A karaoke mission

Our mission to penetrate deep into the heart of the Calgary karaoke scene led our team of karaoke hopefuls the night of Aug. 1 to Harry’s, Hannibal’s and Ducky’s pubs, in that very particular order. What we found within the soundproof walls were not only the best booze deals in town, but a mysterious community of hidden talents, courage, and a sense of release that infected each one of us by the end of that fateful night.

As invigorating as it may seem, the mission was not without its lulls and lessons. There is a true art to successful karaoke, we concluded from our research, it derives from carefully choosing your companions, your venue, your songs and, of course, your style.

Our night went a little like this:

8 p.m. – Harry’s Pub

Our team of 12 began the evening in this relatively clean establishment in Crowfoot Crossing, a welcoming venue that offers an array of slot machines and cheap pitchers to please the young and old. The atmosphere is local, pleasant and hardly intimidating. A great place to warm-up, we thought.

An early start allowed us the advantage of a few warm-up songs under our belts without a huge crowd beyond ourselves. Team support was key at this very ego-unfriendly time, when voices cracked, awkward shifting prevailed, and the songs seemed oh-so-painfully long–frickin’ "Bohemian Rhapsody."

However supportive our big group was, it also became the first roadblock to success as we took our sweet time to scan through the song list, lost in our karaoke ignorance, shyness, and indecisiveness.

Thank God for "karaoke roulette." A daring game that puts its victim on the spot, the KJ (karaoke jockey) randomly picks a song, whether the singer knows it or not. There’s nothing like a few unknown melodies to break the ice.

Although our time at Harry’s flew by, we did not leave without learning a few basics of karaoke culture. First, karaoke is a team event, individual embarrassment provokes mass unity. Second, know what you want to sing or quickly submit to karaoke roulette, because a steady pace is key.

10:15 p.m. – Hannibal’s

Whoa! We came into this place feeling like little bunnies soon to be eaten by hungry, hungry wolves. You see, Hannibal’s is located on 16th Avenue, past the safe stretch around SAIT, and into the hood. The crowd was hardcore, eager and alive, ready to belt out the tunes locked inside their rough-edged hearts. We found some security in cheap drinks, as we were no longer in training mode, but in with the big boys.

As mama always said however, looks are deceiving. While we waited our turns, the atmosphere penetrated into our psyches. Before we knew it, we were shouting praise and encouragement at complete strangers letting loose on the mic.

"A transformation occurs when you get up on stage," explained "Squeak," our KJ. "You just have to let loose, let go up there."

That’s exactly what we did. I tell ya, nothing feels better than belting out a tune that tugs at your core, that reaches your audience’s core. That’s a connection you have at that moment, with truth, yourself, and your surroundings.

Booze really helps at this point because let’s face it, courage always comes at the worst time, like after you get back to your seat and think of all the ways you could have performed better. The key is to have no regrets, and no afterthought. What is sung at Hannibal’s, stays at Hannibal’s.

A tight schedule and an almost uneasy intensity lead us out of Hannibal’s and back on the road to the final karaoke destination: the one, the only, Ducky’s Pub.

12:30 a.m. – Ducky’s Pub

By this point, many of us were feeling high. Inhibitions left behind, courage in hand and pride at its peak. We entered Ducky’s to the sound of youthful drunken ruckus, camaraderie, and upbeat tunes–the perfect finale to a night of inner rejuvenation.

Our one setback was arriving late, for we had to bribe the KJ into letting us sing one team song, as the line up to fame was full. "Let’s Talk About Sex" got the crowd going, at least for the refrain, and our honourable Gauntlet mention pulled at our heart-strings and boosted our already soaring egos.

Ducky’s felt like more familiar territory, as the average age was closer to ours, and the mood was less hardcore and more hip. After our previous stops, we felt at ease in our skins, like we had just conquered a battle and this was just the smooth coasting thereafter. We let loose on the dance floor, letting the adrenaline finally rush out of our bodies, somewhat disappointed we would not have our final solo kicks, but strangely relieved of the pressure to perform.

We laughed, we danced, and we sang along to familiar tunes. New Orleans was sinking, but we didn’t want to swim. Instead, we drowned ourselves in the moment, we chilled to the melody and we shared knowing glances, like we’ve heard that song somewhere before…

The karaoke mission became a personal mission, testing inner courage and expanding the ability to laugh at oneself and laugh with others. Next time you get up to the mic, just remember that "Just a Gigolo" means much, much more.

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