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NEWS/ARTS | Vol. 14, No. 5, February 18, 2010
(Lush Guide 2010)

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Light Up The Stage

by Sean Boone

Karaoke Brings Different Element To Bar

Music is to bars as Batman is to Robin.

It's a complement that transforms an aura of social chatter into a room full of movement and fun.

But when a DJ rolls out a video screen and a 40-year-old drunk woman begins belting "Don't Stop Believing," that aura is elevated to a whole new level--one that may make some even feel like a superhero (at least for four minutes or so).

Once thought of as a Japanese or Filipino novelty, today's karaoke is popular all over the world.

Here in town there are numerous drinking holes that boast nightly sing-alongs, luring out the spectrum of one-time wonders to the rockstar wannabes.  

"I think people love the chance to be able to get up and be the center of attention for three minutes at a time and not have to really worry about if they're gonna sound great or if they'll suck--they just have to go up and have a good time," says Jeremy Ward, a karaoke host for The Cabaret. "It's great to have someone come up who's never done karaoke before and be so nervous and after the first time singing, can't seem to get enough of it."

Ward is a victim of a karaoke addiction, grabbing the gig at Cabaret after being labeled as a weekly singer at the bar. Today he hosts both the Monday and Thursday night sessions in addition to his day job.

"I love to sing, and to be able to do that and get paid for it is even better--not to mention that it's great to say that you get to drink while you're at work," he says.

While there are some who are decent enough karaoke-ers to captivate the audience with any tune, those who know how to work the crowd are generally the best received.

And by working the crowd, we mean picking a song that everyone likes.

"Song choice is always crucial in karaoke," says Ward. "You want to find a song you know, one that's in your range, and something that you'll enjoy singing or that the rest of the bar will have fun with."

Some songs Ward recommends are: "Sweet Caroline," "Love Shack," and "Piano Man."

George Hahner, who works six nights a week as a karaoke host at Seville Quarter, The Gutter Lounge and Hub Stacey's believes Journey is always the pick-me-up band for karaoke, but says the host is equally responsible in making sure the bar is having fun.

"I'd like to think my show makes everyone feel like a rockstar," he says. "Everyone at some point wants to feel like one."

Hahner recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as "Karaoke George" at Seville with friends and weekly singers who have been with him since the start.

"I have regulars that have sung with me for 10 years," he says. "With Facebook's help I got a lot of people there. Many came up to me and said 'I remember singing with you in 2000.'"

Many who sing karaoke travel from spot to spot and sing the same old songs they know and love. Some of the more popular spots downtown besides Seville and Cabaret are Will Call (Monday night) and Hub Stacey's (Saturday night).

For a more "dive bar" and cheap beer ambiance, try Sir Richard's on East Cervantes Street on Saturday nights or Mr. B's on West Jackson Street, which boasts karaoke fun every night of the week.

sean@inweekly.net