “It didn’t hurt that Pitch Perfect came out that same year.”

Hosted by Eau Claire student and face of the university Snapchat Ben Fisher, the noncompetitive riff-off concert raised money for charities chosen by each a cappella group.

A grand total of $4,261 was raised from the combination of ticket sales and donations.

A similar event, called The Sing Off, was held at Schofield in 2014 and 2015, at which the five Eau Claire a cappella groups competed for a larger portion of the total funds raised.

“The Riff-Off” instead divided the pot equally for each group’s cause.

The five Blugold singing groups — Audacious, Callisto, Fifth Element, Impromptu and The Innocent Men — collaborated, as they all chose the Blugold Emergency Fund for their charity.

Will Johnston, a junior studying integrated strategic communication and member of Fifth Element, said this enabled the Eau Claire groups to unite as they sang for a common cause.

“It was a collective thing that we all wanted to go towards. It took away the whole competition aspect,” Johnston said. “It makes it very unified.”

Although the event was noncompetitive, the night did feature a beatboxing battle among the groups’ vocal percussionists.

Throughout the night, two opposing group members faced off, offering 30 seconds of their best beats. Applause from the audience determined the winner of each round and after many battles, it came down to Kyle Perez from Marquette’s The Naturals and Jonathan Thalmann from Minnesota’s 7Days.

The crowd went wild for both performers, but ultimately favored Perez.

Among the cheering audience members was Abby Epping, a first-year accounting student at Eau Claire. She said she was drawn to the event in more ways than one.

“I heard about it from my friend, and I’ve seen signs around campus about it,” Epping said. “Plus the word ‘riff-off’ reminds me of Pitch Perfect and it makes me think of good music.”

Current students were not the only ones in attendance.

Eau Claire alumna Kerry Root, who graduated in 1995 with a degree in social work, said she first found out about the event on Facebook.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Root said, “But it exceeded all of my expectations. It’s amazing how talented they are.”

Overall, the highlight of the riff-off for Johnston was performing with other collegiate a cappella organizations for the first time.

“It was cool to see that there are other people exactly like us,” Johnston said. “Just a different university.”