The evening was more about reconnection than karaoke. An odd group of folks, bonded mostly by our shared high school experience, growing up in a small town in New Jersey. A place that thrived on strong community, which stifled me as a teen, but helped me build a foundation of loyalty and commitment to those who are a part of my direct and indirect circles today.
Our gathering was more like the Breakfast Club than a group of friends getting together. We didn’t share the same class in any sense of the word – then or now. Two long-standing couples, one covered in tattoos and dealing with grandparenthood, the other more clean-cut with their first going to college. A mayor and a man helping his family rebuild after the death of the father. A pharmacist and an older sister who was proclaimed “the best baby sitter in the world” by another at the table. Someone who came from hundreds of miles away, dropping back into our lives unexpectedly, after only being in them briefly way back when. All brought together through the past, with a little present thrown in.
The KJ wanders over to our table and passes out microphones as he cued up Piano Man – a song typically seen as the death of karaoke. Perhaps it was to the rest of the bar (my condolences to the other patrons), but for us it was a bond. As he accompanied us on his harmonica, we all began to sing. Those who shy away from the microphone and the stage in general, and those of us who embrace it. I have a vague memory of Senior year when we all got together one week before graduation for some random event. The class musician played that song as good as Billy Joel ever did and we sang together. Never did I think it would happen again. A repeat of the past, with thirty years in between to shift us all so that no moment can ever be the same.
We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Wednesday night in a bar because of where we grew up or who we love. We have a few common threads, but we think you’re crazy to have us recreate who we were. That would be to see us in the simplest terms. The most convenient definitions. As people who refused to grow.
But what we found out is that we have changed, but also stayed the same. That each of us is a singer, and a mayor, and a baby sitter, a griever and someone lost to distant memory. What do you think of that?
The Laker Club
Thanks to everyone who came out and made the evening such a memorable one.
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).