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A Poor Man's Bonnaroo

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

Recession has become a four-letter word. Soon, it’ll be bleeped out on the next super-violent but profanity-free TNT movie weekend; they can maim each other, fornicate and execute one another execution style, but please- no F-bombs, or the R-word.

A close cousin to the word, however, offers both an opportunity and a common word root: recess. And just like at the schoolyard, there seem to be more people running around, with a lot more free time on their hands. Free time, but no money, there’s the rub…unless, you head to Karaoke.

One day in 11th grade, my best friend and I smuggled vodka to Minimum Day (why is there even school on a minimum day?) and I decided that the time was right: I went to get my hair cut just like hers. She had this short, spiky brassy-blond Billy Idol do, and it totally worked because her hair was straight.

Mine was not.

I remember my punk hairdresser, with pink and purple hair, trying to talk me out of it and telling me it just wasn’t going to work on my head.

I locked myself in the bathroom for about 12 hours – did I think it was going to grow back? - and the next year or so was, shall we say, chock full of bad hair days. But eventually, I decided to own the new look; I put on just a little more periwinkle mascara, wore even bigger earrings, and Heather and I headed took a little road trip to San Francisco for some fun. Surely I’d fit in there.

Pier 39 had sea lions, tourists, seagulls, seagull droppings, and, in 1987, a Karaoke booth. You got to sing 2 songs and take home a cassette recording. For some reason, they thought that was a selling point.

I belted behind closed curtains, unabashedly hovering around the high notes on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and channeling Joan Jett through my hair, on “I Love Rock and Roll.”

Fast forward about 15 years to a fateful night at the now defunct Grottos Bar in Aspen. Ike and Tina’s “Proud Mary” was the poor unsuspecting tune. I had a partner, and at some point during the song and long after all the drinks, I decided that my mike wasn’t turned up enough so I grabbed his; then proceeded to sing his part, too. Take that, Ike Turner.

I swore off Karaoke, cold turkey, and haven’t returned to the stage since. But thank goodness others have. Karaoke is the poor (recessed) man’s big night out, and Aspen has two new hot spots with drum machines.

On Thursday nights, The Crystal Palace Bar becomes more of a stage show than just a cool place to drink. There’s the usual girl’s night out favorite, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”; the B-52’s“Love Shack” always seems to be a group number; and then, there are some bold new choices and performances. Take the guy who sounds just like Cake doing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”; he throws the mike stand in the air, “Thank You Aspen!” and drops to his knees, throwing his head back with supreme stage presence. There are the folks who take it too seriously, and not because they can sing: Don’t you get to a certain point in life, like by the 5th grade holiday recital, when you realize either you can, or can’t, sing? It’s OK to keep doing it, but not as though you actually are Aretha Franklin. But then I thought I was Tina Turner.

Actually not singing Karaoke is the best new part of Karaoke. Couples swing dancing, solo dancers doing their thing, people like me chiming in from the sidelines, thinking ‘Oh I could sing this’ but remaining in the peanut gallery like the two old guys in the balcony in the Muppets; the recession has truly made it the new affordable free-for-all and night on the town

Consider this:
“Hey honey, let’s go out tonight! Have some fun. I know you got laid off, but now you have nights free and….
“Sure, babe, sounds good. You’re right, we need a break. Economy be damned. I have just the place!”

Couple heads to Karaoke, hopefully he buys her a few drinks, and then the show heats up – the Rolling Stones, Natasha Bedingfield, The Honeydrippers, Robert Palmer and, of course, Journey. She tells everyone at the office the next day what an incredible night she had; it was a full-on music festival! She danced, she twirled…imagine, all those bands in one place. In Aspen! And no cover!? Her man is the BEST!

Bad Billy’s also features Karaoke on Tuesday nights, maybe somewhere to get your feet wet midweek if you’re just getting back in the game. I swore I heard Billy Idol there a few weeks ago, and as my buddy so astutely put it, “It takes a real man to sing Billy Idol.” I told him it also takes straight blond hair to have Billy Idol’s haircut.

We all need a little recess from reality these days, and mustering up the bravado to sing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in front of many people who had no idea you could sing so well…it’s proof positive that the human spirit shall endure. We’ll get through this together, one set list at a time.