We arrived at Otters early at the suggestion of the bartender when we called earlier that day, but when we arrived there were very few there – just the bartender, a couple of locals including the prerequisite drunk, and the bouncer. The bouncer wore all black including his hat. His name was Donovan. The tables were sticky, the floor’s hex tiles chipped, and the cheap beer wasn’t cheap. I ordered a Redd’s Apple Ale because I never had one before. It was horrible sugar water.
At first, there are only three singers: me, my friend, and the bouncer. The KJ wears a BB-8 t-shirt and asks us if he can smoke a cigarette; we agree it’s OK for him to step outside. Even though we didn’t mind the break, Donovan steps up and cues my friend’s song so we don’t have to wait. Later they duet “Jackson” and he buys us a round. Thankfully, I had switched away from the Redd’s by then. Everyone in Minnesota is super polite.
In the span of 15-20 minutes the bar is packed and the crowd continues to grow. There are easily over 100 in the tiny space. Unlike the other places I’ve been so far, people come here to participate in karaoke – either to take the mic, spectate, or sing along. A guy sings “Sweet Child of Mine” and the bar goes nuts. Then I sing “What’s Up” at the suggestion of the KJ and everyone get involved. People sing. People film themselves singing along. People raise their glasses and sway. People high-five me while I’m singing. Karaoke becomes not just background, not just an event, but a group sport.
The energy continues to grow as subsequent singers do “You May Be Right” and “Bodies.” The latter is performed by a bad-ass woman who nails the gruff metal voice perfectly. Next came “Bohemian Rhapsody” – a song normally met with displeasure at most bars (I recall a place in Toronto where the KJ had a rule that you had to pay him $50 to sing it to discourage hopefuls). Not here. Here, the song was welcome. Everyone sang and screamed to the point where the singer couldn’t be heard at all. Either there was no singer, or we were all the singers. Karaoke here is a complete group experience – to the point where I’m not really sure it’s karaoke anymore. It’s more like a sing-a-long.
I admit I’m glad that I got my song in right before the crowd dominated the experience. When I sang, I could still be heard, but I felt like part of something more. Maybe I would have enjoyed my time with the mic just as much if my voice were one of the ones drowned out. It makes me wonder if there is a time when karaoke isn’t really karaoke any more.
- Location: Otters Saloon, Minneapolis, MN
- Miles traveled: 114
- Songs sung: White Lines (Grandmaster Flash), Brass in Pocket (The Pretenders), Something So Strong (Crowded House), Call Me (Blondie), What’s Up (4 Non-Blondes).