A Yankee in a Southern Karaoke Bar
Copyright 2008 by Patricia Sheasley Sicilia
Okay, I admit it -- I'm a junkie. A hard core, incurable, "gotta have it, get out of my way or I'll deck ya" disciple of Karaoke. And that's how I found myself in a country bar on a lonely southern back road one warm southern September night.
Hubby and I were on vacation but, you must understand, Karaoke junkies never go on vacation from Karaoke. Whenever we're traveling, I have one eye on the map and the other searching for Karaoke banners. While my husband has learned to accept this insane obsession of mine, he's not happy when I don't leave it behind when we go away. So it was no surprise when he told me "NO, I am NOT driving to Winston-Salem so you can try out your country songs on a southern crowd."
However, after I pouted a bit, he finally acquiesced. "Okay, if you can find someplace close, I'll take you to Karaoke.
Now, I knew his plan. We were in Fancy Gap, Virginia, a rural area right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The closest, decent sized towns were was Winston-Salem, North Carolina, an hour and a half south, and Charlottesville, Virginia, two hours north. He didn't think I'd find any Karaoke joints within the distance he was willing to drive.
Now, this man's been married to me for 26 years.
He should knooow better.
One rainy afternoon while he napped, I started making phone calls. I called the local paper. I called the Chamber of Commerce. I called every bar and hotel in the area. I even called a church, thinking they might have a country supper night with Karaoke as entertainment! By the time hubby awoke, I had located a place named Karen's, right over the border in Mt. Airy, North Carolina -- fifteen minutes away!
His plan was foiled.
Karen's Place. Sounds tame enough, doesn't it? How was I supposed to know it was the local biker bar?
The next evening, guided a flashing neon sign advertising "Karenís," we turned into a gravel parking lot to discover a long, whitewashed cinderblock building, and plenty of pickups to keep our cherry red Silverado company. What do you think this place used to be," I mused. "A gas station," muttered my husband and killing the engine.
Upon entry, we discovered a redneck cave. We took in the worn-out frayed jeans with chains as adornment, leather jackets with death heads on them, skimpy halters over Daisy Mae shorts and tattoos on as many women as men. A small bar to the right was tended by a tired looking middle-aged woman with long dark curly hair. The KJ, a pleasant looked blond in her 40s, had set up her equipment along one wall. Scattered tables, booths along another wall and four pool tables which took up almost half the bar, made up the rest of the decor.. A few heads turned to size up the strangers, and then they returned to their cigarettes and beer.
Rolling his eyes, my husband mumbled "Oh, Geez! Do you really want to do this?"
"Weíre here," I whispered, with trepidation. "LetĎs just see how it goes."
. We settled ourselves at one of the little round tables and hubby got our drinks from the bar while I got a song book, picked out a few tunes and turned in my slips. No one really paid any attention to us until we spoke. Then we either got a big smile, an outstretched hand, and a "Y'all ainít from these parts, are ya?"-- or -- squinted eyes, tight lips and a quick turn of the head. I was hoping that it wouldn't be like this, mainly because at the first hint of trouble, my husband would drag my Karaoke junkie butt out of there.
So far, every singer had sat themselves on a stool in front of the mike and the monitor where the words were displayed. Their talent ranged from mediocre to downright awful, depending on their state of inebriation. A hefty bleached-blonde with Dolly Parton hair, who'd seen 60 come and go but refused to admit it, got up and did "Crazy." She was pretty good and people had obviously come to see her. The nearby tables seemed to be her entourage. "Well," smirked my husband, "There's your competition.".
At last I heard "And now we have Pat! Come on up here, Pat!" "Youíre new here, arenít you?" I smiled and replied softly that I was on vacation, trying my best to disguise my Yankee accent. The KJ took a second look at me, eyed my Bob Mackie western-style denim shirt and new jeans, and raised her eyebrows as if to say "Do you KNOW where you are?" .
I took a deep breath to calm the butterflies -- after all, I was a Yankee in enemy territory, about to take them on with their own music and on their own turf. I moved the stool out of my way, removed the mike from its stand, positioned myself in front of the equipment to emphasize that I didn't need the monitor, and belted out my best Trisha Yearwood number. "I like a man who's crazy 'bout me. I like a man who can live without me, too. That's what I like about you." .
Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching an audience stop with their beer halfway to their lips, turn and look to see where that voice is coming from. .
I was very well received, but I went to my seat feeling the "Crazy" singer's eyes boring into my back. She was not pleased. I had stolen her thunder. She now knew I was a Karaoke junkie, slumming. And she hated me as only a Karaoke junkie can hate another Karaoke junkie who has invaded her territory. The KJ knew it, too. .
"Well, now, you've done THAT song before, haven't you, sweetheart. That's how you do it folks. You get up and do like Pat just did. I think somebody oughta buy Pat a drink. What're drinking, Pat?" When I held up my bottle of O'Doul's, she exclaimed, "Hot damn, she's not even drinkin'! She's got more balls than I thought she did!" .
A few minutes later, the KJ took a break and came over to chat us up. Among other things, she elicited that we were from Philadelphia and that my KJ's back home had dared me to try my country songs down south. She was very pleasant and gave no indication of her ulterior motives. When my second song came up, I was "introduced." .
"You know, folks, Pat's from up North, and her DJs sent her down here to see how well she'd do in a southern bar. You know what they say about Yankees down here, donít ya, Pat? There's Yankees and there's damn Yankees. Yankees come down here, have a good time and go home. Damn Yankees come down here and -- never leave.".
My husband stiffened to his "always sit with your back to the wall" Italian mode. He glared at me and his grim eyes said "This is not good." With more chutzpah than I thought I possessed, I smiled at the barb, took the mike and performed "Walkin' after Midnight" like a trouper. .
The applause this time was a bit more subdued. I had been exposed. I returned to our table. "It's time to go," I said. "But I'm not slinking out of here. I'm doing one more song." Well, I did one more song -- narrowly avoiding being jabbed in the midriff by a cue as a player at the pool table next to the microphone made no attempt to avoid me -- and was totally ignored but for a smattering of applause, mainly from my husband, the barmaid and a few people who had just walked in. I had pushed my luck. .
We gathered our things and began to leave. The barmaid stopped us and apologized for the rudeness. She told my husband "Your wife's too good for this place." The KJ came over to apologize. "I'm really sorry, I shouldn't have done that." .
By this time, my husband was standing at the door with that "Lets-get-going-woman!" look. Unbeknownst to me, he had had his own little set-to with one of the tattooed, leather clad regulars when I was in the rest room. I shook the KJ's hand and exited the now infamous "Karen's." .
Once we were safely in the truck, I looked at my husband, giggled and said "I think we've just been discriminated against." He shook his head and started the engine. "Well, you're the one who wanted the local color! Let's get out of here while I still have air in my tires. Hell, while I still have tires!" .
But just before we pulled out, we heard the KJ through the open door. "You all oughta be ashamed of yourself. That little gal came in here and sang her heart out. You're just ticked off because a Yankee did Patsy Cline better'n you." We stared at each other in disbelief. Wide-eyed, I turned to my husband. "'Oh-My-God! Let's get out of here, NOW!" .
But as we drove off into the southern night, I couldn't resist bidding them farewell..
I stuck my head out the window of the truck and (while hubby steered with one hand, tried to pull me back in with the other, and shouted "You're trying to get me bleeping killed) bid them adieu. .
"Hey, youse guys! We won! Get over it."
in the subject line of the message.)
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