A couple Fridays ago, my cousin Raffy celebrated his 50th birthday. I had the date marked on my calendar for weeks, but didn't learn until that day that we would be singing at Star Bar & Grill in Federal Way. Nothing gets me more excited than being surprised with a karaoke night I didn't realize I was going to have.
The only other time I'd sung in Federal Way was on a dead Wednesday last April, when I checked out three different spots but did not find the audience I was looking for. I knew this night would be different because it was the weekend and I had my cousin Karlo with me. Some of my most epic karaoke nights have been with him by my side.
The Venue: We arrived just after 9 p.m. and the place was slammed. They had a packed karaoke show going on at one end of the bar, and a dart tournament at the other. Around 200 people were there, and there was no place to sit. We ended up hanging out around a pool table with Raffy and his buddies.
The Setup: The KJ's station, microphones, and monitor were all located in their own little section in the back corner. There wasn't a real stage, but the tables and booths that surrounded this area established a natural spot for the performers to sing. The only TV that displayed lyrics for the audience to follow was in that corner. All the rest showed sports.
The KJ/Book: The host went by DJ Geodaddy. He kept rotations at 15 singers before starting a new one, and opened every rotation with a song of his own. Song binders organized by both artist and song title were spread throughout the bar. The artist catalog we searched through was 115 pages thick. It was pretty beat-up, with pages falling out, but the host had more selections available than were represented in the book—there was a note at the bottom of each page to text 206-370-0817 for special requests.
The Performances/Audience: The best singer of the night was a black dude who sang the best rendition of Gregory Abbott's "Shake You Down" I have ever heard. As busy as the place was, I wasn't expecting to sing more than twice, but had a bunch of songs ready just in case. Raffy's group got up a lot because he was joining in on a lot of duets. I was called up within half an hour of turning in my slip, and got thumped trying to sing 38 Special's "Caught Up in You." I forgot to tell the KJ to take it down a key, and by the time the song started, it was too late. I would rather struggle through a song than ask to change the key as it's going; a key change during a song indicates to everyone that I'm admitting I can't hack it in the normal key. As it was, every moment was brutal, but I looked down at this dude in a mohawk who was bobbing his head to the beat, and he made me feel better.
Karlo followed me and got the entire bar behind him as he delivered Neil Diamond's "Forever in Blue Jeans" like the ringer he is. Then Raffy rocked out with an awesome performance of the Beatles' "Come Together." I eventually redeemed myself with some Little River Band, but it took two hours for that to happen.