As reflected on this website, my karaoke travels — and my wanderings generally — have traditionally focused on international destinations. After all, this blog celebrates my World Karaoke Tour. However, in mid-2016, I began to place a greater priority on getting to know — and singing in — more of the vast, diverse United States in which I live. This new emphasis was foreshadowed on the penultimate night of 2015, when I made my South Carolina singing debut in the lovely city of Charleston. Then, shortly after the calendar flipped to a new year, I made a fulfilling jaunt to Baltimore, a city where I once lived and to which I often return. About halfway through the year, as the summer was heating up, I embarked on a campaign to expand the number of states in which I’ve stepped foot, while sometimes making repeat journeys to old favourites. I began flying (and occasionally railroading) all over the continental U.S. on weekends — in some cases, taking advantage of longer holiday weekends. Here are highlights of my American travels of 2016, and my “road” singing appearances in the U.S. during the year that was. Note: This post contains numerous karaoke videos. I get it; you have a busy life. So if you can watch just one of the videos, I suggest that you make it the one from Alabama. But you should watch more than just one. 🙂
Baltimore, Maryland (January 2016)
In mid-January, I strode down to Baltimore to catch up with some friends from my university days. (I studied at Johns Hopkins University in that city.) Baltimore, which is nicknamed “Charm City,” boasts a handsome skyline when viewed from across the harbour:
Naturally, my Baltimorean excursion featured some karaoke. (If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have included that particular trip in this post. 🙂 ) A highlight, if you can call it that, of my evening of singing was a duet of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” with a highly intoxicated guy who was sporting a hoodie:
You’ll note that the scene was quite raucous and my co-singer was far from the only inebriated individual on the premises. 🙂
Savannah, Georgia (July 2016)
Savannah is, in my judgment, the most beautiful city in America. It’s also rich with history — and hauntings. During America’s Independence Day weekend in early July, Savannah was the scene for my first visit to the State of Georgia as well as my karaoke debut in the Peach State. One of its signature images is the Forsyth Park fountain, seen here:
After dark, in addition to joining a ghost tour (I did mention that Savannah is a haunted city), I of course found a place where I could grab a mic. Picking the song for my Georgia karaoke debut was a no-brainer; I sang the Ray Charles tune, “Georgia on My Mind.”
Incidentally, I really liked the fact that at McDonough’s, the Savannah bar where I sang, the KJ calls himself “Turbo.” As far as I know, his stage name bears no relation to the delightful animated film about a snail that dreams of competing in the Indianapolis 500 auto race; but I can’t be sure because I didn’t ask him. 🙂
Wilmington, Delaware (July 2016)
Prior to 2016, I’d been to Delaware on a small number of occasions, but I’d passed through it many more times. When I take Amtrak trains from my home city of New York to visit Baltimore or Washington, D.C., Delaware’s largest city, Wilmington, is one of the stops on the way. Well, this time I got off the train at Wilmington, stayed overnight in “The Wilm,” and went to a karaoke night in town!
Delaware has a long association with the Du Ponts, the family that built an empire based on the manufacture of chemical products by their namesake company. My principal daytime pursuit in Wilmington was a self-guided tour of the Nemours Mansion and Gardens, a 77-room house with accompanying landscaping that was built in the early 20th century by one of the Du Ponts.
As for karaoke, here’s a video of one of the songs I performed at a family-style Italian restaurant in Wilmington called Gallucio’s. The song was “My Life” by Billy Joel:
The KJ, Robin, treated me great. And Robin, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry that I’m posting this write-up several months later than promised. 🙂
Las Vegas, Nevada (August 2016)
In August I made my ninth visit to Las Vegas, which has become my favourite city in the U.S. other than my home base of New York City. For the fifth consecutive year, the occasion for my descent upon Sin City was my participation in the annual Trivia Championships of North America (TCONA). As usual, despite the full schedule of competitions that characterizes TCONA, I did manage to squeeze in a modicum of sightseeing; this time I checked out the Pinball Hall of Fame for the first time.
Meanwhile, at TCONA, a new event made its debut: trivioke, a mash-up of trivia and karaoke. However, there came a time in the evening when the “trivia” portion of trivioke ceased, and the host switched over to running a regular karaoke show. And when that occurred, I began a new tradition: broadcasting my worldwide karaoke performances live on Facebook! Here’s one of the songs that I sang in real time over the internet, on location from Las Vegas: “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” by Joe Jackson. (Fortunately, Facebook allows live videocasts to be saved on one’s timeline for subsequent viewing — or, in this case, for subsequent embedding on blogs.)
A hotel conference room may seem an unlikely venue for karaoke, but as should be apparent from this video, the karaoke at TCONA (as well as the trivioke competition that preceded it) delivered a good time! I’m excited that trivioke is slated to again be on TCONA’s schedule in 2017.
