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Older audience aside, a young reporter digs the sounds of Forest Grove barbershop in its 70th harmonious year

NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Opening act Tone Deaf, which was not a contestant this year, set the stage for the 70th annual Original All-Northwest Barbershop Quartet Contest at Forest Grove High School.When I discovered that the editorial staff here at the News-Times was sending me to cover the 70th Annual Original All-Northwest Barbershop Quartet Contest at Forest Grove High School this past weekend, my first thought was “Cool, a cutting-edge competition over who can style hair the best — only in Forest Grove!”

But I was wrong. So very wrong. I discovered that “barbershop” refers to a style of a capella close harmony generally performed by a quartet of singers with different vocal parts. I became excited, because I knew I could relate — I’m also a singer, although I usually put on my one-man concerts in the shower until my roommates burst into the bathroom and say things like “Shut up” or “Someone please call an ambulance, my ears are bleeding.”

Honestly, I realized that the only time I’d heard barbershop music was two years ago while playing BioShock, a video game set in an American floating city in the sky in 1912. So I wasn’t completely sure what I was in for.

I arrived promptly at the high school for the 2 p.m. performance on Saturday and immediately noticed a key detail: I was by far the youngest person in the auditorium, or at least it seemed that way.

Some groups were warming up in the hallways. Saturday’s competition featured the top eight quartets. There were some cool and creative names, such as Who’s Your Daddy (a quartet that consisted of two father-son pairs), 3 Good Looking Guys (a group of singers that left some women in front of me wondering aloud why they weren’t just called Four Regular Looking Guys).

But I did think it was pretty cool that there was one co-ed group, which allowed for more diverse sounds.Breakers brought up the rear, placing eighth in last weekends competition.

The afternoon started with some chicken-themed entertainment from a group called Tone Deaf. Several terrible puns (one of the men, dressed as a chicken, threw a spring down onto the stage and announced he was a “spring chicken”) and cleverly remade songs (“The Chicken Sings Tonight”) later, I was left dumbfounded.

My musical tastes run toward rock, rap and rhythm & blues. So if you had told me Friday that the next day I’d be watching men dressed as a chicken, a half-hatched egg and Colonel Sanders singing barbershop music to a sea of seniors (“old folks” is the term my college-age friends use), I’d probably have curled into the fetal position and started crying.

But watching the different groups turned out to be interesting, even if it isn’t something I’d normally do. And I learned that from a young age, it’s what some people have known their whole life.

“In barbershop families, kids are raised with it. They get a head start,” said Caric Mitts, one of the fathers in Who’s Your Daddy. “It’s an enjoyable form of music and it can really appeal to a broad spectrum of people.”Whos Your Daddy came in second. (007) Profundo, which came in fourth, was the only quartet to include women.

Still, it’s incredible to see an art form like this has gone on for so long. Butch Berquist, who has organized and managed the competition for the last three years, spent (and still spends) a large part of his life dedicated to the practice.

“It all started 70 years ago with some guys who just loved to sing some tunes,” he said. “At one point, barbershoppers in the Northwest decided they couldn’t let this die. I’ve been singing 20 years, and running things is a different experience than competing and singing for the audience.”

Although I didn’t get to go to the other performances later that evening and on Friday night, Saturday’s afternoon shows were intriguing enough for me — in a good way. After all, like Berquist told me, performing for an audience is where the barbershopper’s heart lies: to leave people entertained.

And it’s pretty clear the 450 people in the audience were well entertained, including this spring chicken.

An all-chorus sing brought all the acts together Saturday evening.

Profundo, which came in fourth, was the only quartet to include women.

Hometown Harmony took sixth place.

Encore placed fifth.