Karaoke kicks in Eagle County
Eagle, CO Colorado
“There must be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief …”
I pushed the Jimi Hendrix tune out of my gut and into the microphone with all my hearted breath. It was Thursday, karaoke night at Eagle’s Brush Creek Saloon, and my first song was splitting the murky bar so much sooner than I’d expected – before 10 p.m. It seemed quiet out there, beyond my ridiculous Elvis glasses and the lighted stage, like my ugly vocals were dancing naked in the air, daring shadowed strangers to do something about it.
“… Outside in the cold distance, a wildcat did growl …”
There was no choice but to keep singing. In the back of my mind I’m always ready to duck a flying chair. Risk is part of my attraction to strange scenes, though. Not knowing exactly what could happen tunes the focus sharply into the present moment, and the moment is what a song is all about.
Karaoke is about release, and so is a party. Perhaps that’s why the two mix so naturally for those who like to spill their silly sides in public during the late hours of a week night before returning to drab cubicles in the morning.
“I enjoy seeing people come out of their bubbles,” Jacque Laman told me after deejaying at Brush Creek last week.
One of the saloon’s bartenders agreed. “It’s most fun when someone won’t sing at first and then he has a couple drinks and makes a fool of himself in a good way,” said Jan Balas, who has been bar tending Brush Creek’s karaoke nights for about the last five months.
For people who don’t perform otherwise, the first time singing into a mic can be memorable. I started when I was 17 because of peer pressure and my friend’s mom was a D.J. I hated it, but kept trying for some reason. I realized I was hooked when I made everyone laugh at my high school’s after-prom by performing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” Then I was really snared by the goofy habit when I nailed my first song, not missing a beat on a rap-rock tune titled, “Fire Water Burn,” by the pubescent Bloodhound Gang.
From what I’ve noticed among my friends as well as strangers, is many first-timers bust their karaoke cherries singing as a group, half of them too buzzed or nervous to articulate any lyrics clearly. And that’s O.K., especially if they’re not singing a 12-minute rock ballad.
I remember one night at a little bar in Glenwood Springs, a guy I knew named Brian, spent the whole evening muttering terrible things about almost everyone with the moxie to sign up for a song and sing. “How dare he! Who does he think he is?” Brian kept saying. I asked him if he ever got up on stage. “Oh, heck no,” he said. “Because of people like you,” I finished.
There’s always a party-pooper lurking in a corner anywhere a karaoke’er goes. The poopers are the ones to be mocked or ignored, because they lack the courage to enjoy a harmless good time. My theory is that they’re bitter with themselves as they wallow in revelry that could be theirs if only they embraced their inner dorks like all the rest of the “performers.”
If Brian didn’t want to hear karaoke, why was he even there, I asked. It was to meet girls, and I recall that he was quite unsuccessful at the time.
To the guys who might identify with Brian’s situation, please let me offer this: Get yourself a pair of dark sunglasses, get up on that stage and perform The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.” Millions of women will tell you they love that song, and as long as it comes from your heart, they might love you at least a little more for those few minutes, too. If you are vocally challenged, like I was during that song at the saloon last week, compensate with some dancing. Be sure to stick your butt out and shake it a bit as you waddle in circles with the microphone, singing in a high voice, “All I want is for you to make love to meeee-heehee.”
Dawn Ritts, Gypsum’s special events coordinator, is no stranger to emceeing such festivities as bingo, karaoke and contests, and she will attest that the key is to not take yourself seriously.
Laman, 24, started deejaying when she was 21. She had only tried karaoke about three times before she jumped into the scene as a D.J. “I’d been helping a D.J. and he moved and had to sell his equipment, so I bought it. … I’ll bet my neighbors think I’m crazy,” she joked about her practicing at home.
Laman gets a little money for deejaying, but her benefit is mostly that she enjoys it as a hobby. Her regular job is at a drywall plant in Gypsum. She’s also involved with sports and taking classes at Colorado Mountain College.
“I’m a go-go-go person,” she said, adding that she usually enjoys quiet weekends, which balance out the late week nights as a D.J. “I have yet to be late to work,” she said.
In recent weeks, Laman has even picked up an extra gig on Tuesdays at The Rittenhouse Restaurant in Gypsum.
“It’s a whole new thing for them,” she said of the business having karaoke. “It’s a family restaurant, so they’re hoping kids will come.”
The singing there goes from 7 to 10 p.m., Laman said, “or whenever they kick us out.”
One of the things I remembered about my friend’s D.J. mom was that she needed most of the space in her minivan for all the large pieces of equipment. Laman’s situation isn’t much different.
“Yeah, it takes up the back of my Toyota 4Runner but I can still fit two people, which is a good thing since I’m constantly giving drunk friends rides home,” she joked.
As far as expanding her music selection, Laman said she likes to buy about one CD a month, or as her spending money allows. A karaoke CD is pretty much the same as a regular music disc, with about 20 tracks from a single artist on each one, she said.
These days, karaoke is also available on the Internet, Laman added. “Not all programs are compatible, though,” she said.
Hanz Blanar has owned the Brush Creek Saloon for about five years. He said karaoke was already happening there when he took over and he kept going with it.
“Karaoke night gets busy in the summer, with all the events going on, but it can be hit or miss,” he said about the turnout.
Balas, the bartender, said some karaoke nights are slow, particularly in the winter, but that there’s often a fair number of ladies who show up, as was the case last week.
“Yes,” confirmed Blanar, “all the girls have been coming out.”
Balas said sometimes the crowd is young people and other times not so young, and about once a month the place is packed. He’s tried singing some songs, as has Blanar, but neither thinks himself to be much good.
“I’ve tried it a couple times but I enjoy listening to other people sing,” Blanar said.
Balas said some people surprise him with their abilities.
“A lot of good talent comes in here,” he said. “Someone comes in here and you wouldn’t think he could sing and then he rips it.”
Anyone who has visited Brush Creek Saloon recently might have noticed tip jars set out to help a 22-year-old woman who lost all four of her limbs to disease.
Kendra Creek was a karaoke regular at the saloon until bacterial meningitis resulted in the amputation of her arms and legs. That’s why the bar staff and her friend Laman are looking to host a benefit karaoke/D.J. night to raise more money. A date hasn’t been set, but Blanar said it will probably be in July.
As I said before, a karaoke joint can be a strange experience. I’ve seen chairs thrown to the floor by a spastic character singing Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People.”
I’ve seen a drunken, cross-eyed hillbilly walk splat into a glass door on his way to the stage to sing a country song about his wife leaving him.
I’ve literally witnessed the fat lady sing, several times, and I’ve also been flashed by a middle-aged woman while doing a Doors tune.
Mostly, though, I think a karaoke night is full of people who are just weird enough to be normal; people who want to make some laughs with others and have a goal to not take themselves too seriously. Either way, no matter what, it’s always a ride and it starts when you write your name on a scrap of paper, hand it to the D.J. and wait to be called on stage. And if you’ve got style, the ride might end with a running slide on your knees across the old wood floor, screaming, “Welcome to the Jungle.”
Just don’t drink and drive, or the ride ends with a trip to jail in a cop car. That’s the stuff of a country song, the one you decided you didn’t want to sing.