Day 13 – June 20, 2013 – at Pho Cao in Tempe

DAY 13 – June 20th at Pho Cao in Tempe

by Rachel Enger aka Rac Hellion

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Teresa and me

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Suze and Teresa

This night Suze and I were joined at Pho Cao by my good friend Teresa.

What is Pho Cao?

Pho Cao is a Vietnamese restaurant/bar with an amazing space for entertainment. The place is named for its gracious owner and host, Victor Cao. The restaurant boasts a favorable reputation for excellent Vietnamese food, especially the pho (a noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs, and choice of meat – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pho).

Honestly, as a vegetarian I have tried few of their menu items (mostly the vegetarian egg rolls, and a vegetable version of sushi). Did I mention they have a fresh sushi bar at Pho Cao? Yes, they do.

I am looking forward to coming to Pho Cao with a healthy appetite sometime, to be schooled in Vietnamese food and recommended items for vegetarians, as I am not well versed. Most of the time, I am there to sing, kick back, and have fun. I order my drinks, and sometimes food. Then carry on.

Pho Cao is a little tricky to find, although its neon sign is quite visible from a main drag through the heart of Tempe. It’s well worth it to take time to find it though. Suze and I have spent more than a few nights here, well after the 22 days of consecutive karaoke were completed.

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Night Clubbing Okay, so you really have to go to Pho Cao to appreciate the awesomeness of the space. You enter what seems like the back of the building from the parking lot. Directly to your right is a long bar with seats, attended to by a very capable and accommodating bartender. She can fix up anything. To the left is the main restaurant area, with seats and tables, and at the far end the sushi master’s elevated prep area. There is a patio on the side of the restaurant.

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Then there is a whole other room. Past the bar, you round a corner, and spy the ample stage at the far end. Directly facing the stage, at the other end of the large room is a screen where the karaoke lyrics are projected.  In between the stage and the screen are various round dining tables, and leather sofas with coffee tables in front of them. Lined up on one side there are also a few booths. Lots of options for relaxing as you enjoy the music. It is dark in this room, adding to a night club atmosphere. There is also plenty of room up on stage, and in front of the stage for dancing and various other antics. I like hanging out in this large “living room” with good friends and new acquaintances, ready to take in – and take part in – the entertainment for the night. Let the show begin!

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KJ Phil Johnson

The set-up

The KJ this night was Phil Johnson with Starz Karaoke. Phil handles the rotation well, seamlessly working in new singers, and keeping everything running smoothly. Plus, he sings divinely in a strong tenor voice – a real treat. We first met Phil on Day 7 at Fuller’s in Chandler. Phil always keeps the atmosphere festive and fun.

Phil keeps his console on the main floor near the stage, handing off the microphone to the singers, who then have the option of going up on stage, or singing anywhere in the lounge. On other nights, Emma Watt (with a competing provider, Wet Whistle Entertainment) is the KJ. She prefers to have her KJ station up on stage, where she sits while overseeing the karaoke singing. She also uses a smoke machine.  I believe the KJs often provide and set up their own sound equipment (e.g. speakers, microphones, etc.).

I mention this because if you take my advice and visit Pho Cao, you may have differing karaoke experiences depending on the provider and KJ working that night.   I can’t really recommend one over the other, as both Phil and Emma are incomparable KJs. You will enjoy it either way.

Some nights, live musical acts are featured at Pho Cao, e.g. a blues band. Always check ahead.

Glee-ful!

There were a number of other people in the joint that night. Most notably a round table full of young folk, who brought with them a strong vibrant energy. There were two guys (Chris and Matt) who performed their duets on stage in the style of the TV show Glee. Very animated, very theatrical, very committed. Overall very entertaining. And the best part is they could really sing.

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This was a night of duets. In addition to the Glee club, in which Chris sang with each person at his table, I sang twice with Teresa. And Teresa sang a duet with our friend David (another karaoke fan who frequents Pho Cao).

Bad News

So…earlier this evening I had heard the news that a friend and former employer, Kim Thompson, had passed away. He had been battling cancer, and I knew this was a possibility. But you know, you kind of hold your breath, and hope for the best. I had a good cry over it. Thought hard about the kind of things you often avoid thinking too much about: friendship, death, legacy, and the passing of time. Then I gathered my thoughts and my things, prepared to go out and sing as planned. Not in the best frame of mind. I hadn’t been close to Kim in a long while, though off and on I kind of stayed in touch. One thing we had shared was a vehement love of Lou Reed and David Bowie.  Tonight I would sing for Kim.

http://www.fantagraphics.com/fantagraphics-news/fantagraphics-co-publisher-kim-thompson-rip.html

The songs: 

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Teresa – who had also known and worked for Kim – and I sang Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love. It was a touching tribute, although I’m not sure it’s the best duet for us.  We could practice? Then another duet with Teresa: Sorrow (David Bowie), an old favorite of ours to sing together. Alone I sang Wild is the Wind (another Bowie cover tune). Really love that song, and was surprised to find in it on the list. Yes! I dedicated all three to Kim Thompson, in memorium. Singing in times of loss always helps to ease the mind.  I also sang Torn (Natalie Imbruglia) and I never loved a man (the way I love you) by Aretha Franklin. I needed to process some heavy emotions that night, and singing strong, emphatic songs with passion really helps. So long, Kim.

Let’s end on a high note!

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It was a good night for singing. We all had fun. We will be back, undoubtedly, to Pho Cao. There was a friendly crowd, of silly and competent singers. We were all in the hands of a capable KJ. I got to hang out with my dear, sweet friends: Teresa and Suze. And…Victor Cao took some photos of us while singing. Then decided to use a pic of me on his stage in an internet ad promoting Pho Cao. Nice! Thanks, Victor!

