Charleston, South Carolina has witnessed nearly 350 years of history since it was first settled by the English as “Charles Town,” named in honour of King Charles II, in 1670. Colourful and centuries-old homes line the streets of this harbourside town — a city that was already over 100 years old when a collection of 13 colonies to which South Carolina belonged declared their independence from Great Britain. Later in its storied past, as the United States of America was developing into a powerhouse on the world scene, Charleston would play a key role in the Civil War that threatened to disunite those states; indeed, that bloody conflict was ignited when the rebels who called themselves the Confederacy seized Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbour in 1861. A quarter-century later, subsequent to its state’s reabsorption into the Union, Charleston was rocked by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever to strike the eastern U.S.
Today, despite some unfortunate events in its past, Charleston is a physically stunning city that’s increasingly emerging as a sought-after tourist destination. During the long New Year’s weekend that straddled December 2015 and January 2016, I became one of those tourists. 🙂 Charleston made an ideal focus for my first-ever journey to the State of South Carolina — partly because its walkable historic district was perfect for a New Yorker like me who doesn’t drive. 🙂 More importantly, by virtue of my singing within South Carolina’s borders on that trip, the Palmetto State became the latest U.S. state in which I’ve made a karaoke appearance! Hey, don’t get me wrong; the many historic sights that I took in, as well as my day-trip to a nearby plantation, greatly contributed to my enjoyment of Charleston. But the present blog post is all about my three nights of Charlestonian karaoke!
Yes, you heard that right: during my four night stay in Charleston, I karaoked on three separate evenings! The only night of my trip on which I didn’t pick up a mic was New Year’s Eve — because, well, I was doing New Year’s Eve-y stuff. 🙂 Here are highlights of what my New Year’s Eve looked like:
Otherwise, my evenings in Charleston were all about the karaoke. 🙂 Well, there was the one night when I went on a ghost tour; but even then, as soon as the spooky wanderings had concluded, I Ubered my way to a karaoke bar. 🙂
Karaoke night no. 1: closing out 2015
Just hours after my flight landed in Charleston, on Wednesday night, December 30, I sang in a gay bar. Why did I go to a gay bar? Because it had karaoke that night and it was roughly two blocks from my hotel. 🙂 (Not that there’s anything wrong with gay bars, by the way. 🙂 ) This particular venue bears the name Dudley’s on Ann. Running the festivities at Dudley’s was the KJ, Mike, who would become the last person to call me up to a stage in 2015!
For my first song in South Carolina — and my final karaoke song of 2015 — I chose “You Belong To Me” by the Duprees. The version by the Duprees, which charted in 1962, was a cover of a tune first recorded by Jo Stafford in 1952. In fact, the song has been covered by literally dozens of artists, ranging from Judy Garland to Bob Dylan to Rick Astley to Annie Lennox. I’ve watched a video of the Rick Astley cover, and his rendition is absolutely dreadful. Anyway, the Duprees’ version is my favourite because of its doo-wop sound. Check out a video of me belting it out on the penultimate night of 2015 to give a send-off to that year:
With this song, South Carolina became the 21st U.S. state on my World Karaoke Tour, to go along with 39 countries!
Karaoke night no. 2: the first H-Bomb song of 2016
After the world embarked on the year 2016, I wasted no time in making karaoke one of my activities in the incipient year. On the very first night of ’16, I took to the mic for the start of what I hope will be a spectacular 366 days for my karaoke travels! (Yes, 366 days; we’re in a leap year!)
On New Year’s Night, the venue was an establishment called the Island Bar & Grill (IBG) — which is misleadingly named, because upon my arrival I learned that the “Grill” part of that “Bar & Grill” is no longer operational and food is no longer served there. I’d shown up over an hour prior to the scheduled start of the karaoke show, intending to order one of the menu items that I’d seen on the place’s website. After informing me of the demise of the IBG’s kitchen, one of the bartenders noted that the website hasn’t been updated in a while.
So I needed to send out for dinner to be delivered to me at the bar; and while I awaited the delivery of my victuals I was starving. I have to tell you, being misled by the website into thinking I’d be able to grab a meal at the bar left me with a poor first impression of IBG. (As of the publication of the present blog post, IBG’s website still includes a page listing its long-nonexistent menu, and the website’s landing page refers to the establishment as “a sports-themed Karaoke bar and restaurant“) (emphasis added).
