You're a Fucking Rockstar

One night at Tacoma's rockaraoke mecca, Jazzbones.

"Ladies, throw your panties on the stage!" a skinny guy in worn jeans screams into the mike. He grins. Then he launches into a surprisingly awesome rendition of the Killers' "Mr. Brightside."

Chris Dahl is a 23-year-old from Gig Harbor who plays drums and sings backup in a metal band called In These Hands. Here, on Rockaraoke night at Tacoma's popular nightclub Jazzbones, he gets to be front and center.

"It gets my adrenaline pumping," he says over a post-performance cigarette. "I like to have a couple of drinks, then go onstage and have some fun. I sing backup [in his band]...but I think I have a pretty good voice."

The crowd of 300-plus seems to think so too. They cheer approvingly, and one patron actually does throw her panties onstage. "Hey, you fucking rocked that shit, man," someone else calls out.

It's a typical Monday night at Jazzbones.

Everyone is here for the weekly spectacle that is Rockaraoke, a 9-to-close affair during which patrons can sing onstage alongside a live band—also called Rockaraoke—and a backup singer. Nothing in Seattle compares.

The term "rockaraoke" is commonly used to describe karaoke backed by a live band, but it's actually a trademarked term owned by George Aragon, managing partner of Washington-based company GAD Entertainment. Aragon, who also plays drums in the band, coined it back in 2001.

Rockaraoke used to be a regular occurrence at the Sunset Tavern in Seattle until 2004, when Aragon says the economic downturn forced them to turn to private events to make a profit.

A few years later, Jazzbones re-introduced the activity to the public. The venue was transitioning from a sit-down jazz club to one with DJs, live music, and comedy. Business during the workweek was slow. "Monday nights are a challenge in this industry," booker Sean Culver notes. "We'd get a huge crowd out for the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, then five people in the house the next week. We needed something cool that was also consistent."

Three months, aggressive drink specials, and word of mouth were all it took to make Monday Jazzbones' busiest night. The shabby two-story club now gives off the vibe of a college-town bar, largely because the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington–Tacoma are withn spitting distance. There's an urgency here, as if every 20-something in Pierce County has to party their ass off. Well, they, and a blonde 40-something who looks like she could be Barbie's mother. She swivels in time to the beat, her huge breasts dangerously close to popping out of her top. A group of younger guys who look like cast members of MTV's Jersey Shore watch her with interest. She later makes out with one of them in the alley.

The others throw back cans of Miller High Life and shots of Jäger. They grind to rock songs and slow-dance to ballads. A group of girls with thunder-thighs and too-tight dresses shake their asses with visible pride when someone performs Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back."

The night's vibe is entirely different, according to Aragon, than that at The Parlor and Snoqualmie Casino, where the band also plays every week. His praise of the Jazzbones scene stops just short of playing favorites. But it seems pretty obvious that Monday in Tacoma is Rockaraoke's hottest night.

"Anything can happen on a Monday night at Jazzbones," he says with a laugh. "The energy is so youthful. These are bright-eyed people in their 20s. They like to party and they get super-excited about going onstage. That's why we love playing there."

Take "White Chris" (he claims that's what everyone on the Hilltop calls him), for example. The 24-year-old is a Monday-night regular who sings only AC/DC songs—although tonight he's rocking an Iron Maiden T-shirt. He shrieks like a lunatic to "Highway to Hell" as the crowd chants and stomps their feet in unison.

Afterward, Chris announces that he's being deployed to Iraq. "Thanks," he tells his new admirers. "I love every single one of you."

That same night, Kelley Hallman, a 22-year-old blonde in a miniskirt and black leather boots, belts out Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine." During the guitar-only segments, she tousles her hair and practically dances atop the guitarist. She behaves like she's actually in the band.

Hallman and her friends drive from Puyallup to Tacoma for Rockaraoke every week. "I love to sing," she says. "I actually make a list of songs I want to sing before I come here. I even do them sober."

She surveys the club with a satisfied expression on her face. The band is trying in vain to improve a girl's lackluster rendition of Patsy Cline's "Crazy," sweaty bodies are swaying on the dance floor, glasses are clinking left and right.

"Look how packed it is," she marvels. "It makes you feel like you're somebody. You get to be a fucking rock star on a Monday night. Everybody can use that."

ehobart@seattleweekly.com

 
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