Every once in a while an idea comes along that is so obvious we wonder how it could be nobody thought of it sooner. We only need a few seconds to recognize what it is and what to do with it. We may even experience deja vu. This was my response when I was introduced to Karaokegrass.
Karaokegrass is the synergy that results from combining Karaoke with a live Bluegrass band and it has been happening the second Tuesday of each month at the Nectar Lounge in Fremont.
Before I go any further I need to confess a few things here so as to avoid any confusion. I am not a bad singer and I do occasionally enjoy making an ass of myself whilst singing along to some super-cheesy pop songs. There it is. I’m not proud of it but it’s the honest truth. I can also hold my own on a guitar if I’m invited into a Bluegrass jam. However, you need to drag me kicking and screaming to get me to go to either a Karaoke night or to a Bluegrass jam. Neither of these are my thing. However, there is something unique and compelling about the combination of the two that makes for a really, really fun time. (even if you’re a hater like me ;)
There is something at work that brings out the child-at-play within us and fuels it with a dash of rock-star dream when we attend a Karaokegrass event. This is evident on the smiling faces of the crowd and in the voices of the people who can’t help but sing along. It is also fostered by the members of the band who bring that intention into being when they play.
It was the during the night after an “Old Time Music Spectacular” hootenanny at the Rogue and Peasant that founding member and upright bass player Paisley Gray awoke from a dream in which the idea of a live-band Bluegrass Karaoke event was hatched. She then shared the idea with Isaac Vicknair who liked the concept and jumped on board with his rhythm guitar playing and vast knowledge of contemporary pop tunes. Paisley’s husband Todd Gray was enlisted to play mandolin and then came Adam Bratman’s lead guitar playing and Heath Reinhardt’s banjo. The final element came into being with the addition of Karaokretary Tammy Lynn Haugen who manages the song-list, projectors, computer and anything and everything else that it takes to produce the events.
The first trial event took place at Folk-Life 2012. The band set up on the grass, opened up their songbook and announced what they were doing to the passers nearby. It quickly became apparent that this was an idea whose time had come. There were plenty of interested participants and many who wanted to sing multiple times.
Karaokegrass found a temporary home in the final months of the Gypsy Cafe and then held several impromptu street events on Capital Hill and in Fremont before securing a show at the Nectar Lounge last October. Having met the attendance and bar-sales goals for the evening the Nectar was ready to book three monthly events. With the ongoing success of those events the Nectar has renewed that agreement another two times. Karaokegrass will happen the second Tuesday of each month through June. As the evening has been steadily growing in popularity it is likely to remain a monthly event well into the future. They have also begun playing for private events, and were featured at the City of Tacoma’s First Night New Year’s celebration.
Karaokegrass has a diverse selection of prepared songs that are chosen to be inclusive. There are Country and Bluegrass standards as well as Karaoke standards. There are also many recognizable pop songs and some Americana. Most of the songs are played in the original key so that whatever range a person is used to singing along in will be the same while singing with the band.
There are also two screens with the song lyrics visible. One is for the singer and band and the other is for the audience. This has proven to be very helpful. There are many times when the entire house erupts into song and it sure is nice to have the words up there just before the less memorable line comes up.
Each monthly Karaokegrass event ends with the crowd-pleasing selection of the evening’s Karaokegrass Trophy winner. The band deliberates and then the champion is announced. It is not a contest and there are no clear criteria to go by so there are elements of surprise and delight to accompany the announcement. Upon taking the stage the chosen one is presented with a unique trophy that has been modified to accommodate it’s new appointment. It is a happy, high-energy moment.
The Nectar Lounge is a 21 and over venue, and there is no door fee or cover charge for Karaokegrass. The doors open at 7:00pm and the show starts at 8:00pm.