It’s 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and I arrive at the bar in a Van Halen T-shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap—clearly not dressed to impress. There’s no need to don my signature hitting-the-town attire tonight, since clothes don’t excite the patrons at this bar. What gets them going is someone’s singing capabilities.
That’s right. Singing. Karaoke style. With an actual band.
I’ve been known to carry a tune—so say my friends—and started dabbling with karaoke back in college. Well, the addiction has intensified to the point that when my friend Steve invited his bravest friends to join him for some singing debauchery, euphoria set in. (The natural kind—don’t do drugs, kids.) I wasn’t sure what to expect; all I was told was that you join the singer-less band on stage, select a song, follow the lyric sheet (if you’re not familiar with the tune), and showcase your vocals to the crowd.
The whole singing-on-stage component was exciting, but anxiety inducing. Since I would be part of a unit—rather than singing next to an emotionless karaoke machine that could care less what I sounded like—I felt that my performance had to be spot-on. I couldn’t let my new band mates down. Luckily, the group’s Facebook page has a song list with an impressive catalog of 80s music. Amid a sea of hits from Mellencamp and Benatar, I pinpointed my selection: Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.” I’ve always liked the song, and felt his voice was in my vocal range. Plus, I’ve always wanted to, as Loggins puts it, “kick off my Sunday shoes.” I’d actually be wearing my Wednesday shoes at the time of my performance, but who cares. I’ll improvise.
There’s only a handful of people at the bar when I arrive. My good friend Colleen spots me, and offers a huge hug, which calms my nerves a bit. A pint of Sam Adams also does the trick. The band—a keyboardist with a pink Mohawk, a guitarist, drummer, and bass guitarist—are conducting a sound check on stage, which is situated right in front of the bar’s huge bay window that’s propped open. Fantastic, I say to myself. Now the entire neighborhood will hear me caterwaul.
Colleen is the first one called to the microphone. I stare in amazement as she immediately runs to the stage and begins belting out “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses. With lyric sheet in hand, she’s dancing and enjoying herself, as if her and the band are the only ones in the room. She’s there to have a good time, not put on a show. If I could only adopt her mindset, maybe I wouldn’t have so much performance anxiety.
I cheer her on as she finishes the final “oh, won’t you take me home.” She gets a roaring applause from the crowd for tackling such a tough selection. I take a quick peek at the attendees once the whistles and screams die down: there’s a well dressed man in his early 60s who’s bare feet are accentuated by red nail polish and four or five silver toe rings; drunk businessmen and women that have extended their happy hour to hours; and a rather portly fellow—I’m guessing he weighs more than 500 pounds—wearing enough “bling” to illuminate the dimly lit bar. He gets up on stage to sing “I Want it That Way” by the Backstreet Boys and “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. We can hear his voice from our area near the back of the bar and, surprisingly, smell his his sweaty scent, which isn’t reminiscent of rose petals.
“Fred to the stage!”
It’s my turn. The bar is now packed with people. I snake through the crowd and jump on stage, the warm spotlights beaming down on me. My heart is palpitating and my throat is suddenly parched. This is it. The baseline to “Footloose” begins. Partly blinded by the spotlight, I can barely make out the crowd, which is a blessing in disguise. The words come out of my mouth. I don’t need the lyric sheet, but am too nervous to put it down. Then the chorus comes, and I see women dancing in front of the stage. Others seem to be singing along. When I get to the final chorus, I’m more thrilled than that dude in “Footloose,” the movie, doing the robot during the final dance scene. Rock-and-roll invades my being. I channel Elvis, and start swinging my hips. I can’t play the guitar, but felt that anything was possible while on stage.
The crowd thanks me with their applause, and I, embarrassed by compliments, place the microphone back on the stand and run off the stage. Colleen hugs me again. The Karaoke Queen has given me her approval. I smile, proud that I leaped outside of my comfort zone.
Hey, it’s not everyday you give Kenny Loggins a run for his money.
THE ETERNAL OPTIMIST