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Victor Cao, owner Pho Cao

Day 12 – June 19, 2013 – Tukee’s in Ahwatukee

Day 12  – June 19th at Tukee’s in Ahwatukee / Phoenix

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The decider is once again influenced by her co-conspirator. Suze said her brother Ken would join us if we went someplace in the east valley on a Wednesday. We considered our choices. Tukee’s in Ahwatukee (a neighborhood of Phoenix) stood out. It was definitely close enough for Ken to join us easily. Plus the KJ at Tukee’s had been a member of the crew completing the infamous 21 consecutive days of karaoke. The very record I was attempting to beat. I had heard that KJ Chelsea had only made it to Day 7 or 11 of the 21 days. I already had that beat! This was Day 12. I wanted to meet her, so Tukee’s was it!

Tukee’s in Ahwatukee

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We arrived at Tukee’s a little after 9 pm, and it was crowded. Parking was just the first challenge. A popular place reputed to have good food, as well as karaoke. You pass one part of the ample patio on the left as you go in, and you can already hear the music. However, it was due to an acoustic performer on the patio finishing his last set. Just on the other side of the patio door is the bar and the KJ’s karaoke station. There were competing musical strains. The karaoke singing had already begun.  As you enter the building, the restaurant area is to the right, the bar area to the left. Both were large and well-populated.

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We entered the bar area which was also where karaoke took place. The bar itself was to the right. The place was packed! The patio was pretty full, the bar and the restaurant too. The bar had many tall tables and stools full of patrons, crowding up against each other. There was barely any room to squeeze through. We found a table for four, but ended up adding a few extra seats. Contributing to the clutter and clamor.

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Suze and I were joined by her brother Ken, naturally. His daughter Kendra and his friend Ryan also stopped in. Suze’s friend Caroline and our buddy Bosco rounded out our group of seven.

Did I mention it was crowded?

There were lots of patrons at Tukee’s that night, enjoying the bar, food, karaoke inside, and acoustic music on the patio. Even after the live patio music stopped, it was still lively out there with conversation, smoking, and laughter. There were lots of interesting looking people. Normally, I would have loved to chat them up. I even went about taking some photos, and struck up a few conversations. However, I felt a bit stifled. There was already a large group at our table, several of whom I had never met. I turned my energies – somewhat – toward getting to know those at my table. Our group was pretty insular, not a lot of extroverts.

Even though I didn’t go wandering much that night, Suze did her blog-business-card schmoozing project. (Read Day 11 for more information.) In short, we have business cards made up with my blog information and announcing the project’s goal of 22 days of karaoke. Suze would mostly approach the other karaoke singers, who might have an interest in this sort of thing.  

Many folks were there that night to sing. There were a number of tables set up near the karaoke console and monitor. The bar area extended back beyond the bar itself, and most tables were occupied. It seemed at first that the karaoke list had about 15 singers, which is manageable. Then the rotation grew to as many as 20 or 25. Good for Chelsea, and good for Tukee’s. But not so good for singers awaiting their turn.

The set-up & KJ:

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The KJ Chelsea works for UR Entertainment. The binder of songs was pretty thin, although we all did find selections we liked. I introduced myself to Chelsea, and gave her a hug (she was a friend of Bosco’s after all). I told her I had heard about her involvement with the 21 days of karaoke, and of my quest to break the record. She didn’t seem all that impressed. I get mixed reactions all the time. So no big deal. Although I often chat up the KJs when we go out, I didn’t get a chance to talk much to Chelsea. During much of the singing she was on the patio smoking.  

So we’d give her slips of paper with our song requests, and Chelsea would lay them out next to her console. I like to check the list, find out when I’m coming up in the rotation. This is difficult to do with Chelsea’s system. She doesn’t maintain a list on her computer. She has all the pieces of paper in an order of her choosing.  She explained that she uses the Mike Henry system of working in new singers after waiting an hour.  I found that confusing too. I didn’t think that’s the way Mike normally does it. New singers are worked into the existing list, but waiting an hour first? Why?

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Sidebar nod to Mike Henry:

[Mike Henry is a well-reputed and popular KJ who has trained a lot of the KJs working currently in the valley. He has his own company now:  Rockstar Karaoke. Suze and I have been to a Mike Henry show, but not during the 22 days of Karaoke project.]

Back to my rant

Adding to the frustration of not being able to check a list is that you wouldn’t know it’s your turn to sing until it’s actually your turn to sing. No warning whatsoever. Surprise!  That’s what Suze said when I mentioned it to her, in consternation. “It’s a surprise!” Yes, it is. Not a good thing.  I don’t know when I’m able to take a bite, take a swig of my wholesome Kiltlifter, when to clear my palate with a nice long draw of H2O. Or even when to go to the bathroom.

Purpose of this blog

I’m making this (albeit negative) observation because 1) the whole point of this blog is to share information with you all, 2) that another point of the blog is to share my experiences and how I felt, and 3) to compare it to other karaoke experiences.

You can make up your own mind where to go to sing.  There are plenty of KJs who kindly let you know when you’ll be up – often in person. There are a few who have the list of upcoming singers displayed on the monitors as intermittent reminders. It occurs to me that if Jen, Thom, and FrankthaTank can do that, then so can many others.

If I’m brutally honest in my report of karaoke experiences, maybe KJs and Karaoke providers will realize which features please their patrons. I hope to be a service to all. As well as slightly entertaining…?

 And another thing…

At Tukee’s there seems to be no good place to stand while singing. Did I mention it was crowded? If you try facing the monitor by the patio door, invariably someone with jostle you as they walk past. If you are out in the crowd somewhere, among all the tables and chairs, there are myriad servers and patrons going by. Not an ideal situation.

On a positive note

I must say, however, something good about the Tukee’s experience. The staff was very friendly and the service topnotch. Quite an accomplishment for such a busy Wednesday night.  The food at Tukee’s has a reputation of being good too. I tried a small portion of their mac ‘n cheese dish (something a lot of the finer dining establishments are featuring on their menus these days – an adult version of a homey childhood favorite). It was pretty rich, and though a side portion, I couldn’t finish it. However, it was tasty. Everyone who ordered food at our table was well satisfied.

