As detailed in this post, in 2016 I continued to place a high value on international travel but added a new focus on seeing more of my own country, the United States – with the ultimate goal of visiting, and karaokeing in, all 50 of its states. Henceforth, I shall refer to that 50-state karaoke project as my American Karaoke Tour – the domestic counterpart to my World Karaoke Tour.
In 2017, I took a great leap forward towards completing my American Karaoke Tour. As the world rang in 2017, the tally of U.S. states on that tour stood at 28. Before the year was out, that number would climb all the way to 42. Plus I made some return singing appearances in a couple of additional states in which I’d sung in the past; and I explored a Canadian city that was new to me, thereby experiencing (and karaokeing in) a new Canadian province!
I realize that this blog post is exceedingly long, even though my recaps of particular destinations are quite condensed. Don’t feel overwhelmed; if you’re reluctant to slog through the whole thing, no one could blame you. 🙂 Just scroll down and read about the locations that most grab your fancy. Nor do I expect that you would have the time to view anywhere near all 19 of the karaoke videos that are embedded herein, even if you wanted to; but I do hope you’ll play at least a small sampling of them, to get a feel for what my North American singing experiences were like as I crisscrossed the continent in 2017. If you want suggestions, I can tell you that my own favourite videos in this blog post are of my performances of “Walking in Memphis” (which I sang in Vancouver, British Columbia); “Rock Lobster” (which I sang in Portland, Maine); “Wonderwall” (which I sang in Salt Lake City, Utah); and “Blister in the Sun” (which is the second video that you’ll find in the section on Des Moines, Iowa).
1. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (February 2017)
During the long President’s Day weekend that my home country observes in mid-February, I made my first visit to the Canadian province of British Columbia – and specifically, to the city of Vancouver. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Vancouver, as so many travellers from all over the world have.
Vancouver is an intriguing amalgamation that combines a colourful history, quirky local institutions, and profuse outdoor recreational opportunities. In that latter quality, it resembles the nearby U.S metropolises of Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon – both of which are also situated in the region commonly dubbed the Pacific Northwest. (An additional commonality of Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland is that they’re prone to periodically shaken by powerful earthquakes, due to their presence in the Cascadia Subduction Zone; but if you were to avoid all seismically hazardous locales, you’d be left with a lot fewer cool places to travel to. 🙂 ) Also similar to Seattle and Portland, Vancouver receives abundant rainfall during certain parts of the year. For example, don’t go to Vancouver in the month of February, as I did; that’s one of its soggiest months, and Vancouver got soaked throughout the long weekend of my jaunt there.
Karaoke in Vancouver
While in Vancouver, I took the opportunity to make British Columbia the third Canadian province in which I’ve karaoked (after having previously sung in Montreal, Quebec and Toronto, Ontario). Accompanying me to the 12 Kings Pub was Paul, a twitter contact who shares my passion for karaoke and tweets under the handle “Paul The Rock God” – an excellent nom de plume, if you ask me. Paul lives in Vancouver, and it was great to meet him in person – and at a karaoke bar, no less.
Unfortunately, due to a poor WiFi signal in the pub, my live Facebook streaming of my performance in 12 Kings generated a video with subpar visual quality. But as you watch it, most of the time you can at least discern a shape that corresponds to me. It’s not as if you’re just listening to me on Spotify. 🙂
In September 2018, Manitoba will become my fourth Canadian province when I visit a friend in Winnipeg! But I very much desire to spend more time in Vancouver – and preferably during a part of the year when the weather isn’t likely to suck. 🙂
2. Boulder, Colorado (March 2017)
Prior to 2017, there were two U.S. states that I’d been to without karaokeing: Colorado and Arizona. I took care of both of them in the month of March. First, during my birthday weekend at the beginning of the month, I hit Boulder, Colorado. I chose Boulder because it has a more bohemian vibe than Denver; plus, I have friends who live there whom I knew would be able to join me at karaoke. (Before flying home from Denver International Airport at the end of the weekend, I also managed to hang out at the Denver Museum of Art with my friend Elaine, who lives in that city.)
