Heard Through the Grapevine: Spring Concert Warms Swarthmore

“Hi everyone, thanks for coming out. We are Grapevine, Swarthmore’s most fun, most female, most fruity acapella group,” said Emily Uhlmann ’19 warmly during last Saturday’s spring Grapevine concert in an almost-filled Sci 101. The performance was replete with themes of female empowerment and love. More than anything, the performance was characterized by the palpable fun being had by both the performers and audience.

The performers, who affectionately referred to themselves as “grapes,” were laughing, grinning at each other from across their semicircle, and making the enthusiastically awkward yet endearing arm motions that seem to accompany all college acapella performances. The members of the audience were fully engaged and seemed to be enjoying themselves just as much as the singers. Yet it was also bittersweet — the event doubled as a send-off for the soon-to-be “raisins,” alumni of the group. Grapevine also fully embraced the theme of their name for the show. Wine and other refreshments were served before the event and all the performers wore purple. In addition, the members wore ribbons to promote sexual assault awareness.

The concert consisted of ten songs arranged by various members or alumni, each with a solo singer who sang the full lyrics, while the other singers harmonized in the background. Each soloist would inevitably get so passionately into their singing at moments that they would then self-consciously grin, inadvertently pulling the audience in.

It opened with “Woman” by Kesha, soloed by Shana Herman ’19, a poppy and spirited song declaring her female empowerment and independence, dissuading men from encroaching on her time with her “ladies.” “I’m a motherf*ckin woman, baby, alright, / I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight,” she cried out at the peak of the chorus. The enthusiasm of Herman and her fellow “grapes” made for a forceful and giddy first song that set the energy of the performers for the rest of the show.

This was followed by a series of songs about love, healing, and feminism, soloed by Clare Grundstein ’20, Victoria Kussman ’21, and Ruth Elias ’20. Grundstein repeated the staunch claim that “I will not be afraid of women,” singing an oscillating melody about overcoming internalized misogyny she had used to judge other women while out at night.

This was followed by Kussman’s sweet and soothing plea for peace and reconciliation. “Come to mama / Tell her who hurt ya / There’s gonna be no future / If we don’t figure this out,” she cooed.

The last of the set was Elias’ slow and touching song about the uplifting power of a significant other. The lyrics repeatedly emphasized the all-healing power of “you,” describing the difficulty of articulating one’s love in a manner that was beautiful yet could be ironically nondescript. Sharply diverging from the mood of the last two songs, the first half of the show was concluded with “Geek in the Pink” by Jason Mraz, fittingly soloed by Churchill in a pink sweater. Beatbox in the background, Churchill’s sing-song rap asked the audience to ignore her dorkiness and give her a chance at a relationship. Her lighthearted lyrics included lines such as, “I may be skinny at times but I’m at fat fulla rhymes / Pass me the mic and I’m a grab at it.”

In the middle of the concert came a short intermission during which the three graduating seniors in the group — Elizabeth Balch-Crystal ’19, Uhlmann, and Herman — were appreciated  by younger members. A “baby grape” spoke extensively about each one, describing the ways in which they’ve been made to feel welcome, their inspirational qualities, and their friendships. The appreciations illustrated how clearly close and supportive the group is.

The three graduating seniors triumphantly closed the show. After an energetic and catchy song about a perplexing girl named Candice, soloed by Maya Plotnick ’22, came Balch-Crystal with the shows stunner, “Work Song,” by Hozier.  She had performed the song with the group her freshman fall, so her performance on Saturday appropriately closed her Grapevine career. It was a heart-wrenching, melancholic melody about love’s undying bonds, backed up by the eerie humming of her fellow “grapes.” Next was “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” by Four Tops, soloed by Uhlmann. “I can’t help myself / I love you and nobody else,” went the upbeat song, whose lyrics fully embraced cliches about love.

Last of all was “Fuel Up” by Stornoway, soloed by Herman, a sweet, aching song about the difficulty of the journey of life, neatly using the metaphor of a car ride described at different points throughout life. “So fuel up your mind and fire up your heart / And drive on,” she crooned.

After calls for an encore, the group was joined onstage by a raisin from the class of 2017 to sing “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel, a traditional Grapevine song. Without a soloist, they stood in a semicircle holding hands, swaying and singing the somber classic. After the show, much of the audience gathered onstage to congratulate the singers. Balch-Crystal told me shortly after, “this group has been a huge part of my time at Swarthmore and it’s really sad to see it come to a close.” You can see the full concert on the Grapevine Facebook — it’s only 45 minutes long.

Larkin White

Larkin '22 is a writer from San Francisco who honestly has no idea what he is doing. He prefers cats to dogs, though dogs aren’t bad.

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