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Okay, the songs:

During the three hours we were there, I only got to sing three songs – including the requisite duet. On average, I’ve been able to sing four songs a night. Although I must say I was pretty satisfied with all three.

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I sang Oh Darling!, my one Beatles ringer. I tried singing What I did for love (from A Chorus Line) – the first time I’ve performed it since I was a teenager. Definitely a keeper. For the duet, I sang with Suze’s brother Ken. He selected Unforgettable (the duet Natalie Cole recorded with her father Nat King Cole’s older recording). It was smooth. I’d really like to work on this one, and try again. We guessed at some of the harmonizing, but it went over well. There was even an off-duty KJ there that night who got up and danced with his wife during the song. Very romantic.

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To sum up:

Overall, not a bad night. For karaoke, though, there are many other options. Suze and I will keep you posted.

Day 11 – Part Two – June 18, 2013

PART II – Day 11 – June 18th

 (in Mesa & Chandler)

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Not sure about the number of fingers…? Should be ELEVEN! It is the correct date.

Goat Head Saloon in Mesa

Yeah, this is my kind of hole in the wall, divey rock-n-roll bar, tucked in the corner of a strip-mall. So remote, so non-descript, so inauspicious, that a fellow had wandered in that night thinking it was a strip club. And remarkably, he stayed for karaoke. And sang a few songs too. Goat Head Saloon has karaoke on Tuesday nights, but often has live acts – music that is – other times. They also host an open mic night. Very cool, and laid back atmosphere.

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As you enter, there are pool tables straight ahead, and around to the left and down a slight incline, there is a bar with seats. There are a number of high round tables and bar stools about, in the large, dark room. There are also a number of lower tables with regular dining chairs. We took a seat at a couple of bar stools, and set the large karaoke binder under a hanging light on the small, round table. My eyes are going bad due to age, but I seem to be in fierce denial. I have several reading glasses stowed away in various places, but never carry them into these dark spaces. I always seem to be hovering under a light, or holding pages at arm’s length. Pathetic, really. But true.

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There is a stage, large enough for a band to set up and play. It’s raised a couple feet off the ground. The KJ Dan Dan has his console on the stage, off to one side. There’s plenty of room for dancing about on the stage. There is a huge screen at the back of the stage with the lyrics, etc. There are also other monitors placed about the venue. Someone could stand on stage and sing, as we do. Or you could sing facing the stage and the huge screen. Or you could sing at your seat, or pretty much anywhere in the joint. I think Dan Dan has a lot to do with monitor placement, as I’ve seen his show in a brand new place recently (Castaways in Phoenix). He was talking about adding more monitors in different locations, very attuned to the needs of his singers, and the owners.

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Dan Dan & Priscilla

The KJ is Dan Dan, along with his partner Priscilla, of Arizona’s Top Karaoke. Theirs is an independent, not a “corporate” enterprise. They are both unique and fun individuals. Their duets together are a blast, very original material, and sweet renditions, with a splash of vulgarity. I definitely like hanging out with these two.

Dan Dan tells me – after introductions are made – that his karaoke show is the best, that it is different from the rest. This is not an uncommon claim. Mike Henry (of Rockstar Karaoke) also claims to be the best, as do many of his followers. Mystic Molly (of Starz Karaoke) definitely can claim that her shows are unique, and she is proud to offer a great “party” at each. No lie. Her shows are both exceptional and festive. Emma Watt (of Wet Whistle Entertainment) definitely can put on a wild show too. There is a lot of competition out there. There is a lot of entertainment, and a lot of fun to be had. So…you know, I was a bit skeptical. I’ve been around. Not my first time at the rodeo.

That said, I’d have to agree with Dan Dan. His shows are special. In between the karaoke singers, he occasionally interjects the songs with video – off the wall stuff. I discovered a rock-a-billy group from Germany – the Baseballs – who re-work covers of American pop songs with a rock-a-billy flavor. Thanks to Dan Dan. There is more to say about all that for sure, but you’ll have to check out one of his shows to partake. It’s never the same. Always entertaining.

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Baseballs

http://www.thebaseballs.com/

The Binder & the Songs

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I was thrilled to discover that Dan Dan also has a boatload of songs in his binders. You may not find all the recent pop hits – although you might…I didn’t really check – but I found several songs that no one else has. Very very happy discovery. It’s a huge binder, and it takes time to go through it. I just went up and asked him if he had the songs from my list. However, you have to write your name, the song title and its artist on a random slip of paper for Dan Dan. Each and every time.

This night I sang Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield), White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane), and a duet with Suze (of course), Sentimental Journey (Doris Day).  Normally, Suze and I sing this song with two other ladies, in a quartet called Harmony Department. I’ve known the song since I was wee. That night the two of us singing Sentimental Journey as a duet was off the hook! We received some of my favorite compliments ever. A sweet older gentleman came over after and said: “I melted into a puddle.” And he added, “You are way above what’s in second place.” What an awesome turn of phrase. I hope always to remember it for the sentiment – but also to use it myself when I wish to credit superb awesomeness. What a sweetheart! He made me melt into a puddle.

The Regulars

There weren’t many people there at the Goat Head that night. Most were singing, and they also seemed to be regulars, who knew each other or at least recognized one another. There were a couple of what I’ll call “old timers”, a karaoke staple at many venues. These are the guys (mostly, although I have seen couples too), who may have their own CDs of songs, (filled with older or more remote selections not commonly found on most karaoke lists). Can’t be too careful, you know?

I like seeing these older gentlemen. They give me hope. I figure that’s going to me someday. After years of the karaoke circuit, frequenting my favorite haunts, I’ll be bringing in a digital selection of my favorite tunes. Gotta keep singing, don’t you know? So there were maybe a dozen people there, some just hanging at the bar. The regulars, and us.

