Monday, April 21, 2008

Hard to Say Goodbye.

Warning: I'm suspending all snark for this post.

Over the weekend, the UVA Hullabahoos celebrated their 20th anniversary with a sold out concert at The Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville. Alums from both decades flew in, and even performed at the show. It was a massive undertaking, and a triumph for all involved.

But there was some sadness, too.

The Hullabahoos were founded in the late 80s, and for years they recorded with Paul and Lyn Brier who owned a local studio, Virginia Arts. Paul and Lyn were just good people. When, in 2002, the Hullabahoos won Best Male Collegiate Album from the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards for "Xerox Nation," the Briers threw the Hullabahoos a pool party. "It was a big step, not only for them, but for us," Paul told me in 2005. The party became a tradition, and a highlight of the year for the Briers, who so enjoyed the Hullabahoos.

The Briers would often keep in touch with members of the 'Bhoos long after graduation. "We go to their marriages," Lyn told me. "When they come to school, we're like surrogate parents. Or maybe their surrogate brother and sister, because they’re not ashamed at all to cuss around us. I have guys stop over here to cry on my shoulder."

The Briers retired not long after I met them. "It's time," Lyn said. They were off to Mexico. The Briers sold Virginia Arts to an alum of another UVA a cappella group, which Lyn felt good about. Lyn: "One of my friends said to me, Why are you so concerned about the business? Just move! Just sell it and go! I said, I can’t do that to our clients. I can’t. I wouldn’t be able to sleep with myself if I were hanging them out to dry."

Sadly, this past Saturday, hours before the Hullabahoos 20th anniversary show, Lyn lost a bout with lung cancer. She and her husband were supposed to be at the Paramount that night. I know they would have loved the concert.

I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with Paul and Lyn three years ago. At one point, a brief scene from that meeting was in Pitch Perfect, as an introduction to the Hullabahoos, though it was cut in a later draft. Here's how that scene went:

Paul and Lyn Brier of Charlottesville, Virginia look like your favorite aunt and uncle. Paul, early 60s, wears a plaid, short-sleeved dress shirt and big glasses; Lyn’s got on a leopard-print top and a black comfy skirt.

The Briers have just retired—“We’re off to Mexico,” Paul says—but have a couple of hours on a fall afternoon to recall a life spent in music. Their recording studio, Virginia Arts, sits in a two-story house across from the Pick-n-Pack, complete with a porch swing made for a good book and a cold Arnold Palmer. Dave Matthews has recorded here. “Dave and I were taking a smoking break…” Paul says.

“Don’t tell that story,” Lyn interrupts.

This studio is a local institution. Dave’s drummer, Carter Beauford, was, years ago, the house percussionist. And John Grisham recently recorded a book-on-tape here, too.

Past the screen door, behind the desk where Lyn handled the books, some forty CD covers hang on the wall. “That’s our a cappella wall,” Lyn says. The University of Virginia Hullabahoos have been recording with the Briers since they formed in 1988. Though, truth be told, Paul isn’t really happy with the most recent recordings. He’s part of the old guard—an a cappella purist. There’s been a shift, he says, not just with the Hullabahoos but in all of collegiate a cappella. (Paul has recorded groups from James Madison University, Emory, and others.) “The albums are overproduced!” Paul says. How so? Well, for one thing, take the synthesized rain on the Hullabahoos’ version of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River.” “If you can’t sing it on stage how it sounds on the record,” he says, “Then it’s not true a cappella.”

Still, the Briers are so fond of the Hullabahoos that they named their Shit-zu after the group. That little cloud at your feet? "Meet Bahoo!" Lyn says.

The Hullabahoos may be UVA’s most popular all-male a cappella group, though their act isn’t necessarily appropriate for all ages. “You wouldn’t want to put them in front of the Jefferson Area Board for the Aging,” Paul says.

How are they in the studio, I ask.

“When they make a mistake," Lyn says, "they take their pants off!”

Still, she loves these boys. And she's not alone. “The concerts,” Lyn admits, “it’s pandaemonium.”

“It’s like AC/DC,” Paul adds.

At the Hullabahoos 20th anniversary show this past weekend, the group paid tribute to Lyn Brier, singing "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday." Here's that performance:

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