The Captain’s Brig, Fresno, California
You don’t have to be drunk to sing karaoke badly. A lot of beers seem to help, and that’s led to frat boys to doing things to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” that violate sections of the Geneva Conventions. I’d had just one Angry Orchard hard cider, and yet I went forward to sing “Shut Up and Dance.” I’ve sung in church choirs and even sang solos in musicals a long time ago, so I don’t think it would be too egotistical a statement to say I have a better than average singing voice. I’ve sung "Shut Up and Dance" along with the radio plenty of times, and I thought karaoke would be doable. Instead, I found myself stumbling all over the timing and singing way off key. I feel the need to offer Nicholas Petricca (lead singer of Walk the Moon) an apology for my assault on this song.
We were at The Captain’s Brig in Fresno to meet our new friend Sandra during “Introduce us to your favorite bar” month. Sandra is a volunteer at Project Survival’s Cat Haven. (My brother founded the place, and we volunteer there on occasion.) Sandra has had a rough last few months; her father passed away, and there have been other struggles. She’d offered to introduce us to the Brig shortly after we moved to Fresno, but we were concerned with one thing and another, she wouldn’t be up for the outing. Instead, she was happy to have a reason to return to karaoke night at the Brig.
Sandra was greeted by the bartenders, John the karaoke guy, and various patrons. Some people said, “Where you been?” and other people seemed to know. She told us she didn’t know how people knew about her recent troubles, but some did and expressed sympathy. Even a bar in a big city has some small town to it.
After getting our drinks (cash only), we sat with Sandra at one of the tables. Right away, she asked if we were going to do karaoke. It seemed the thing to do. John had brought notebooks with lists of songs and artists. One notebook listed songs by title and others that listed songs by artist or year of release. You were supposed to list several song titles (along with a number to help John find the song) on little slips of paper, but Sandra didn’t need to fill out a slip.
John already had dozens of slips Sandra had filled out in the past, and he had a feel for the sorts of things she’d like to sing. I asked whether there were times he made picks she refused. She said sometimes she made requests too late in the night after too many beers when her estimation of her abilities was too high.
Since Sanda had last been there, months before, John had purchased new sound equipment, including digital microphones. The microphones were fitted with small plastic devices that kept the mics from falling off tables if they were set down instead of put back into the stand.
I asked Sandra about bad song choices that other people made. She said that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is usually requested by young women who’ve had too much to drink, but her least favorite karaoke song may well be “Picture” (written by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow). If a guy asks a girl to do this song as a duet, he probably wants to do more than just sing.
The television on the wall behind the singers showed the Oakland A’s vs LA Angels of Anaheim (possibly the worst name in professional sports) game. The A’s were winning, so even when a song was sung badly, there was something good to see when I looked in that direction.
Sandra said that crowds for karaoke varied at The Brig. Some nights lots of folks wanted to sing, and other nights the crowd was sparse. “I like it when I can sing more, but sometimes it can be really crowded,” she told us. On a crowded night she might just get to sing a couple of times and on a slow night , as many as ten times. She went up for her first song and sang, “All That Jazz” from Chicago. (The next song John had for her was “Hey Big Spender,” from Sweet Charity. He seemed to have decided it was Broadway Show Tune Night.)
Sandra is a very good karaoke singer, but some of the other singers were… not so good. It wasn’t just me. One woman went forward to sing “Mr. Roboto,” and before she sang she said, “I need a drink! This is why they call it karaoke!” I can at least say there was nothing mechanical about her presentation.
I asked Sandra the two questions we always ask, though I tweaked the first one a bit, “What makes for a good karaoke bar?”
She said, “They have to have a good selection of songs.” They also need a good sound system, she said. “The technical aspects need to be well done. You want to be heard, and everybody else wants to be heard. You need good microphones.” She talked about another bar in the area that had a great song selection but a lousy sound system.
We asked about her favorite karaoke experience, and she mentioned a time when she was in Phoenix for two week job training sessions that kept her group busy during the day but left their nights free. Sandra and some of her coworkers went to a place called Giligin's, home of Tuesday night goldfish racing. She said she performed a Madonna song that everyone seemed to be recording. She’s not sure, but it may still be up on YouTube.
Mindy and I sang our last song of the night together, Huey Lewis and the News’ “Stuck With You.” We weren’t really good, [we were terrible -- ed.] but we did have the “Oh, how cute, look at the old couple” factor going for us.
After we sang, a man dedicated his song, “Happy Birthday, Amanda!” Amanda, at the noisy table with her friends, thanked him and said, “I’m 35! I could run for President now!” (A man in the bar was wearing a "Trump/Pence 2020" shirt. Perhaps Amanda will represent the opposition?).