Meeting Strangers

Suze had this idea, and really it became two ideas. One was to create a “business card” with my blog information. That way we could share the blog with people we met at the karaoke outings, and announce our unusual project. Suze would often get on the microphone and announce to all within earshot about my karaoke project, and which number day I was on. She was always so supportive, and cheering me on.

That’s something I’m getting used to myself – public speaking. I’m much more at ease than I used to be. Just as with performing. I could always stand and sing. No problem. I love it. But really performing, and using my body and face to emote…well, that’s been an evolution. I can’t say my face always wants to participate. It contorts into whatever shape is necessary to get the notes out just the way I want them. I don’t worry about looking attractive while I sing. I have some acceptable photos of me singing, and I have some that are, well, less so.

For Suze, it’s kind of the opposite. She has been an actor for some time. Very comfortable performing, always looks great singing, with an easy smile. And public speaking, forget about it. I’ve seen her address crowds of people many times. A pro. However, when it comes to talking to strangers, she’s less comfortable. I can pretty much talk to anyone. And do. But Suze, she needs a reason, a project. Enter Idea #2 – use the cards to talk to strangers. This blog business card really was the ticket.

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Day 11 was the first night I had the cards available, and had the blog up and running too. Suze would go up to a group of strangers and pass out the cards, while introducing me. I thought that was odd. She didn’t introduce herself, or take names. But she did get out of her shell a bit, and talk to people she didn’t otherwise have to. This would carry on at least through Day 21. Me, I keep talking to strangers wherever I go. Karaoke or not.

Done? Or well done?

It had been a long day – for Suze especially, coming from rehearsal in Phoenix, and a dance class too! It was about midnight, and we had been there for a couple hours. It was time for Suze and I to go our separate ways. She headed home, and I headed south. To Chandler. What’s in Chandler?

Emma’s show at Iguana Mack’s, of course! And more karaoke.

I thought Emma must have another hour to go. I didn’t really think I’d get a song in, because her shows are usually well attended, with a long list of singers. I knew some of the people who’d be there that night, and I thought I’d stop by briefly to pass out a few of our “business cards” announcing my blog, and the project, etc. Then I’d leave. Good plan.

When I arrived I greeted a few fellow karaoke fans and passed out the cards. Then my friend Aaron said I probably had time to get in one song before I left. I thought no, but checked with Emma (the KJ). She said sure, I’ll fit you in. So six singers later, I’m sipping some water and enjoying all the merriment and hijinks that accompany an Emma show. Sitting at a bar, on a stool waiting. For one more song. Really. Instead of losing steam half way through my 22 days, I’m hanging out in yet another bar at 1 am, waiting to sing.

Then I sing True (by Spandau Ballet). For Emma, because she loves that song. It doesn’t go so great, but oh, well. What an accomplishment! Four songs total that night, and three places, technically speaking, of course. (Word of advice: It turns out you can actually sing more songs if you arrive early and stay in one place.) I do feel pretty good overall. This project is half way and it’s gaining momentum. In fact, it’s taking on a life of its own. My life – and all other pursuits – are taking a back seat. But that’s a story for another day, another blog perhaps…or not.

DAY 11 – June 18, 2013 at THREE Places!

DAY 11 – June 18, 2013 at THREE Places!

I visited three separate places on this date:

Toby Keith’s I love this Bar (in Mesa),

Goat Head Saloon (in Mesa), and

Iguana Mack’s (in Chandler). 

This is PART ONE telling of the short time spent at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar! 

So…you may be wondering how we chose which places to go for karaoke. So many places – at last count over 170 in the valley of the sun – and only 22 days!

I was the decider, which is not to say that Suze didn’t wield some influence – she most certainly did. I favored diversity, and others’ recommendations. Let’s go to different kinds of places, let’s try places we’ve heard about. Let’s try something new!

Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar! 

Right. Suze chose a country bar: Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar! Why? It doesn’t just have karaoke, but something called “rock-aroke”. This is a version of karaoke with a live band. It’s something we’d both wanted to try. I wondered how much it differs to an open jam or open mic situation. I’ve done that before, “sat in” with a band or an artist. It can be fun, and sometimes a little nerve-wracking. You may not know exactly how they’re going to do the song, and you have to just go with it, be flexible. Presumably that spontaneity is taken out of the equation with “rock-aroke”, because you’re following the song “in the style of the artist”. So, no problem, right?

And it certainly will be a unique – and diverse – experience, n’est-ce-que pas? 

There are only a few places I know of that have rock-aroke. One, I had completely forgotten about – at the Sail Inn. Now that I’ve been reminded, we’ll have to check it out (post-karaoke-dokey project). Another is at the Tonic, but we had found out they’re suspending any karaoke until the fall. The third is Toby Keith’s place. And yes, his name is in the title of the bar.

Suze thought – correctly, as it turns out – that the music would be only country. But I thought, no way. Lots of country music these days is cross-over, the bands often sound kind of rock ‘n roll. I’ll bet they have some rock tunes available to sing. I started to rack my brains for songs I might do – beforehand. Rolling Stones? CCR?  

I was so wrong. No rock. Only country.  All right, mostly country. 98%. And I must admit that there are two genres I’m a bit inexperienced with – one of them is country. Admittedly, I could learn some more country songs, and I have throughout this project. It’s just – full disclosure here – I don’t listen to much country. Like, at all. So when I perused the song list – all of 125 songs – I only recognized about 14 songs. Many of the artists I hadn’t even heard of. Boy, am I out of my element! 

There were a few songs I might have been able to muster through: Black Horse and a Cherry Tree (a kind of bluesy song I do like, but haven’t really learned yet); I Love Rock ‘n Roll (very familiar, but honestly, I don’t care for the song, and wouldn’t enjoy singing it); Black Velvet (I like the song and could do it justice, if only I had practiced).

There really is more pressure performing a song with a band. On a legitimate stage. For patrons dancing and such.  