Boulder first came to my attention as the city in which the television sitcom Mork & Mindy, which starred a young Robin Williams, was set. (Mork & Mindy ran from 1978 to 1982). Roaming through Boulder nearly four decades after I first watched that show, it was fun going up to the house that was used for exterior shots of the titular characters’ residence, and searching for the “BOULDER CITY LIMIT” street sign that appeared in the opening credits. (It turned out that the original sign from the 1970s was no longer in existence, but I found its replacement.) Additionally, the Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian-only street lined with shops and restaurants, was frequently seen in Mork & Mindy (The fictitious music store owned by Mindy’s father was located in the Pearl Street Mall); and it remains at the heart of Boulder today. But not all of my favourite sights in Boulder related to the beloved sitcom; for example, I was blown away by a stunning art deco theatre and a Tajikistani teahouse.
Karaoke in Boulder
My karaoke appearance in Boulder took place on my birthday, March 4. My very first karaoke performance had taken place on my birthday in 1991 in a suburban town in New Jersey; and on that night, “The Farmer in the Dell” earned the honour of becoming the first song I ever karaoked. You can learn more about my formative karaoke years here. Anyhoo, on my birthday in Boulder in 2017, I commemorated the anniversary of my lifetime karaoke debut by singing the song that had started it all: “The Farmer in the Dell”! Cheering me on in the audience were my Boulderite friends Paul, Dave, and Lori.
Again there were technical issues with the image quality of the resulting video, although not nearly to the extent of what had occurred in Vancouver.
Colorado thus became state no. 29 on my American Karaoke Tour. Oh, and you shouldn’t be surprised if I wait another 26 years before my next time singing “The Farmer in the Dell.” 🙂
3. Scottsdale, Arizona (March 2017)
For my weekend in Arizona I needed to travel to or near the city of Phoenix, since only Phoenix’s airport would offer convenient direct flights from and to the New York City metropolitan area. I chose Scottsdale, a city near Phoenix’s airport that seemed like it would be more vibrant, and offer a more diverse array of things to do, than downtown Phoenix.
Karaoke in Scottsdale
When it came time for karaoke, I belted out a tune that’s one of my absolute favourites: The Duprees’ doo-wop cover of “You Belong To Me.” That song has no connection to Arizona; but then, songs about kicking tumbleweed are in short supply. 🙂
Arizona thus became state no. 30 on my American Karaoke Tour. Moreover, I had finally reached the point where the number of states in which I’d karaoked equaled the number of states that I’d been to. But that left me with the still-substantial total of 20 more states to check off in order to get to 50. During the remainder of 2017, I would make significant progress towards that goal.
4. Portland, Maine (April 2017)
Surprisingly, as of April 2017, I hadn’t yet made it to any of a trio states in the northeastern U.S. that are all quite close to New York: Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. That month, I finally took care of Maine, jetting up to the city of Portland. Maine is the life-long home state of Stephen King; however, I didn’t encounter any paranormal activity there (or at least I don’t think I did). 🙂 My wanderings in Portland focused on that waterfront city’s maritime heritage, as epitomized by some venerable lighthouses in and around Portland.
Speaking of that maritime tradition: while many coastal cities are known for the seafood harvested from local fisheries, Maine is especially identified with the lobsters caught off its shores. The first recorded lobster catch in Maine’s waters was made in 1605; and that crustacean has remained bounteous in the state ever since. In 2016, more than 80% of the lobster poundage caught by U.S. lobstermen came from Maine. I honestly can’t recall whether I consumed any dishes containing lobster during my sojourn in Portland; but if I didn’t, I should have. In any event, Maine’s lobster culture did have an impact on my karaoke song selection, as you’ll see presently. (By the bye, Maine’s nickname is the “Pine Tree State.” But you don’t hear nearly as much about its conifers as you do about its lobsters. Nevertheless, the pine tree does appear on Maine’s state flag, seal, and quarter.)
Karaoke in Portland
Influenced by Maine’s strong association with lobsters, I sang “Rock Lobster” by the B-52’s. Have a look (and a listen):
Maine thus became state no. 31 on my American Karaoke Tour. Portland is just 269 miles from New York City as the crow flies; and by flying there in an airplane, I had gone to the Pine Tree State for the first time in my life.
5. Florence, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio (May 2017)
Aviation aficionados are aware that Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (known by the 3-letter IATA code CVG) – the airport that serves Cincinnati, Ohio – is actually located across the Ohio River from that city, in Covington, Kentucky. For my first time venturing into Kentucky, I decided to fly into CVG, and to stay in a hotel in the nearby Kentuckian city of Florence.