Indianapolis, Indiana (August 2016)
In 1991, I road-tripped from my home in New Jersey to Chicago, Illinois. During that drive, I averaged approximately 90 miles per hour through the entire state of Indiana, and didn’t stop while passing through that state. A quarter-century later (and after flying over Indiana during countless airplane rides), I made Indiana’s capital of Indianapolis my destination, as I made my first proper visit to the Hoosier State. I found a surprising number of attractions to see there; perhaps the most unexpected was a mural of the author Kurt Vonnegut, an Indianapolis native, on the side of a building.
For my initial karaoke number in Indianapolis I sang the John Cougar Mellencamp classic, “Jack & Diane.” This anthem about the American heartland went over well in the midwestern state of Indiana:
The drinkery where I sang in Indianapolis, The Monkey’s Tale, had outdoor karaoke on the night that I went there! It was pleasant to be sitting outside in the courtyard, and to sing alfresco, on a gorgeous late summer’s evening.
Seattle, Washington (September 2016)
During the long weekend in early September that’s celebrated in the U.S. as Labor Day weekend, I made my second visit to Seattle. One of the principal reasons for my return to the Emerald City was that I wanted to take a tour of the Boeing factory. That factory, located in the town of Everett (about 27 miles from Seattle), produces 787’s, 777’s, 747’s, and the occasional 767. Sadly, photography was strictly forbidden during the tour and I was required to stash all my possessions in a locker prior to being bussed from the visitor’s centre to the factory floor. However, here’s a photo of me that I obtained in the museum that forms part of the visitor’s centre; it was taken in front of a green screen and superimposed against the background of my choice containing an image from inside the factory. I wish I’d been able to snap some of my own photos to capture the astonishing spectacle of widebody jets under construction; but this souvenir image will have to do.
In Seattle, a city with a rich musical tradition, it was only natural that I would make some music of my own. I sang The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” which I was last seen belting out in Istanbul in 2012.
By the by, this latest H-Bomb karaoke outing in Seattle occurred in Hula Hula, the same tiki bar-themed pub where I sang during my first visit to that city in 2013.
Madison, Wisconsin (September 2016)
Similar to Indiana, Wisconsin prior to 2016 was a state that I’d flown over but never touched down in. (In addition, unlike Indiana, I’d never driven through Wisconsin on a road trip.) In September, that changed when I arrived in the Wisconsonian capital of Madison.
The weekend of my stay in Madison coincided with a home football game for the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus which is located in that city. Few rituals are more emblematic of pure Americana than a college football “game day”; and while I didn’t have time to attend the game, I did my best to soak up the atmosphere surrounding it. For example, I attended a pre-game brunch, known as a “tailgate,” at the home of the university’s Chancellor. (What can I say? I know people. 🙂 ) And shortly after the game’s completion, I found myself at the Memorial Union Terrace, a popular lakeside hangout spot on campus. When I first showed up at the terrace, it was relatively empty, but that would soon change. Fans who’d just come from the game, most wearing the official school colour of cardinal red, streamed into the terrace area to procure beer and bratwurst. The influx of red-clad individuals made for quite a sight:
The karaoke bar that I went to that night is also frequented by students of the university. My initial song choice there was the Johnny Rivers tale of an international spy, “Secret Agent Man”:
Although “Secret Agent Man” was released in the late 1960s and most of the audience members were probably much too young to be familiar with it, it was nice to see them really getting into the song.
Washington, DC (in the karaoke-equipped Uber) (October 2016)
Washington, DC is the city in which I attended law school (at Georgetown University), and it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. In early October, I journeyed by train to D.C. (this time declining to disembark in Wilmington, Delaware). One of my activities during this go-around in my nation’s capital was the taking in of an exhibit at the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library. The exhibit compared the cult of celebrity that has arisen around Jane Austen to the similar star treatment that her fellow British writer, Shakespeare, has received in the popular culture.
My singing venue in D.C. was a mobile one: the karaoke-equipped Uber vehicle in which I’d previously gone for a ride in 2015. This time, I sang a Billy Joel song, “You May Be Right.”
Regrettably, portions of the video, which originally was transmitted live to my Facebook friends, are pixellated. That effect occurs when the signal received by my phone drops off during the live broadcast; and apparently there’s spotty 4G coverage in the streets of D.C.
Providence, Rhode Island (October 2016)
2016 wasn’t the first time I visited Rhode Island, but it was the first year during which I karaoked there. Providence, the state capital, is rich with history. One of its beautiful old buildings that I checked out was the First Baptist Church, the present building of which was completed in 1775. The congregation that worships in that building dates back even further, having been established in 1638 by Roger Williams (the man who in 1636 had founded the colony that would eventually become the State of Rhode Island).
As for karaoke: inspired by Providence’s location in the heart of New England, I sang “Weekend In New England” by Barry Manilow:
You know, when you’re sending out a karaoke video live, anything can happen. This principle was illustrated in Providence. As you’ll see at the start of the video, I gave my phone to my friend to begin the live feed, not realizing that my phone’s camera was set to selfie mode. I apologize for the NSFW language that I responded with when I realized my error. 🙂 Anyway, things did settle down once I re-set the camera to point in the correct direction.
Portland, Oregon (October 2016)
A quirky city in the Pacific Northwest, Portland is known for its slogan “Keep Portland weird.” And perhaps nobody keeps it weirder than the Unipiper — a guy named Brian who rides around on a unicycle while playing a bagpipe that shoots flames. Here’s a brief video of the Unipiper doing his thing:
The reason that Brian is wearing a Harry Potter outfit here is because he’d just filmed a Harry Potter-themed video for his YouTube page. However, he frequently wears various costumes while Unipiping.
My initial live karaoke video from Portland was marred by the same error I’d made a couple of weeks earlier in Providence: I again handed my phone to my videographer without noticing that it was set to broadcast in selfie mode. When will I learn? So later that night, I generated a second live Facebook video, and that one went much more smoothly. Here it is; the song is “What Is Love?” by Haddaway.
Many of the audience members were costumed, as it was the Saturday night of the pre-Hallowe’en weekend. Perhaps I should have gotten into the Hallowe’en spirit myself; but I had packed light so as to cram all of my clothing and supplies for the weekend into a carry-on. If I’d wanted to bring a costume along, I probably would have had to check my luggage — something I always try to avoid.
Birmingham, Alabama (November 2016)
In mid-November I went to Alabama for the first time — specifically, to the city of Birmingham. That city was home to some of the most significant — and sometimes tragic — events of the American civil rights movement. One of the landmarks that tells the story of that turbulent struggle is the 16th Street Baptist Church; that church was the site of a 1963 bombing by three Ku Klux Klan members that killed four young girls. I think it’s important to visit such sites, to honour the memories of the victims of evil acts — and to be reminded of what our societies have had to overcome.
For my song choice in Alabama, there was only one tune that I seriously considered: “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. As you can see, the audience was just slightly excited to hear that song:
This homage to Alabama happened at a bar called Bourbon Street. I don’t know if the crowd’s over-the-top enthusiasm on the particular Saturday night when I dropped in is typical of what you can expect on any given evening at Bourbon Street. But based on my own experience, I would go back to Bourbon Street in a heartbeat.
Charlotte, North Carolina (December 2016)
I’d been to Charlotte once before; in September 2010, when I had an approximately six hour layover at Charlotte Douglas International Airport en route to Rio de Janeiro, I took a shuttle to the city’s downtown and hung out there for a few hours. For a weekend in December 2016, Charlotte was my sole destination. One of the attractions that I went to was the Carolinas Aviation Museum, situated adjacent to the airport. That museum’s signature holding is the Airbus A320 aircraft that Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger guided to a successful emergency landing on New York City’s Hudson River in January 2009 in the incident that became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
My North Carolina singing debut was originally supposed to happen in 2010. You see, the reason I headed into town during my layover in Charlotte that year was that I was supposed to meet up with the driver of a karaoke taxi. But he flaked out and even his dispatcher was unable to reach him. I would eventually realize my dream of singing in a moving vehicle (which I have gone on to do several times — including, for example, a couple of rides in Taiwan in the spring of 2016, as well as the above-mentioned ride in the karaoke Uber car this past October). And in the final month of this year, North Carolina joined my World Karaoke Tour at last. It happened at an entertainment complex called 8.2.0 in Charlotte. The song was Billy Joel’s “My Life,” the same number I’d performed in Delaware in July. But then, it is one of my all-time favourite songs.
After my appearance in Charlotte, not only have I sung karaoke in 43 countries, but I’ve also karaoked in 28 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia!
Closing thoughts and what’s ahead
In 2017, I plan to continue my push to visit and sing in every U.S. state. At this time, I have no specific plans yet for any domestic travel in the coming twelve months, except that in mid-January I’ll again be visiting friends in Baltimore, and in August I’ll again be making my way to Las Vegas in August for TCONA. But before the world enters 2018, I intend to add a bunch of further new states to my “I’ve been to” and “I’ve sung in” lists. I think it’s very likely that Detroit, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Des Moines, Iowa; and Louisville, Kentucky will end up being some of my domestic travel destinations in the year ahead. I’ll also probably spend weekends in Denver, Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona, as Colorado and Arizona are the remaining two states that I’ve already visited but haven’t sung in.
At the same time, I’ll continue my globetrotting ways, seeking out destinations in every part of the planet. In fact, tomorrow I leave for Israel! Happy holidays and I hope you’ll continue to be along for the ride in 2017!
What is your favourite city to visit in the United States?
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Hopefully a trip to Detroit would portend an addition of a Motown classic to your repertoire.
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