I know, I know. Picky, picky, picky. Yes, I can be.

The Set-up: 

The place is very large. The signage is large. The entrance is large. The lobby is large. The bar itself, straight ahead as you enter past the bouncer/ID guy is hella large. There is an area to the right of the bar that I didn’t explore. It may have been the restaurant. It too was expansive. There was a riding bull on the other side of the long, oval shaped bar. On the southeast end of the bar was a separate room, a VIP room. The walls were windows, so the VIPs could look out while in their secluded area, with fancy furniture. Everything in Toby Keith’s bar looked fancy, and the décor reminiscent of old westerns. They spared no expense.  A large, well-appointed, fancy saloon. 

The stage was also large. Especially compared to the stages that we’ve seen for karaoke, that is when there even is a stage. It was five feet off the ground, big enough to house an entire band, and then some. The KJ was on-stage, located off to one side. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet her. She stayed on stage, announcing which singer was up next, and watching over the proceedings. The people in the audience there to sing seemed to know what to do. They checked the song list, filled out their song request, and handed it to the KJ. The KJ was equipped with a laptop set up in the corner of the stage. The laptop monitor served as the karaoke monitor with the lyrics displayed. There was a microphone on a stand next to the KJ’s station and seat. The singer would stand at the mic, looking at the monitor, while the band off to the far right of the stage played the music. The band played well, and they seemed genuinely supportive of and encouraging to the singers.

Directly below the stage was the dance floor. A sizable dance floor. The whole place may have seemed larger, because there were few patrons there on a Tuesday night. Some were there to sing, certainly. And the singers’ friends there to enjoy and lend support. A few couples ventured onto the dance floor during the performances. A small, but content little crowd, in a very large and overwhelming place.

The Cop Out

Well, I had arrived before Suze, who was on her way from someplace in Phoenix. I had a chance to look over the place and the song list prior to her arrival. And, instead of kicking back and ordering a beverage, I texted her suggesting we move on to another place. Yep, I copped out.

Of course, Suze had to get there and see for herself. And note details for her karaoke database once she arrived. I went to the parking lot to get my list of other Tuesday night venues, and there were a couple in Mesa that weren’t too far away. Suze agreed that we would leave without singing. The only place we’ve done that. Turned tail and sauntered out. Not proud of it, but there it is. 

My apologies to those who like this kind of place. It’s not for me, but no judgment implied. Please, if you favor country music, I do recommend this gorgeous, large country bar in east Mesa. Enjoy!

We decided next to go visit Goat Head Saloon.

You’ll have to read Part II of Day 11 to find out more about our adventures that night!

Day 10 – June 17, 2013 at Ernie’s

Aside

Day 10 – June 17, 2013 at Ernie’s and El Dorado Bar & Grill

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Ernie’s in (north) Scottsdale:

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Suze and I arrived at Ernie’s early – about 9 pm on a Monday night – and there was no one there! Only the KJ Heather, and the barkeep.

We each order a Kiltlifter – which has been the drink of choice during much of  our adventure – and take a seat close to the open “stage” area.

Karaoke every night in the “karaoke building”  

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The karaoke is housed in one building, but right outside this karaoke building, there’s a covered patio with another bar. Ernie’s has karaoke every night. Yes. They do 

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The karaoke building has a large oval-shaped bar in the center of the room. Beyond one end of the bar itself, is a small area that faces a large screen, upon which the karaoke lyrics, etc. appear. In this stagey/dance area the singers can stand and face the screen, or you can sit anywhere nearby while you sing. There are seats, naturally, around the large bar. And there are also a few booths and tables surrounding it, at the outskirts of the large room.  

I do my usual meet and greet with the KJ, Heather, who’s already started singing on her own. I do wait until the end of the song, to tell her of my quest, and her unwitting involvement in such. She’s nice and supportive, and gives us a few other places to think about visiting. The provider is Dwayne Oliverson, and I’m familiar with his book. Also, I just find it expedient to talk to the KJ directly. I come prepared with my list, of songs I may want to sing. In addition, I’ve starting taking with me the list of songs I’ve already sung (so I’m sure not to repeat any). It’s getting to be quite an undertaking.

Since there are literally NO Other Singers there, we get our songs in right away.

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The songs

First, I sing Fifty Ways to Say Goodbye (Train) which I’ve wanted to try. It goes okay, but I realize I need to learn the bridge. There’s no one to notice except Heather. Suze doesn’t know the song. Then she counters with Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover. Nice one, Suze. 

Then I ask Heather to sing a duet with me. I want to mix it up, and try duets with different people, see which songs they’ll suggest. She says she knows all of Stevie Nicks’ songs. I love Stevie Nicks’ duet with Tom Petty, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around. So we do that one. It goes great. Heather is good at harmony, and I decide I’d like to do this song again sometime.

If you know me, there was dancing. So guess what? That’s right.

My original song done, duet done, and the dancing too…I can go home. No, that’s just silly.

A few more people came in: a couple sat at the bar, and started poring over the karaoke binders. Good! They’re here to sing. Another couple sat in a booth, on the other side of the bar. Just hanging out. A loud drunk couple came in. Well, one half of the couple was drunk, and he proceeded to announce that the man with him was his husband, and as he introduced himself, breathed all over me. You just have to meet my husband, he insists. So I do. Very charming couple. The bartender keeps a watchful eye on them, and clucks under her breath once in a while. They’ve had a bit much to drink, don’t you think? Yes, I do.

I have to tell you there are archetypes throughout bars – especially karaoke time – and the loud, touchy-feeling drunk is certainly one of them. He asked me what I was going to sing. Next up some Barbra.

Technical difficulties 

The wait shouldn’t be too long now. Still only two – maybe three – singers. My song is queued up. The intro begins.

Whoops! I’m not ready. Getting my requisite water, and taking a long drag before attempting to sing Evergreen.

Damn! Missed my cue. No problem. Heather is going to back it up, and start over. Happens more often than you’d imagine, and KJs are super-accommodating about helping a singer out. 