From Florence I day-tripped to the Ark Encounter, an alleged replica of the mythological vessel known as Noah’s Ark. Located in the town of Williamson, it was built by Answers in Genesis, the same young-Earth creationists who are responsible for the Creation Museum. Making my way through the exhibits inside the Ark Encounter, it was amusing to observe the “arguments” offered in support of the veracity of the Noah’s Ark tale. It saddens me to reflect that many scientifically illiterate people do believe in the literal truth of that yarn.
Karaoke in Florence
Science and technology have not only demolished many Bronze Age myths such as the one perpetuated by the Ark Encounter; they’ve given us karaoke! In Florence, Kentucky, I karaoked with my friend Rani, who lives in the area. We performed a duet of The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”:
Kentucky thus became state no. 32 on my American Karaoke Tour. The next day, I strolled across a bridge from Kentucky to the city of Cincinnati, in which I spent a few hours milling around and swinging by some points of interest to me. I didn’t karaoke in Cincinnati, but I didn’t need to because the state of Ohio had already become a part of my American Karaoke Tour in 2014 when I sang in Cleveland.
6. Kansas City, Missouri and Overland Park, Kansas (June 2017)
Next up on my list of states for singing was Kansas. However, for the weekend during which I would make my initial entry into Kansas, I decided to lodge in Kansas City, Missouri, which is very close to the Kansas state line, because it contains some sites I wished to take in. (Incidentally, there’s also a Kansas City in the state of Kansas, just across the Missouri River from its namesake city in Missouri. But the one in Kansas is small and boring and lacks any worthwhile attractions for visitors.) One of the sites that was on my to-do list for Missouri’s Kansas City is the National World War I Museum, and it more than justified its inclusion on my itinerary; I regard it as among the very best museums I’ve ever visited. It proved highly educational about a conflict that most Americans know comparatively little about. (Across town is another museum that I found to be well-conceived and nicely curated: the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. In my opinion, it’s a must for any baseball fan.)
There was one other item in Kansas City, Missouri that I’d long looked forward to gazing upon in person. You see, parking garages are usually ugly concrete structures. But in K.C., one garage differs dramatically from that norm. The parking garage (or car park, if you will) that serves the main branch of K.C.’s public library is built to resemble a shelf of classic books. For a literature geek like me, that faux bookshelf is quite a vision.
Karaoke in Overland Park
When it came time for karaoke, I Ubered my way from Kansas City, Missouri into the state of Kansas, taking a relatively brief ride to the town of Overland Park. There, at an establishment by the name of Freddy T’s, I sang a song by the group Kansas: “Carry On My Wayward Son.”
Kansas thus became state no. 33 on my American Karaoke Tour. The entirety of my visit to the Sunflower State consisted of my round-trip excursion to Freddy T’s from Kansas City, Missouri; I didn’t even stay overnight in Kansas. I would like to spend some time actually getting to know at least a part of Kansas. And it would behoove me not to wait indefinitely before doing so, seeing as how all we are is dust in the wind. 🙂
7. Minneapolis, Minnesota (July 2017)
Minneapolis was one of the American cities in which I had the most fun in 2017. I met up with multiple friends in Minneapolis: Gary, an award-winning travel photographer who showed me an exhibition of some of his work; Dave, who drove me around and enabled me to experience far more of the city than I otherwise could have; and Veronica, a friend with whom I used to karaoke in New York, who now lives in “The Minny” and met up with me for karaoke.
While Minneapolis is notorious for its bitterly cold winters (as a result of which its downtown is criscrossed by skywalks between buildings, to minimize the time its pedestrians need to spend outside), it also offers many outdoor recreational opportunities. I enjoyed taking in such locales as Lake Calhoun and Minnehaha Falls – and it was actually quite comfortable to do so during the summer weekend when I was in town.
Karaoke in Minneapolis
Veronica and I spent a most entertaining evening singing, evoking memories of so many entertaining karaoke nights in bygone days in New York. My initial song was Prince’s “Purple Rain,” paying tribute to the Minneapolis-born musical legend who tragically died in 2016.
Back when Veronica was a New Yorker, we sometimes sang duets as the Horsham Twins – an homage to Horsham, the town in England where she’s originally from. My night at the Moose featured a Horsham Twins reunion! We sang the Horsham Twins’ signature song: “We Like to Party,” by the Vengaboys.
Minnesota thus became state no. 34 on my American Karaoke Tour. But wait, there’s more! The good times at the Moose weren’t confined to karaoke; Veronica and I crashed a wedding reception that was being held in the bar’s basement. I have to tell you, the wedding cake was quite delicious. 🙂 Eventually we were caught by a member of the bar staff and ejected from the wedding; but we were permitted to remain upstairs in the main bar area. Thus concluded the only one of several hundred karaoke nights in my life during which my activities at the karaoke venue included showing up as an uninvited attendee at a wedding.
8. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (July 2017)
My journey to Pittsburgh wasn’t about adding a new state to my World Karaoke Tour. My parents grew up in the Pennsylvanian city of Philadelphia, and I still retain a bunch of relatives and friends in Philly; so I’ve spent far more time in the City of Brotherly Love than I could possibly tabulate, and I’ve had multiple karaoke outings in that city and the nearby suburb of Narberth. My first time karaokeing in Pennsylvania actually happened all the way back in 1993. One time I also karaoked in Pennsylvania’s capital city of Harrisburg. But I was eager to see Pittsburgh, a city that I’d heard great things about – and which is within day-trip range of Fallingwater, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house that had long occupied a position on my bucket list.
Pittsburgh didn’t disappoint. Geographically, the PGH is centered around the confluence of three rivers: the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. Pittsburgh’s downtown has been dubbed the “Golden Triangle” because it forms that geometric shape, with the 3-sided figure pointing to the location where the trio of rivers meet. An unforgettable vista in Pittsburgh is the view of the Golden Triangle and the junction of rivers, as seen from atop Mount Washington. (You take a funicular to ascend to that scenic lookout area.)
While Pittsburgh matched my expectations, Fallingwater exceeded them. Frank Lloyd Wright was a highly accomplished architect, with a slew of acclaimed buildings to his credit. For my money, Fallingwater is the very best of them. Perched dramatically over a waterfall within a forest, Fallingwater represents the perfect integration of a building with its physical setting. I wouldn’t have wanted to live in it myself, because the windows lack drapes, blinds, or any other coverings (as is common in Wright-designed homes); so I would have been constantly awakened early in the morning by the sunlight streaming in through the bare windows. 🙂
Karaoke in Pittsburgh
Joining me for karaoke at Stinky’s were my friend Steve; and Liz, who had previously been an online friend and became an IRL friend. Liz also introduced me to her friend Kelli, whom I’m proud to also now count as a friend. I sang a duet with Liz. Well, actually, I sang two duets with her. The Facebook video transmission of our initial song, “I Got You Babe,” ceased shortly after the start of the song due to those pesky WiFi issues, thus truncating the video. The transmission and recording of our second song, “Summer Nights,” was much more successful.
I was flattered when Kelli, who would sing the national anthem at the start of a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game several weeks later, asked me to perform a duet with her. That particular collaboration, however, was not recorded.
As mentioned above, I made my Pennsylvania karaoke debut long before I stepped foot in Pittsburgh. Thus, following my weekend in the city named for 18th-century British Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder, the number of states on my American Karaoke Tour held steady at 34.
9. Las Vegas, Nevada (August 2017)
Not only was Nevada not a new state for me; but when I winged my way to Las Vegas in August, I was heading to Sin City for the 10th consecutive year! The past 7 of my descents upon Las Vegas have been for the purpose of attending the annual Trivia Championships of North America (TCONA), which is always held in Vegas.
During my many journeys to Las Vegas, I’ve taken in just about all the attractions in that desert city that interest me. Moreover, as TCONA has evolved since its inception in 2011, the schedule of events has become jam-packed. That leaves me with very little time to wander around the city outside of my hotel in which the conference is held. Still, I always manage to fit in some blackjack and karaoke; and 2017 was no exception. With regard to my luck at the blackjack tables in 2017: the less said, the better. 🙂 On the other hand, my karaokeing in Las Vegas, v. 10.0, is worth discussing – partly because it involved a new wrinkle.
Karaoke in Las Vegas
My newest Vegas karaoke adventure this time around involved singing in a karaoke-equipped Uber vehicle. I’d already previously ridden in karaoke-equipped taxis and Ubers in Washington, DC and Taipei, Taiwan; and I was excited to now be doing so in a third city! Jesse Fullen, the operator of Vegas’s version of the karaoke Uber, had reached out to me about half a year prior to TCONA without even knowing that I had firm plans to be in town in August. Naturally, I enthusiastically took him up on his invitation to ride along in his vehicle and sing in it.
