One of the top five karaoke experiences of my life was on a Monday night back in November '07. The Seahawks had just shut out the San Francisco 49ers 24-0, so two of my best tailgate buddies and I walked over from the stadium to Bush Garden in the International District to celebrate. Everyone in the bar was fired up about the win and the KJ, Christopher, entertained the crowd by singing song parodies like "The Niners Just Can't Run" (to the tune of Band on the Run) and "They Left Their Balls in San Francisco."
Benson and Jarreau are in this love together.
It was also the night this little Asian dude blew everyone away with a spot-on rendition of "Rainbow Connection" by Kermit the Frog. Normally, I'm not too into goofy selections like that, but he wasn't messing around at all. It was like Jim Henson took over his body. Every time I get together with my buddies Pete and Tony, and the topic of karaoke comes up, we always reminisce about that kid.
Last Friday I returned to Bush Garden for the first time in over a year. I got there at 8:30 to stake out a good spot and catch the rest of the M's game. There really isn't a bad seat in the house. The night the kid did Kermit we were on the floor, and that's a total party, but I've also bellied up solo at the bar in the back and the people there are so fun - you make friends instantly. This time I secured the prime spot at the elevated section in back next to the bar. There was a big group at the table in the far back against the wall. I took the vacant table in front of them right along the rail that divided the two sections. It had a perfect view of the stage and the bar TV.
Christopher was again the KJ. He's an Asian dude in his late forties and is one of the best around. They had another legendary host named Kenny, but he died last year. He was a sweet old man that ran the show my first time singing there, and everybody loved him. There's a big picture of him on the wall behind the stage.
The Mariners were blowing out the Tigers, so it looked like the show would start on time. Christopher brought catalogs and pencil holders containing request slips to every table, which I thought was a really nice touch. You don't understand how many places do a bad job at providing the basic stuff. I've developed a huge pet peeve about books with no pencils or paper.
Christopher kicked off with "Use Me" by Bill Withers, and as he was singing I could picture myself as him in 10 years--and was completely alright with it. After the song he went into a bit of a comedy routine to loosen the crowd up. He delivered a couple cheesy quips about taxes and birthdays, and announced the only rule of the night: don't put your song requests in the tip jar because they won't be found.
The opening performances were forgettable. I was happy to have the Mariners to watch as I waited for someone to step it up. I already had "Faith" by George Michael picked, so I just relaxed as I waited for my name to be called. Even with the slow start I looked around and the place still felt magical to me. I remember I used to dream about coming here. This place has always been known as a Mecca for Seattle karaoke.
The first singer that stuck out was an old man named Bob, and he sang a solid rendition of "Tears in Heaven." He was a big-time crowd favorite because people gave him a great round of applause before and after his song. Things started rolling after that. This long-haired Native American guy was the best singer of the night, and he blasted out an awesome version of George Benson's "Turn Your Love Around."
It was around this time that my buddy Pete joined me. There are three friends I know that I believe love karaoke as much as I do, and he's one of them. We were kicking back enjoying this guy's performance, and discussed what it takes to execute a song like that. It's not just about hitting the notes--you also need to sing with soul. I sing with a ton of heart, but I can't pull off soul.
As Pete and I threw down our first Jager shot, I was called up. I knew my song would be a breeze. I've had this burnt to memory since I was 11 years old. As soon as the organ intro gave way to the quick strumming of the guitar, I was all over it. The song moves fast and it gets the crowd really going when done right. The mic was good and loud, so I was able to keep my voice in control. I couldn't have been happier with my performance, and was greeted by a lot of high fives on the way back to my table.
A couple singers after me was a tall brunette who sang "Total Eclipse of the Heart." She had a great voice and looked sexy when she took her performance into the crowd. Ever since that famous scene in "Old School," I've come to expect everyone who sings that number will drop in a couple f-bombs, and she did, but she didn't overdo it. It's the lamest thing ever to watch dudes that think they're funny slip it into every verse.
Pete decided to do a George Benson song of his own and he dazzled the crowd with "On Broadway." It's not a song I'd ever think of doing, but when he showed me he was going to sing it I knew he had what it took to nail it. That song is all charisma and he has a ton of it. Nice and low, it was perfect for his range, so he was able to embellish the hell out of it. When he got back to the table, a black guy in his fifties shook his hand and told him he did a great job, so that officially means Pete has soul.
Two awesome George Benson performances in one night! That's two more than I've heard anywhere else. The rest of the night all I wanted to hear was more jazzy R&B, and the Native American guy from earlier delivered with "We're In This Love Together" by Al Jarreau. It's a shame more people don't tap into this genre.