As for the actual karaoke at IBG, that was perfectly fine. Although the crowd was somewhat sparse, that was to be expected on New Year’s Night, when many people were undoubtedly exhausted from celebrating the night before; I’m sure that on a normal Friday night, the audience at IBG would have been much larger.
My initial song of the year 2016 was a selection from the A-list of my repertoire: “Rocket Man” by Elton John. Here you can watch me rocking out to “Rocket Man” at IBG:
A shout-out goes to bar patron Amanda for being kind enough to capture this video for me. Anyway, as was the case at Dudley’s on Ann, the KJ at IBG was named Mike; his company is called “Karaoke with Blaze.”
Karaoke night no. 3: yet another encore appearance!
On Saturday night, January 2, for the third time in the four nights of my stay in Charleston, I ended up at karaoke! Big surprise. 🙂 This Saturday appearance happened at a bar called R Pub.
At the R Pub, I did two songs. Song the first was “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” by Joe Jackson:
My second song at the R Pub was “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan. A one-hit wonder from the early ’70s, it was one of the songs that I’d performed in Rome this past November, only for the video of it to fail to save to my phone (as recounted here). Thus, I wanted to take another shot at creating a video of me crooning it. And now I’ve done that:
Of the trio of bars in which I sang in Charleston, the R Pub was my favourite — largely because Aaron, the KJ, was very nice to me and ran a good show. Additionally, I wholeheartedly approve of Aaron’s unofficial motto, “Make Stage Fright Your Bitch”; you can see those words at the bottom of the large video monitor behind me throughout both of my videos that were shot at R Pub.
An indication of the warm hospitality that Aaron extended to me: he even told me that if he’d known in advance that I was going to be rolling in on the night when I did, he would have brought his professional-quality recording equipment that he sometimes uses to film videos of singers at his show. (Among other things, that equipment has the capability to record the images and sound separately. I’ve seen some of the results on Aaron’s Facebook page, and they’re impressive.) Alas, my spontaneity in choosing the R Pub cost me that opportunity. I was relegated to having my songs at R Pub filmed with my smartphone — and the result was inferior production values for my videos, particularly since my phone’s camera flash that I needed to use as a light source (as a result of the low ambient light in the bar’s singing area) caused me to have redeye in the videos. (I also have a point-and-shoot camera that shoots HD videos; and I used to have a spotlight that doesn’t cause redeye that attaches to it, which I’d taken along on some previous trips. But that spotlight got lost when I moved to a new apartment in July 2015, and I haven’t yet gotten around to replacing it. Since my point-and-shoot, in contrast to my smartphone, doesn’t permit the constant illumination of its flash when shooting a video, my phone was my only viable option for a recording device in the relatively darkened confines of the R Pub.)
If I had to choose only one karaoke bar to return to in Charleston, I can say without hesitation that my choice would be the R Pub — or any other watering hole where Aaron was running the show on the night in question. To say that is to take nothing away from Dudley’s on Ann or IBG, at both of which I had fun experiences; but I would give the edge to Aaron’s show. (IBG’s website trumpets the fact that a local publication, the Charleston City Paper, has rated it the best karaoke venue in Charleston for two years in a row. However, in my opinion those types of rankings are largely arbitrary and idiosyncratic, and the selection criteria tend to be opaque or to rely on factors unrelated to the things that truly make for a good karaoke show — such as the manner in which the KJ runs the rotation of singers; the quality of the acoustics; and the talent and enthusiasm of the regular attendees that the show attracts.)
Next up on the World Karaoke Tour
2016 is off to a spectacular start, but Charleston was just the beginning! A couple of weekends ago I was in the Baltimore, Maryland area, hanging out with a couple of friends from my university days. Naturally, I did some singing in Baltimore, a city where I’d performed several times before. 🙂 You can catch videos of those Baltimore karaoke performances here and here.
The next destination for my World Karaoke Tour will be Nassau, Bahamas in mid-February. I’m excited to experience the Bahamas, and I hope that karaoke will constitute just one aspect of a memorable visit to that Caribbean archipelago. Nassau will mark an important milestone in my karaoke travels, because the Bahamas are in line to become the 40th country in which I’ve sung! Preparations for that special occasion are well underway. 🙂