I wait, microphone in hand, for the song to start again. I wait some more. She’s having technical difficulties.

I give Heather back her mic, and go sit with the Kiltlifter.

Suze tries to help Heather with the equipment. The guy from next door at the other half of Ernie’s comes in and tries to help. Seems the entire sound board is not cooperating. She can’t get the track, and she can’t get any songs, can’t get anything at all to happen. She calls Dwayne Oliverson. Now Dwayne is on his way. 

Hmm. Empty joint. No music. I’ve satisfied the rules. Time to go home? Nope. Time to hit up another place. We’d heard about El Dorado from a few friends of ours. It’s just down the street practically. On our way home. So time to check it out. We were definitely not done yet.

El Dorado Bar & Grill in (south) Scottsdale   voted “best neighborhood bar”

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El Dorado is a bit of a dive bar. And also a neighborhood bar. I’ve noticed that the dive bars we’ve been to tend to be frequented by those from the neighborhood. But on karaoke nights, they may attract people – like us – seeking an opportunity to sing. Like many neighborhood dive bars, the “neighbors” are pretty friendly, even if you’re not from around there.

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The exterior looks non-descript, and the interior too. There is a small stage to the left as you enter. The KJ area is located right next to the stage, further from the front door. (There are other karaoke providers on different nights of the week at the El Dorado, so they may do things differently.)  There is a bar off to the right, and further back on the left beyond the stage, there is a pool table. The bar is oval shaped with stools encircling it. There are a few other tables near the entrance, facing the stage.  The place is fairly small. While we were there, there were about a dozen people, only a few of which were singing that night.  The atmosphere was casual and relaxed.

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We were there for karaoke and took a spot near the bar, where there were several tall round tables with stools. Bosco had been on his way to meet us, when we had our change of plans, so he caught up with us at El Dorado. The three of us pored over the binders, and selected songs. I had wanted to sing Evergreen, so I asked the KJ Tammie if she had it.

KJ & Set-up

Tammie is an independent working with her brother, and a very old-school system he had set up. Binders and binders of CDs with karaoke selections on them. The binders we were looking at had lists of songs, with an accompanying code and numbers. This code told Tammie which CD to find from her enormous selection, and which number song from the CD. Very outmoded technology. Most of the KJs we’ve encountered have laptops and everything is digital. They can do a search pretty easily by artist or song title. A few KJs have some pretty interesting set-ups too, but we hadn’t seen anything this outdated. On the up side, Tammie has an eclectic book of songs, and some pretty obscure selections. For example, Southside Johnny. I don’t wish to sing We’re Having a Party, but I was glad to know someone could.

The songs 

Tammie is personable and friendly, and glad to dig through her portable library to find her Barbra Streisand CD, and yes, she has Evergreen. So I sing that first.

We were there from about 10 pm until midnight, enjoying each other’s company, singing, and drinking too. Next I sang Blue Bayou (Linda Ronstadt), then What’s Up (Four Non Blondes) which was a Bosco request.  Before leaving I gave a rousing rendition of Give it away by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I love rock! But I don’t often sing rock songs – just not my forte. But occasionally, I just like to let it fly.  Also, part of the challenge to myself during the karaoke project is to step out of my comfort zone. It was so fun tearing it up, and dancing around on stage. It’s a tough song, because it keeps moving, with little time to catch your breath. Plus it’s not “pretty” like so many of the songs I like to sing. For this performance, no finesse.  Just abandon and energy and precision, and…lots more energy. I had FUN.

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Rant & Rave

In my karaoke travels, I’ve met a number of regulars. Hell, I’ve even become a regular of a few places. I used to wonder, when I’d go out to bars occasionally in the past, what was the draw (for the regulars). It’s certainly cheaper to drink at home, if it’s the alcohol you’re after. I’ve been drinking a lot more often than I’m used to, and I tell you, it can get expensive. What will keep bringing me back – after the challenge is over? The love of performing, singing for an audience…sure, that’s a big part of it for me. And many – if not most – karaoke fans.

More than that though, it’s the people. I like to hang out with and meet people. And I think that’s true of many others who frequent dive bars, sports bars, restaurant/bars, rock ’n roll bars, country bars, and the odd eclectic bars. Etc.

They – okay, we – want to hang out with other people. Not in our homes, not at our place of work. Someplace where there is nothing to attend to, no responsibilities.  Well, except the drinking. You must attend to the drinking, usually. For some, that may be the main thing. But mostly, bars provide a casual social environment to just be around other people.

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So I say: Hey, get up off your couch once in a while, and go out and visit a bar. I know it sounds degenerate at first, but your neighbors, diversity, America is out here – just hanging out.  Drinking, yes, and smoking, often, but that’s no excuse not to join them. Okay, us.  Not only can we get along, but we are getting along. And if you come out for karaoke, there’s always a good time to be found.

Day 9 – June 16, 2013 at the Cash Inn (Phoenix)

DAY 9 June 16th at the Cash Inn in Central Phoenix

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Sunday, Father’s Day 

My kids are with their dad, and it’s time for Suze and I to go visit a lesbian country bar – giddy-up!

Getting to know you

Karaoke on Sundays at the Cash starts at about 7 pm – early! So we got there a quarter til, and ordered drinks before happy hour ended. I asked the barkeep, Dusty, if she had a signature drink, and before you know it we were hooked up with two tall fruity drinks, brimming with alcohol. The “panty-dropper”. We know it was filled with multiple shots cause we saw them being built. But the pineapple juice helped mask all that, and we were happily sipping on very strong and palpable cocktails. [Spoiler alert: I don’t, however, recall any panties dropping that evening. Unfortunately.]

