There are rules in karaoke, but usually they are unspoken; to me they seem obvious, but the KJ in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania made sure everyone was on the same page. He introduced the evening by telling us to respect the equipment, singers, audience, and world at large. Don’t bang on the microphones, clap near them, or swing them by the cord. Don’t heckle singers, or give them a hard time; support everyone who gets up on stage by clapping. Don’t use your time to sing to make fun of your friends, or heckle anyone in the audience. Don’t change the lyrics to songs to make fun of or disrespect people because of their nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. I wondered who comes to this bar that such an elaborate spiel was necessary. The way he rolled off the list of restrictions reflected that he did this every week.
Singers were ready right at the 10pm start, the list scrolling at the bottom of the six monitors distributed across the bar as soon as the first name was called. A handful of performers in, the KJ got back on the mic to tell us how to put a song in, either via a smartphone app, or at the kiosk to his left. He announced that new singers got added to the next rotation; old ones kept their spot, and could fill in their song at any time before their name was called. I’m finding myself both liking the computer sign up strategy for its fairness, but hating it because of its depersonalization. Appreciating the transparency of the way the KJ ran his show, but feeling wary of all the rules, and hesitant to act in case I did something wrong. In my world, more instructions bring up more questions.
I didn’t feel like downloading the app, so I went to the kiosk; I had to press on the touchscreen quite firmly to get it to work, and even then needed to blow on my fingers to make them warm enough to register my choice. The screen told me to put my first name and last initial into the monitor or I wouldn’t be called up. I obeyed and typed in “Kristi G;” as I watched other names go by I saw I was the only one with a last initial. The regulars knew which rules were and weren’t OK to break.
When Pinky Sue was called up, no one moved. Then, her partner walked up to the KJ and whispered into the host’s ear. As he pulled away, bringing the mic back to the bar table, the KJ told the audience that normally people aren’t allowed to sit and sing, but since Pinky is still recovering from surgery, he was making an exception. I guess he didn’t want anyone else to get ideas about wandering around the bar while singing – a shame, because I enjoy a performer who can work a crowd like a lounge singer from time to time.
The first time I got on stage, the KJ reminded me about handling the equipment properly – not to bang on it, how to sing into the microphone. I think he did this to anyone who was new to him, as I saw him go through the motions with others as they got on stage, but it wasn’t universal. For the most part, everyone at the bar behaved, except for a pair of young men who did their best to get through Sweet Caroline; those two clearly forgot about the “no clapping on the mic” rule, and as they finished the KJ snatched the mics away from them as quickly as possible. The singers didn’t seem to notice as they stumbled back to their table and back to their beers.
- Location: Good Old Days, Bloomsburg, PA
- Miles traveled: 633 from Toronto (We also drove around Canada for 765 mi/1231 km)
- Songs sung: Voices Carry (‘Til Tuesday), Cough Syrup (Young the Giant), 9 to 5 (Dolly Parton)