From Pearl Street Mall to Red Rocks, Face Vocal Band Marks 18 Years of A Cappella Rock

Photos: courtesy Face Vocal Band

Photos: courtesy Face Vocal Band

By Steve Graham

Face Vocal Band has the dubious distinction of being the first group to be voted off “The Sing-Off.”

But the joke is on Nota, the group that eventually won the debut season of the NBC reality singing show. The Puerto Rican collective has never performed at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. For that matter, no vocal band other than Face has headlined the legendary venue west of Denver. No other vocal band has raised as much money for Colorado schools, either.

Not bad for some guys with no instruments other than voices, who started out 17 years ago singing on the Pearl Street Mall and at the Boulder Farmers Market — until they were uninvited.

“They asked us to stop playing the farmers market because our crowds were getting so big that people couldn’t get to the vendors,” said Face member Mark Megibow. “That’s when we first thought, ‘did we stumble onto something here?’”

Megibow is a classically trained percussionist who beatboxes to hold down the beat as Face’s “drummer.” He also sings more traditional lyrics in the group.

Although it was difficult for an a cappella group to book gigs in the early days, Face has since played large festivals and headlined shows throughout the world. 

The group also played at Boettcher Concert Hall with the Colorado Symphony in March, one of the first Face shows with non-voice instruments.

“There’s going to be times where you’re not going to know where the sound is coming from,” Megibow said before the show.

A cappella rock

Megibow said Face sets itself apart from Pentatonix, the “Pitch Perfect” movie soundtracks and other vocal bands by focusing on covers and originals beyond the pop realm.

“We thought pretty much from the beginning that we could be a rock band with just our voices,” he said.

Face members all started in a cappella bands. Several sang with In The Buff, an all-male a cappella group at the University of Colorado at Boulder, but Megibow said they all thought they could do something more interesting with their own group.

Face sings everything from Christmas carols to original rock songs and a huge range of covers, including some seamless medleys of seemingly incongruous songs. Megibow credits Face members Stephen Ross and Ryan Driver with crafting the group’s unique arrangements of those tracks, which stand out from other a cappella tributes. 

“That is a hidden strength that a lot of audience members won’t really get,” he said. “They only arrange songs that they are personally inspired by. Something about it gives us inspiration and excitement, so when we perform, that excitement comes across.” 

Cody Qualls writes most of the originals, and the next Face album will likely include more originals from the prolific songwriter.

“When he brushes his teeth in the morning and spits it out, five new hooks come out with it,” Megibow said. “He has just always chosen to write songs that speak to the human condition. Most of his songs are very personal and yet very universal.”

Face has filled the seats at Red Rocks, one of the greatest venues in the world.

Face has filled the seats at Red Rocks, one of the greatest venues in the world.

“The Stuff of Dreams”

The songs have reached a growing fan base every year of Face’s long career, building up to the current peak of shows at Red Rocks and performances with the Colorado Symphony.

“These last few years have been the stuff of dreams for any artist,” Megibow said. “But it shouldn’t be taken lightly that it’s taken 17 years to get where we are.”

The band members said none of the success would be possible without their fans, who have packed more than 200 shows at Nissi’s in Lafayette, backed the group through Patreon and even funded a Kickstarter campaign that sent them to perform in Europe for the first time.

“We are so grateful for all the support we get here in Colorado and also globally,” Qualls said. “We take none of it for granted. … We see Face as the entire experience we all have, including the band and the audience.” 

The journey from the Pearl Street Mall to Red Rocks was long, but Megibow said the band’s persistence should be a lesson in achieving your dreams.

“It doesn’t have to happen in the timeline that you think,” he said. “We are a testament to never quitting. I’m 48. It’s taken me to my mid-40s to achieve my dream.”

The group also has taught kids and adults through Face Academy. Face regularly hosts music workshops and classes in local high schools, then stage a fundraising concert at the school the same evening. 

“We have helped schools raise thousands of dollars for music programs,” Megibow said.

The group raised $30,500 for Colorado Department of Education grants by donating $5 from each ticket sold to its 2017 Red Rocks show. The money helped more than 40 schools in 19 districts across the state.

Face returns to Red Rocks on Wednesday, July 10, and Megibow is expecting another “mind-blowing” gig. He said Qualls summed up the experience of playing Red Rocks well.

“Cody said ‘You know how when you’re looking forward to something, you build it up so huge that it’s kind of a letdown,’” Megibow said, quoting Qualls. “‘This was kind of the opposite of that. It really is a very special place. It was really over the top.’” 

Steve Graham is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor who likes taking his two young boys biking, hiking and brewery-hopping in northern Colorado.