Kat was the bartender from 7 pm on, and the KJ was Liz aka Monroe.She is an independent, but like most KJs is familiar with the other providers and well-known KJs in the valley.  We chatted amiably with Monroe, and shared acquaintances. I, of course, told her of my karaoke quest. Monroe had a helper with her that night, a guy who went by the name of Hatchet. Monroe was nursing a sore throat, so she didn’t sing much. Both were super friendly and put on a fun show that night.   

The lay of the land

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The front of the establishment is inauspicious; you know you’re about to enter a divey bar. However, once inside, you notice it is large, and the décor is country, and maybe even a little kitschy – for example, there are three barber chairs sitting off to the side by themselves. You know, just because. It’s cool. The mood is friendly and comfortable, all are welcome here. I read some Yelp comments before coming here, something I rarely do. I think I was trying to remember if I’d been here before, way back in the day. I knew I hadn’t, once there. But it still seems vaguely familiar.

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Anyway, Yelp. Some yelpers were out of joint, and said they felt uncomfortable. Some said the opposite. A couple comments said if you were male, you were made to feel unwelcome. I would have to refute all of that negativity. There was no hostile vibe at the Cash Inn, and nothing suggesting exclusivity. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I don’t know what it’s like when it’s crowded – we were among maybe a dozen people at first, which then grew to double that. I imagine it’s all the more friendly and fun when full. The night we were there, – although a fairly diverse mix – certainly, no one seemed out of place.

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As you enter, there is a bar to the left, horseshoe-shaped with bar stools. There were a few people at the bar when we arrived. The very large dance floor takes up most of the indoors, with stools flanking and overlooking the dance floor. Most nights there is undoubtedly much two-stepping, line dancing and other forms of dance on that spacious floor. This place, after all, is famous for country music, and for the ladies. 

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The two restrooms are identified as one for females, and one for both (M/F). The DJ / KJ booth is in the far left corner, and a huge screen for karaoke descends and dominates one end of the dance floor. This arrangement basically turned the enormous dance floor into a kind of makeshift stage. This left room for roaming about as you sing, and of course, dancing. 

There were several other high tables with stools lining the right side of the large room, and we took our seats there. Past that on the right were doors leading to a small patio. One thing I’ve noticed in places with a nice patio area, it tends to be dominated by smokers. Let’s face it, since banning smoking in bars and restaurants in Arizona, there has to be someplace for them to go. It’s nice for smokers to have a patio. Not as nice if you don’t smoke. Oh, well. What do they say? You can’t please everyone…

Revelry and Reverie 

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Stevie and Andrea

We were joined by our friend Stevie, who had recommended the place, and Suze’s niece Andrea. We all had a great time there together singing our hearts out on a Sunday evening. We did our best to fill that dance floor, with our presence, and dance moves, while we took turns singing.

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One of the DJs at Cash was there that night to hang out and sing some karaoke. I especially liked her rendition of a Muse song. I went into a crazy frenzy at the sidelines, while during much of the song she was safely hidden behind the screen, oblivious to our shenanigans. Lots of head banging – or hair shaking, rather – behavior. Stevie shed her normal reserve and joined me in the enthusiasm. We got Suze up on her feet too, even though the requisite dancing had been satisfied. We just love her interpretative dance moves. This prolonged moment of reverie and abandon was one of the highlights of our many outings, in my opinion.

Tonight’s duet was Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen), with assists from Suze and Andrea. img_5338_0030

The other songs I sang were Hopelessly Devoted to you (Olivia Newton John), Gloria (Laura Branigan), and Mean to Me (the Linda Ronstadt version). I was most pleased with Mean to Me. I love this song, but had never heard Linda Ronstadt’s version. I didn’t know what to expect as far as the key, the tempo, etc. It was a successful experiment.  Now that I know it, I love this version!  It was a perfect fit for me, it turns out. I could follow the downbeat and play with it in a jazzy sort of way. It’s very freeing, to make a song your own. 

Sometimes there’s karaoke success. I was stoked!  Other times, well, you just file it away under, yep, I did that, and now it’s done. That’s happened for me too. I try a song I like, but it just doesn’t work for me. And so what. At least I tried it. I recommend you set your fears aside, and try to sing for the fun of it. With karaoke there’s little to no pressure. Be prepared to revel in success, or to groan and laugh it off – both are fleeting sensations. There is no excuse but to be bold.

Karaoke-dokey Day 8 June 15, 2013

Karaoke-dokey 

DAY 8 – June 15th – Back at Boston’s!     img_5300_0049

by Rachel Enger

Okay, my blog post about Day One, kicking this project off at Boston’s included a detail that didn’t happen until this time at Boston’s, one week later. I got confused. I’ll admit it, and if I think it’s worth the trouble, I’ll go correct/edit that first post. At the risk of being repetitive, I’ll include that info here.

There’s not much more I can say about Boston’s that I haven’t already posted on Day One. It is my favorite Saturday hang-out, as much for the karaoke, as for the company. Alyssa (aka Trinity) is the KJ, and there are usually regulars there that have become my friends. This night there were a few regulars, and they brought their friends too.

This is the part that may seem repetitive:

It was Nickname night at Boston’son Day 8 (not Day 1!).

I arrived a little after 9 pm.  After I got caught up on everyone’s nicknames, I gave Alyssa the name Delisha. Bosco is a nickname, but he tries on a new one, Magic Bob. I am still Rac Hellion (trying to make it stick!). Travis is Travka (an old nickname from his past during which time he drank a lot of vodka perhaps…kind of hard to believe, NOT!)  Suze trots out an old nickname of hers, St. Jizzle.

Weird thing about nicknames is we all seem to have some lurking from the past, but unused for so long. Another weird thing is among these people, several already go by something other than their name. You can be anyone you want to be, we’re told. Apparently, it’s true!

Someone new to our party has the nickname Danger. Why, I’m not sure. She doesn’t look particularly dangerous. And Staci doesn’t want a nickname, so be it. Alyssa’s friend Erik she has named Buzzkillington – and this time the nickname makes sense. He always sings very sad, depressing songs. We teased him a bit while he was singing, that we would off ourselves. Gesturing with gun to the head, noose around the neck, and the like. Making light of suicide and singing, yeah, that’s what we do. Very sensitive.

