Rod Eldridge has seen his share of sold-out crowds in 16 years of traveling with his globetrotting a cappella group, Naturally 7. But the turnout for their Indianapolis 500 their prerace appearance, before a crowd of more 300,000 people, might never be equaled.
“That definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Eldridge said, speaking by phone from his home in Atlanta. “I was just caught up in the excitement and electricity of it all.”
Eldridge and his six vocal mates were ferried on a portable stage, circling the legendary track as they sang.
The group returns to Indiana on Friday to headline the Columbus Area Arts Council’s third annual Live On the Plaza concert.
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The arts council launched the series in 2014 with the classical-pop-hip-hop duo Black Violin as a way to bring, different, innovative music to the city. It drew about 2,500 people to the free concert.
Rain last year moved Live on the Plaza indoors to the Central Middle School gym for the MarchFourth! band, the 21-member Oregon-based band that entertained a local audience of about 500.
Karen Shrode, the arts council’s executive director, mentioned that the organization got inquiries on this year’s concert from as far away as Chicago when the event was first publicized a few months ago — with the Indy 500 appearance potentially boosting the size of the Columbus crowd.
“The people who have seen them there (in Indianapolis) and now know they are coming here could create a lot more local interest,” Shrode said.
Tami Sharp, the arts council’s program director who caught the group in concert 10 years ago, has long been interested in booking the act.
“We just needed the right event and the right time,” Sharp said. “And Live On the Plaza is perfect. I think they’ll be one of the coolest things ever in Columbus.”
Eldridge, who sometimes is cast as the member contributing hip-hop record scratches within the group’s tunes, acknowledged that mainstream pop-rock a cappella groups have come a long way since the jazzy Take 6, one of his early influences, first captured national attention nearly 30 years ago.
Part of that is due to the fact that Eldridge and company focus on far more than mere vocal harmony.
“We’ve definitely taken it a step further to explore much more that can be done with the human voice,” he said, referring to vocal play.
That’s when singers use their voices to replicate the sounds of instruments, from bass guitar to flutes and keyboard.
“When we started in that vein about 15 years ago, it felt like we were nearly alone,” Eldridge said.
When online videos have been posted, listeners posting comments have reacted most often to some of the guitar sounds that come off as realistic in clips from arenas large and small.
The group’s set list for Friday’s show will include original material such as “Say You Love Me” and the spiritual-themed “Another You.” They also will cover material from the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock and others.
“First and foremost, we just want people to feel uplifted and inspired,” said Eldridge of the group whose roots are in gospel tunes. “We try to make sure there always is a positive element in all of our music.”
When the group’s vocal mix is most complex and involved, Eldridge loves when audience members try to decipher what instrument is coming from which singer.
The group is well known throughout Europe, but is seeking to grow its audience elsewhere.
And in Indiana, it seems to be off to a good start.
What: The Columbus Area Arts Council presenting the third annual Live On the Plaza
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Where: Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza, 536 Fifth St. in Columbus.
Rain location: The Commons, 300 Washington St.
Information: 812-376-2539 or artsincolumbus.org.
Listen to some music tracks and learn more about the vocal-play group, Naturally 7, at naturallyseven.com