House Party (Singing West Virginia, #27)

The West Virginia stop was one of those that was on the way to nothing; a two-day drive to put a checkmark by a state. After months of chatting online and sharing schedules, Joe waits for at the Elks Lodge #198 in Parkersburg – so were his assistant, Kristy, and his mother. He and his mom wore matching blue Joe-E-Okie T-shirts; she had no teeth. Not to worry, though, as her dentist was simply on vacation, but it did require her to pass on the corn on the cob that came with the steak dinner. Every Friday is steak dinner and Joe treated both of us – he had already promised my dinner was on him, and Dave benefitted from the fact that his girlfriend decided not to order one back to the house after all (she was home watching their 8-month old). Dave, Joe, and I ordered it rare, and mom got medium. The dinner also came with a baked potato as big as a house; luckily, the Lodge ran out by the time our dinners were served, so I “only” got half of one, splitting a spud with mom. The four of us sat together in a booth and exchanged small talk during bites. Sometimes the talk grew, though, as we learned about mom’s ex, Joe’s time in the Marines, and the juggling of blended families. A “Don’t Tread on Me” sign hung on the wall above us.

Time for steak dinner!

The corn was a bit mushy but still farm sweet, and the steak was cooked just right, but was about half fat; Joe complained about it to no one in particular, then cleared our plates and started the show. He had gotten there early to set up, so that he could have dinner with us.

Joe opens and Kristy follows with matching CCR tunes. Kristy normally opens with Crimson and Clover, and Lodi is her second song, followed by Cathy’s Clown, but she mixed up her typical order so that they could match up nice. Two lights and a disco ball make a crazy display of color throughout the room. Shows here get to be about 8-12 singers long (I think this includes them) so no matter what, the KJs get to sing a lot, too. It’s pretty much a steady string of regulars every night here, though last week for Joe’s birthday there was a larger crowd – 21 singers that night. The Elk’s Lodge simply doesn’t ever get packed, they say and that’s fine by me, though I end up singing a lot more than usual. Coming up with songs can be challenging at times, and when there are a lot of choices to make it calls for extra brain power and creativity that I simply don’t always have.

First song up I choose Rhiannon; I sing a lot of Fleetwood Mac, but this is a first for me. Mom tells me I sound better than Stevie Nicks when I sit down. A huge compliment for sure, but extra special for me, as in high school I was tempted to get a heart tattooed on my ankle with “S.N.” written inside. One of the many dreams I had back then I’m glad never manifested themselves.

After a couple of rounds of singing, Joe buys me a shot. He first offers a “little beer” which I decline because it has cream as a float to look like the foam – I don’t like dairy with my booze. Then he keeps recommending shots with Red Bull in them; I tell him I can’t do caffeine; plus, I think to myself that Red Bull tastes like cough syrup – I hate that shit. I tell him that straight Jaegy is fine, and no, not in a bomb (that means with Red Bull). He orders the shots, and we clink glasses at the table together. I take mine down in a few gulps, as I’m not one to slam anything. Later on, Becky the social manager of the Elk’s Lodge offers to buy me a drink, but I say I really shouldn’t have any more alcohol tonight. She seems disappointed, but I was already a beer, a G&T, and Joe’s shot in, and was staring at a full G&T. Linda Lou, the bartender, pours a stiff drink and sings a mean Susan Tedeschi in a perfectly gravely voice. Joe says she sings a lot better when she’s drunk, but I have a hard time imagining her any better.

Joe, me, and Dave under the crazy Elks Lodge lights

Joe records me for his YouTube channel and it’s time to decide on a song. Not sure whether to play it safe and choose more Fleetwood Mac or go big; Dave encourages big and Somebody to Love is recorded. During the song, I sense every missed note, every missed opportunity to amp it up a bit. My scat at the end feels off, and I’m painfully aware that I have no stage presence during instrumental breaks. Still, I have a good time. I awkwardly wave at the camera when it’s all done. The patrons cheer and the one black man yells “Who Let the Dogs Out?” which seems to be his signature phrase for a job well done. His friends try to get him to actually sing the song, but he says no way – his amazing voice is reserved for the likes of Tracey Chapman and R. Kelly.

Even though the show started out super slow, it fills by 9:30 – we’re at about 15 singers during the peak singing time, which is a pretty nice balance between getting to sing and just hanging out. Many others are here just to have a cheap drink and hang out with friends. At 11pm, we stop and the traditional Elk 11 o’clock toast is conducted to honor all absent members. After the break, someone sings Welcome to the Jungle. Joe leads the song by saying he won’t come knocking if there’s a jungle, then mutters something about the carpet matching the drapes, until he settles on the line “It better be a hardwood floor.”

Joe and I close with the duet, Stop Dragging My Heart Around — another Stevie Nicks first for me. We listen to once out front while he smokes to remember it; I don’t think I’ve heard that tune in at least a decade. Normally Joe opens and closes the show, but this time I get to share the honors with him to end this night. We do OK, all things considered. At a tad after midnight, there are no more songs to choose; everyone hugs me goodbye or shakes my hand and wishes me well. I hope these people all fare well, too. They made the long drive totally worth it.

The basics:

  • Location: Elks Lodge #198, Parkersburg, WV
  • Miles traveled: 554 Miles
  • Songs sung: Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac), Like the Weather (10,000 Maniacs), It’s Raining Men (Weather Girls), Somebody to Love (Queen), I’ll Be There (Jackson 5), Walkin’ After Midnight (Patsy Cline), Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty).