The Buffalo Chips: A musical brotherhood

The Chips will celebrate 20 years of music on Valentine's Day


When attendees walk into the Mainstage Theater in the Center for the Arts on Valentine’s Day, they will hear the sounds of a full band, bass and percussion. But they will only see 12 men.

UB’s male a cappella group, the Buffalo Chips, has been practicing in Knox 4 for their 20th anniversary show on Saturday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. since August of last year. The Buffalo Chips – originally called Cadence – held their first performance on Feb. 14, 1995, making this anniversary a special performance for both Chips’ alumni and current members. Founding members will perform favorites from their time in the group alongside today’s members.

“We started back in 1994, just a bunch of guys who wanted to sing and now, 20 years later, we're performing all over Western New York, and we’'re still carrying on that legacy,” said Zach “The Rock” Carr, a communications graduate student and the Buffalo Chips’ business manager. “So it’'s an honor for me, being a fourth year member of this group. It’'s quite a tradition to carry on.”

A cappella came to the national spotlight during this year’s Grammys on Feb. 8 when Pentatonix – a pop a cappella group from Arlington, Texas – won in the category Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella for its medley “Daft Punk.”

Pentatonix is the only musical act besides Taylor Swift and Sam Smith who has sold more than one million copies this year with their album “That’s Christmas to Me,” according to Forbes.

The Chips have recorded 10 full-length studio albums and one live recording. Their most recent, “Blue & White,” was released in February 2013.

The Chips perform at events across Western New York. They sang the national anthem alongside the Royal Pitches, UB’s female a cappella group, during President Barack Obama’s visit to UB in August 2013 and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Distinguished Speakers Series lecture that November.

The group has competed in the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella (ICCA) where they won the Mid-Atlantic Championships in 2011 and 2012. They went on to compete at the ICCA finals in New York City.

The Buffalo Chips has a tradition of brotherhood among members – they are lighthearted, crack jokes and give each other nicknames.

Their harmony extends to their musical productions, which they spend weeks perfecting.

“It’s all about the group, all about singing together,” Carr said. “One person’s off, the whole group’s off. So, in my mind, it’s like the highest form of brotherhood, really.”

As an a cappella group, the Chips have to recreate the sounds of instruments using their voices. They take well-known songs and make them their own through experimentation.

“Whatever genre you can think of, we probably have some type of it within our show,” said Eric “Zimm” Zimmerman, a sophomore political science major., “[We] don’'t have the instruments so you kind of get to watch us experiment and figure out how to make those sounds with our mouths.”

From modern-day singer-songwriters like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran to legends like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, the Chips perform a range of music.

“I’'ve been with the Chips for three years, and when I first joined, I did not think it would be such a production,” said Marty Gartz, a junior theater major known by his fellow Chips as ‘PartyMarty' by his fellow Chips. “I expected, like a high school concert sort of vibe, but it’'s not. We’'ve got a full light show. We’'ve got a full sound system. And being on the Mainstage, it’'s a big auditorium, and it's gonna be a blast.”

This performance will be the first time the Chips have performed on the Mainstage Theater in 10 years.

Gartz is “very, very excited” to perform in the Center for the Arts (CFA) on Saturday because of the prestige that goes along with it.

“When I first got into the theater major, they told us on our tour [of the CFA] that unless we graduate and get a national tour, we will never be on the Mainstage, and now I’m like, ‘Haha! I get to be on the Mainstage before I graduate,’” he said.

To advertise for the show, members have been gathering in hallways on campus, like the Baldy Walkway, singing together and handing out flyers.

The current members of the Chips are celebrating the legacy they’re part of, and Gartz said that that’s “awesome.”

“It’s so cool knowing that this is something that they put so much time and effort into, and that they trust us down the line to continue the legacy and continue the hard work,” Gartz said. “It’s really exciting to know that it’s something that’s so long in the works.”

Tickets can be purchased through the event’s Facebook page or at the door for $10.