One disappointment during the ride: my friend Drew, a fellow TCONA attendee, had promised to join me for my ride with Jesse. Drew took a nap late that afternoon, overslept, and wasn’t around when Jesse drove up at the pre-arranged time to the hotel that hosts TCONA. Thus I was left without a videographer. While Jesse’s car actually contains video recording equipment, the only way I could send one of my customary live karaoke video streams over Facebook was for Jesse himself hold my phone that I use as the source of the video feed. Of course, he couldn’t do this while driving, so I had to perform my first song while we were pulled over on the side of the road. You could argue that singing in a motionless car kind of defeats the purpose of singing in a karaoke Uber in the first place. 🙂 Anyway that initial song was one of my long-time standards: “At This Moment” by Billy Vera & the Beaters.
While Jesse and I motored around Las Vegas, I belted out some additional songs. Jesse did record these encore numbers via his dashboard-mounted camera: “Nobody Told Me” by John Lennon, and “My Life” by Billy Joel. You can watch them here and here, respectively. Granted, given the camera angle it’s hard to tell from these videos that Jesse’s car was now moving. 🙂
When I flew home from my latest outing to Las Vegas, the number of states on my American Karaoke Tour still remained at 34. But that total was about to resume increasing.
10. Des Moines, Iowa (August 2017)
Many folks think of Iowa as an agrarian hinterland. Certainly, the state’s roads are lined with their share of the cornfields that are emblematic of agriculture in the midwestern U.S. It’s also true that even in the capital city of Des Moines, the best-known activity is the annual state fair; and a state fair is a prototypical celebration of rural Americana. However, Des Moines is an up-and-coming destination that has attracted a large contingent of hipsters as residents, and which boasts an increasingly vibrant arts scene. For now, though, it’s true that the really interesting sights for visitors are outside the city limits, in nearby Madison County.
That county features the iconic covered bridges, dating back to the 19th century, that will be familiar to readers of the novel The Bridges of Madison County and viewers of its film adaptation. Also in Madison County, in the town of Winterset, you can tour the home in which the actor John Wayne – a legendary star of the genre of movies known as “Westerns” – was born, as well as an adjacent museum documenting Mr. Wayne’s life and career. I was fortunate enough for my friends Jennifer and Gary, who live in Des Moines, to take me to see some of the covered bridges as well as the John Wayne birthplace and museum. I also did manage to take in the state fair.
Karaoke in Des Moines
One thing that was excellent in Des Moines was the karaoke. I chose a venue called AJ’s on East Court. Joining me there were Jennifer and Gary, as well as another Des Moinian friend, Jill. My first number, selected in recognition of my presence in America’s heartland, was a John J. Mellencamp song, “Hurts So Good”:
I would also like to share with you my second song from that evening: “Blister in the Sun,” by The Violent Femmes. This video is notable not so much for the song itself, but for what happened during it. A man who was dancing with his girlfriend near me in the singing area kept trying to sing along with me, without my permission. That intrusion was a blatant violation of karaoke etiquette. As you’ll see, I didn’t tolerate such boorish behaviour. 🙂
Iowa thus became state no. 35 on my American Karaoke Tour. It wasn’t the first state in which a (probably intoxicated) individual attempted to barge in on my song; a similar incident had occurred in Burbank, California in 2012. In both cases, I didn’t permit the offender to usurp my song. 🙂
11. Detroit, Michigan (August 2017)
As the epicenter of the once-dominant U.S. automobile industry, Detroit – which still goes by the sobriquet of “The Motor City” and “Motown” – grew into a robust town that ranked as high as fourth in the U.S. in population. Detroit is also where Motown Records, the label that launched the careers of countless musical artists and gave us so many beloved and timeless songs, was founded. But in the closing decades of the 20th century, Detroit fell upon hard times as its once-mighty automakers faltered and many residents decamped to the surrounding suburbs. The deterioration and decay of parts of the city reached such extremes that Detroit was featured as a cautionary tale on an episode of the television series Life After People.
More recently, however, Detroit has enjoyed a renaissance. Its downtown has been rebuilt and re-energized, and the Motor City now boasts a surging bar and restaurant scene. Crime has plummeted. Further enhancing my visit, I hung out with a few friends who make their homes in the Detroit area: Dan and Sandy, who drove me to such outstanding attractions as the Motown Museum and the highly underrated Detroit Institute of Art; and Rebecca, who joined Dan, Sandy, and me for dinner and karaoke. Our dinner was at a Greek restaurant in Detroit’s bustling and historic Greektown neighbourhood.
