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This week, Karaoke Jeff Roman writes about one of his favorite sing-along stages: Tarasco in Ballard.
Tarasco in Ballard has become my regular spot for karaoke. I wind up there with my friends most Saturday nights. It's in a nice, tucked-away location that has a cool stage, state of the art sound equipment, and a fun young crowd. While karaoke typically occurs on Fridays and Saturdays only, last Wednesday they turned on their mics for some pre-Thanksgiving singing.
The restaurant looks more like a divey sports bar than a Mexican cantina. The stage is on the back wall between the pool table/dart area and the bar. It has an awesome red curtain backdrop, fully equipped with disco lights and smoke, and has one of best sound systems of any place I've reviewed. From the bar you can really hear the speakers thump. You also hear the most random song choices, because the KJ's selection is neverending. The biggest advantage to computerized karaoke is if the KJ doesn't have the song you've requested in their catalog, there's a good chance they can find it on the internet and make it happen for you anyway. It's almost getting to the point where you don't even need the catalog.
Karaoke Kurt is the KJ. He has a fun and professional delivery when announcing singers, and does a good job of reminding the crowd to tip the hard-working bartenders. He is very well-liked by the regulars, but I have to admit, I was not fond of his KJ style my first few trips there. He kept trying to turn the place into a dance party by playing Top 40 hits between performers on busy nights--sometimes up to three songs, proving that one downside to the computerized setup is how easy it is to integrate non-karaoke music. KJ's think they're DJ's all of a sudden, get carried away playing music, and forget there are people who are desperately waiting to sing. Thankfully, Karaoke Kurt eventually figured this out, because the past couple months he's done a great job moving the singers along.
Tarasco gets slammed with singers on weekends because Kurt has a big following and Ballardites love to karaoke. I don't usually get there until close to 11 o'clock. By then the rotation is at least 15 singers deep and wait times between my first and second performance usually go between 45 minutes to an hour.
Sometimes I don't have the patience to wait that long. Thankfully, Karaoke Kurt is happy to accommodate singers who wish to be bumped up in the rotation if they slip the right amount in his tip jar. You have to remember to be slick about it, because bribery is frowned upon by many. One night a month or so ago, my buddy Brad was pushed back in the rotation because a few people leapfrogged over his request. As a result, he's not a fan of Kurt's.
I totally understand Brad's frustration, but as an ex-KJ, I know how hard it is to get tips any other way. Nobody gives enough of a shit to tip the karaoke host. Some give a dollar here and there, but that's peanuts compared to a drunk that greases a 20 to sing within the next two performers. Kurt does draw the line, though. Another friend of mine tried to offer him 10 bucks to sing "Hurts So Good" right after some other guys sang it, just to show them up--but Kurt shot him down.
Karaoke payola is a practice not accepted by all karaoke hosts, so you have to make sure they're into it--because there are shysters out there who will take your money and throw your slip in the garbage to teach you a lesson. I've had it done to me before, and it sucks. I look forward to exposing this scum in upcoming weeks.
It's a mostly young crowd iat Tarasco; here's barely anyone there over 45. I don't know if it's because I'm usually halfway drunk by the time I arrive, or am too distracted scrambling to find a song, but I haven't gotten a good handle on the quality of singers there yet. I remember a couple of good performances, but it gets to be such a madhouse that I get caught up mingling and forget to pay attention.
For the most part, I'd say the singers are average, because you really only remember the spectacular ones or the atrocious ones. Like every other place I've been, I've noticed a lot of country music requested. I'm still trying to figure that one out.