The Songs:

I was able to sing several songs. I sang  Madonna’s Like a Prayer and was very happy with it. I had worked on this one at home, and was taking the delivery of it very seriously, trying to get the tone quality and nuances just right. Not something that everyone appreciates at karaoke. Meh.Travis kept dancing around with abandon. Which is not only awesome, but not that unusual. I just get distracted easily when I’m trying to concentrate. Sorry, Travis. He takes his joy and abandon to another part of the bar.

Then I am asked to sing another Madonna song, Borderline. Another one I’ve never sung at karaoke before, and had not practiced at home. However, I’ve certainly sung it enough just chiming in with the radio. Like everyone else on the planet, right? Now the whole crowd is dancing up a storm. Really fun! But I’m trying to get all the words and notes right, so I stand a little apart from all the beautiful revelry. Perfectionist, anyone?

Finally, the song is done, and I think I pulled it off! But it wouldn’t matter, it was an absolute crowd pleaser. I will definitely sing more Madonna – during this challenge and beyond. Not only are the songs well received, but they are an absolute pleasure to sing. I also sang Harden My Heart, a song I hadn’t heard in years, until Day 5 at Bill Johynson’s the Big Apple. and Zombie (by the Cranberries) which was another request.

I was having a great time. Hell, we were all having an absolutely wonderful time.  However, our goal is to visit a different place each night. We couldn’t stay. I had also told the KJ at Doc ‘n Eddy’s (Kelsey) that I would be there that night. And had posted my schedule on FaceBook, and I mustn’t make a liar out of FaceBook. I reluctantly left my pals and Alyssa and went to Doc ‘n Eddy’s. Bosco came with me, but Suze went had an important engagement – a late night birthday bash with awesomely fun theatre people. Otherwise, no doubt, she would join me in the next phase of the adventures. 

Doc ‘n Eddy’s:

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We arrived at about 11:40 pm, and I stayed until karaoke was done, at 1:45 am. 

My friend Lisa was already there and had brought a friend too. Both had been drinking, and had been there a while, which was confusing to me. Not that they had had a few, but that had been looking for me at Doc ‘n Eddy’s instead of Boston’s.  Weird.

Nevermind. It’s all good. We were here now, together. We were hanging out, drinking, looking through the binders. There was, however, barely enough time to get in one song.  I asked Kelsey if she would sing a duet with me. Sure! We sang Just Give Me a Reason – and yes, I know. I’ve sung it before, but had to think of something fast, to get a duet done that night. Following one rule led me to break another rule. Damn!  Plus, shucks, I do love singing it. And Kelsey is an awesome person to sing a duet with. She rocks!

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Me and Lisa

Who’s there?

A few of the Doc ‘n Eddy’s regulars were there, including Brian and Sarai. Doc ‘n Eddy’s is a really down-to-earth place, with its own set of regulars. I’m learning this is true of most bars.

I used to come here often, before discovering Boston’s, on Saturday nights. The karaoke doesn’t start until 10 pm, but it goes later (until 1:45 am). There are usually more singers than Boston’s, and more drunks. I think it attracts more of the ASU crowd, although ironically Boston’s is closer to ASU. I think it’s the bar atmosphere, at Doc ‘n Eddy’s, that makes it more a favorite of frat party types. It can get crazy at times.

Doc n Eddy’s has an area I think of as the karaoke pit. A few steps down, and you’ve entered this “pit”, which has about five tables with comfortable chairs, and an open area that can be used for dancing or as a stage. Our sweet KJ Kelsey sits in one corner at her console, with a monitor above, and a huge drop down screen to her left facing the crowd. Many people face the screen to read the words, with their backs to everyone. I like to stand off to the side and face the crowd, glancing at the screen as necessary. Such a ham, I have become. Who knew?

 How is it?

There is always a drunken but chill atmosphere throughout Doc ‘n Eddy’s, but especially in the pit. The karaoke pit is off to the left and down a few steps as you enter the front door. The entire place is expansive, and seems to go on and on. If you continue on from the front door, you’ll find the bar off to the right. There are more tables and chairs, and an area with several pool tables way in the back of the joint. Leading back beyond our pit, a few steps up, there is another area with more tables and chairs, for viewing from above.  Many of the karaoke singers and their friends sit in this area, as you can see everything. There is also a large patio out in front of the bar. Bar food is served, and the kitchen is open late. It’s sometimes difficult to get service, especially in the pit. Only slightly easier if you wait your turn at the bar. Once in a while you’ll get lucky and see a server come by. Then they take care of you pretty well.

Maybe not all would agree, but I like it here. It is a very chill place, with a relaxed mood, and very funny drunks. Sometimes I regret that I have to choose between Doc ‘n Eddy’s and Boston’s on a Saturday night. I think maybe I could start early at Boston’s and bounce back and forth between my two faves. I could get almost five hours of singing in! (From 9 pm – 1:45 am) Right? No, that’s crazy talk. Right??

 Singing

One thing you should know is it gets busy at Doc ‘n Eddy’s and there’s no telling when. It can start slow, like any place any night, and really pick up after 11 pm. That night Kelsey got me on the list, and that was cool. Then I hung around even after most of my friends had left and just hung out to listen to the remaining singers, and chat with Kelsey.  Also, the crowd of karaoke fans at Doc n’ Eddy’s is really supportive, boisterous and fun. Oh, and usually, pretty drunk too.

Then at 1:41 am the last singer in the rotation has sung. Kelsey’s asked everyone else from the list if they had one more, but no…and there’s time, she says, “for a three minute song”. So, I suggest At Last (Etta James), and am able to close out this Saturday night singing at Doc ‘n Eddy’s. Awesome.

It’s hella fun there. Thanks Kelsey, and thanks to all the drunken karaoke friends for the good times.