You might think of annual summer gala as a big-dollar wine-and-cheese hobnob with the upper crust of the East End, a fundraiser reserved only for the who’s who along the banks of Shelter Island’s gorgeous Dering Harbor.
And you’d be mostly right. But this year the entertainment caters to both the high brow, with classical music from the Bryant Park Quartet closing out the evening, and those just looking to have fun with familiar tunes done in a unique style.
Ball in the House is a band from Boston that turns the unlikeliest rock tunes into soaring sets of tight vocal harmonies backed by the human beat box of the band’s co-founder, Jon Ryan. They also do what you’d expect from a five-man vocal group — Boyz II Men, the Beach Boys, the Temptations, and lots of other R&B and Motown-type material.
The group was a contender for "America’s Got Talent" a few years ago and has performed on "The Today Show." They’ve opened for the likes of The Jonas Brothers, Blondie and Rick Springfield. And they will perform during cocktail hour at the hospital fundraiser Saturday night.
North Fork Patch interviewed Ryan, the beatboxer who founded the band in the late 1990s with Dave Guisti, before their show this weekend.
Patch: How has your style evolved over the years?
Ryan: In the very early days we did whatever we wanted – a lot of rock stuff in the beginning. I remember doing Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” and there are a lot of cool sounds you can do vocally to rock songs. But rock isn’t really the best way to represent the a cappella style. It doesn’t really translate as well as R&B, which is what we focus on more now. It allows us to focus on those vocal harmonies, which is what people will always love.
Patch: Tell me about your “America’s Got Talent” experience.
Ryan: After our “Today Show” performance in 2009, we were flown to Los Angeles for another audition, made that one and then were cut after we played Vegas. It’s one of those things were I’m glad we tried but I don’t think we’d go back to something like that. “The Today Show” was great, we were treated very well from the hosts to the crew to the crowd. Ben Stiller was a guest, the “Cosby Show” was having a reunion that day, and here we are, these little musicians getting this opportunity. But to go from that positive experience to “America’s Got Talent,” where it’s like a meat market and you’re being bullhorned and it’s very impersonal … it’s not what we expected and I’m not sure we’d do it again.
Patch: You all make a living full-time in the group?
Ryan: Yes, this is what we do for a living. Right now we’re gearing up to do a lot of college shows with back-to-school coming up, but we do a little of everything, like the party on Shelter Island. We also like to do more of a half performance, half educational workshop at elementary and high schools.
Patch: How did you end up becoming the beat-box guy?
Ryan: You know, beat-boxing has always been a big deal. And now I’m seeing it becoming bigger and bigger, especially with little kids. I’m 42 and have kids of my own now, and I see beat-boxing on kids shows now. It’s something that has been a part of our culture for a while, but I think it’s come up from the underground into the mainstream, and it always goes over well.
Patch: But don’t you ever want to drop the beat-making and just sing, really dig into those vocal harmonies?
Ryan: To be honest, I’m an average singer. I can hold my own. But my job with the band is to hold down the beat, to set up the groove, make it tight, and get people up and dancing. And I love it.
Ball in the House performs at 5 p.m. at the hospital's gala, which will benefit the emergency department. Click here for more information and to make reservations. Find out more about Ball in the House here.