Portland resident, ComicsAlliance editor, and insane karaoke addict Laura Hudson continues her 7-day karaoke marathon, hitting up a different Portland hotspot every night and reporting her experiences back to Blogtown. She apologizes for her delay in posting — she is currently on her 10th straight day of karaoke and slightly dying, but will catch up soon.
Then I went to Baby Ketten Karaoke, and everything changed.
I've been to a lot — repeat, a lot — of karaoke places, but I've never fallen in love with any of them until Baby Ketten, which rotates to numerous bars around town but primarily Mississippi Pizza (Tues) and Beauty Bar (Wed). Let me begin by saying that if what you want to do at karaoke is get really drunk with your friends and sing “I Will Survive” in unison, that is a totally valid life choice and something my history with karaoke leaves me no room to judge. But doing it at Baby Ketten is kind of a waste, because you do can that, literally, at any karaoke joint in existence. And if Baby Ketten is anything, it is a truly unique experience in ways both small and large.
For starters, the song selection is basically insane, with the deepest and most diverse library I have ever seen. I never thought I'd have a chance to sing Radiohead b-sides as 8-bit chiptunes, or put the “The Tape Song” by the Kills and the Carl Sagan autotune remix “Sound of Science” on a karaoke song slip. I also never thought I would see the entirety of Abbey Road — or soon, Doolittle by the Pixies — performed in precise album order at karaoke, but Baby Ketten has proved me wrong on every count.
Another thing that perhaps only audiophiles will notice or care about: The sound quality is crazy good. I don't claim to totally understand exactly what's going on or how an equalizer works, except that if there is any way possible way for someone to sound good, it's going to happen when the KJ, John Brophy, is turning all those dials like a wizard.
A supportive KJ can make a huge difference in the tone and energy of the evening, and Brophy goes the extra mile not only by meticulously mixing the audio, but rallying the audience to cheer for singers, encouraging people to get up and dance, or even taking the time to show an inexperienced singer the best way to sing into the mic. These are little things, but they make a huge difference in terms of the atmosphere.
The audience at BKK tends to be supportive of singers, particularly those who clearly care about their performances. Yeah, a lot of the regulars have knockout voices, but the crowd is also quick to cheer anyone that brings enthusiasm and interesting song choices to the stage, even if they don't happen to be as vocally gifted. It's a venue where heart and creativity are rewarded, not only with a crazy deep song library and spectacular audio, but by a KJ and (usually) an audience that genuinely love seeing people have a good time.
The often high quality of both singers and song choices doesn't just make it more fun to watch; it also encourages to up your game as a performer, and for me this was one of the most transformative things about singing at Baby Ketten — it made me want to be better, and that forced me to stop resting on my karaoke laurels. After all, do you really want to get up sing “Sweet Caroline” again after someone just busted out an obscure Swedish club hit in its native language and worked the room into a frenzied dance party? Or do you want to try and get a little more creative?
A lot of why people don't get more creative at karaoke, I know, is fear. Getting up on a stage can be terrifying at first (or always) and a lot of the time, karaoke feels a little bit like Russian Roulette, with the chambers alternately loaded with shame and glory. But if you do it for long enough — or simply are brave enough — the easy victories become infinitely less exciting than jumping off the cliff of something totally new. Especially when everyone around you is jumping too.
When I think about why I can't stop going to karaoke, about why I'm addicted, I think about the fact that by getting up on stage and putting myself out there over and over again, night after night, I slowly became the kind of person who wasn't afraid to do that. Or at least, the kind of person who didn't let fear make that decision. I think about the moment before the song, when it could either bomb or be brilliant, and how the wave of possibility can almost swallow you. I've failed catastrophically and stood there dying on my feet for four minutes; I've felt the kind of euphoria I can only compare to falling in love; and there have been days when it saved me — when was all I could do to hang on long enough to get in front of the mic and sing my heart out, because it was the only way I knew to keep from falling apart. And I'm glad for all of it.
People hold back when they sing for the same reason they hold back in their lives and their relationships and everywhere else: because they are afraid to fail. But if you are lucky, you will find situations and people and places in your life that will make you want to take those chances anyway. And if that happens, you should thank them, because it will change you.
It's different for everyone, probably, but for me it was karaoke, and it was Baby Ketten. So: thank you.