For the past eight years, the Ogden-based vocal group T Minus 5 has been producing a festival at the Ogden Amphitheater featuring a night of singing sans instruments -- A Cappellastock.
The show returns on Saturday, Aug. 25, with four bands from around the state and the nation. This year's acts include hosts T Minus 5, the Utah State University-born Eclipse, and the all-female band Delilah, which appeared on the past season of "The Sing-Off" in a group made up from previous seasons' contestants.
The headliners for A Cappellastock this year are The Bobs. One of the most enduring and successful of modern a cappella acts, The Bobs have been going strong for almost 30 years, with a repertoire of funny, often topical, original songs and imaginative reinventions of classic rock and jazz tunes.
A few classics they have tackled include Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," The Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer," and The Beatles' "Helter Skelter" -- the last of which landed them the Grammy for best arrangement in 1984.
Original tunes range wide in subject matter, from synaesthesia and world-conquering felines, to dog-riding monkeys and the sordid laundry challenges of a dictator in duress.
It was The Bobs who provided late comedian Andy Kaufman with his wrestling entrance theme, "March & Fanfare," which also opened Kaufman's biopic, "Man in the Moon." They've written songs for several other films and a children's video game, too. The Bobs even had a gig for a time in the '80s with then-NPR host Bob Edwards about the headlines.
"That NPR job was tricky," said Matthew Bob Stull, co-founder of the band, calling from his home in Seattle. "We found that by the time you write a song about it, and get it out there, no one remembers that headline. Or when they do, they sometimes get mad."
He recalls when they went on the air with "Killer Bees," a humorous take on America's invasion by Africanized honeybees.
"That one lingered! The beekeepers of American were up in arms about it." Stull laughed. "That was pretty much the beginning of the end of our musical commentary for NPR."
First rule of The Bobs: Members must adopt "Bob" as their middle name.
One story says it is an acronym for "best of breed," as in a dog show, though the truth is as muddy as a champion poodle playing in a puddle. Current members include Stull, primary lyricist Richard Bob Greene, Dan Bob Schumacher and Angie Bob Doctor.
Though their singing and songwriting is serious business, their life view and song topics generally are not.
"That is just who we are," said Stull. "Weirdness is all around us, and we are always looking for it. Our antenna is always up. The routine is that we tend to fly into a place, rent a car and drive to the gigs. So we spend a lot of time in the rental car, and if we are not listening to music, getting ideas for songs, we are looking out the window to see what's weird out there."
For example, one Bobs album is called "Sign My Snarling Doggie." The title cut comes from what amounted to a heckle when they played one of their oldest venues, The Palms in Davis, Calif. Stull told everyone to come to the merch table, where the band would autograph, well, just about anything.
"And some guy in the back yelled, 'Yes! Sign my snarling doggie!' We all stopped in our tracks and went, 'Now, that is great stuff!' I think it was the next week Richard wrote a song about a guy who goes to an autograph festival and finds out it costs money. So he says, 'Fine. Here's five bucks for your autograph -- sign my dog.' "
Founding members Stull and Gunnar Madsen met while working for a singing telegram company in the Bay Area.
"I was a huge Persuasions fan, but we knew we couldn't be that," said Stull. "For one thing, despite the singing-telegram thing, none of us were really vocalists to begin with. We had to look at it differently."
What to do first? Madsen suggested a daring choice -- "Psycho Killer."
"The Talking Heads were huge at the time," said Stull. "Not only did we have that to deal with, this also wasn't exactly a typical song for an a cappella group back then. But we pulled it off, and it was huge for us."
When looking for material this diverse, some ideas stick, and some, not so much.
"Right now, we're trying to do a 'You Keep Me Hangin' On' -- but we want to do the Vanilla Fudge cover, not the original Diana Ross tune. The trouble, though, is because we are only voices, we can't make it as big as we'd like -- can't pull off the rock-anthem thing. So, now we're looking for something to mash 'You Keep Me Hangin' On' together with, another song that might kick it up. Something really unexpected. Maybe a Tom Waits song!"
With the growing popularity of a cappella, Stull sees sunny skies ahead as he and his fellow Bobs move into their fourth decade.
"While there has always been a cappella, it has remained just under the radar, a novelty act," said Stull. "But now, with 'Glee' and 'The Sing-Off,' and things like that, it is way more mainstream. As for ourselves, we are not afraid to try anything -- jazz, rock, semi-gospel. It is OK for an a cappella band to do a tango, and then the blues and then glam rock. Because ... well, because, why not?"
A verse from "Dictator in a Polo Shirt," from The Bobs' "Laundry Cycle":
"Of the hundred palace guards,
Most have run away.
Of the loyal ones, there are but thirty.
They call to me to make a show of strength.
But I cannot come out,
When my uniform is dirty.
Dictator in a polo shirt -- no, no, I can't go out dressed like this!
Dictator in a polo shirt -- oh, this country is in a terrible mess ..."