Karaoke in a Detroit suburb
My Detroit-area karaoke night happened in the nearby suburb of Madison Heights. I felt compelled to honour the melodious sound that was born in Detroit by performing a Motown song – specifically, “My Girl” by The Temptations.
Michigan thus became state no. 36 on my American Karaoke Tour. And performing a Motown standard made for the perfect prelude to my tour of the Motown Museum the next morning.
12. Omaha, Nebraska (September 2017)
Omaha is best known for two things: steak, and Warren Buffett. I don’t eat steak, and although I invited Mr. Buffett to join me at karaoke, the multi-billionaire never responded to my email. (It wasn’t as crazy as you might think for me to ask Mr. Buffett, the third-wealthiest person in America, to come along for a night of H-Bomb karaoke. He enjoys singing in public, frequently to the accompaniment of a ukelele that he plays. He’s also known for his “regular guy” persona; so it wouldn’t have been out of character for him to show up at a random watering hole – although as a teetotaler, he would have been imbibing Coca-Cola, his favourite beverage. And I had nothing to lose in asking him.) Anyhoo, despite the snub, I still managed to enjoy my first visit to Nebraska.
Anchoring my weekend was a jaunt to Boys Town, about 10 miles west of Omaha. Boys Town was founded in 1917 by the Irish-born Father Edward Flanagan as a community for orphaned or wayward boys. A 1938 Hollywood film, Boys Town, told the story of Father Flanagan. For his portrayal of the subject priest in that movie, Spencer Tracy won his second consecutive Best Actor Oscar. (Tracy had also been named Best Actor the previous year for his role in Captains Courageous). Mickey Rooney also starred in that flick.
A century after its establishment, I was surprised to learn that Boys Town is still in operation! As society has changed, so has the community’s focus; there aren’t as many orphans these days, and many of its residents instead come from dysfunctional homes. Also, Boys Town began admitting girls in 1979. There are also satellite Boys Town campuses in some other cities, although they’re all much smaller than the one in Nebraska. I spent hours on a self-guided tour of Boys Town’s Nebraska campus, and learned much about the institution’s history.
Karaoke in Omaha
Although I had to venture outside of Omaha to excurse to Boys Town, my Nebraska karaoke debut happened within the city limits – and of course, sans Warren Buffett. As Nebraska was the final state from the U.S.’s Midwest region on my American Karaoke Tour, it seemed appropriate to go with a John J. Mellencamp song. I opted for “Small Town.”
Nebraska thus became state no. 37 on my American Karaoke Tour. And Mr. Buffett had missed out on an unforgettable evening of fun. 🙂 (If you’re wondering about how I got the selfie in front of his house that appears at the top of this blog post, here’s the story: the legendarily frugal Mr. Buffett has resided in the same dwelling, on a quiet and rather generic Omaha street, since 1958. It’s not like he lives in a gated community or a mega-mansion. I won’t post his address publicly, but it’s easy to find via Google. I Ubered right up to his house. And his security guards yelled mean things at me through loudspeakers outside the house while I was taking photos. But I got my selfie, so it’s all good.)
13. Salt Lake City, Utah (September 2017)
In 1847, Brigham Young and a group of his fellow “Mormon Pioneers” settled in the Great Salt Lake Valley. That settlement evolved into Salt Lake City (SLC), and has been dominated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known informally as the LDS Church or the Mormon Church) ever since. Indeed, SLC serves as the worldwide headquarters of the LDS Church. The focal point of Salt Lake City is Temple Square, the crown jewels of which are the distinctive Salt Lake Temple (dedicated in 1893); and the Salt Lake Tabernacle (more commonly called the Mormon Tabernacle), which is home to the globally renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
While sleeping after my arrival in SLC on a Friday night, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling sick, and only ended up with about three hours of zzz’s. Due to my discomfort and fatigue, I engaged in limited sightseeing on Saturday. I watched an organist rehearsing on the spectacular pipe organ in the Mormon Tabernacle and took a tour of Temple Square; then I returned to my hotel to rest up. Still, given my exhaustion and my feeling under the weather, I doubted whether I would be able to muster the requisite energy for a karaoke performance in the evening. But I took a nap. That nap proved unexpectedly and remarkably restorative.
Karaoke in Salt Lake City
Fortunately, upon awakening from my afternoon nap, I felt sufficiently recharged to venture out to karaoke that night. And it went really well! My song, “Wonderwall” by Oasis, has nothing to do with Utah. I chose it for the following reason: Earlier in the month, after flying to Prague, I accidentally left my Kindle in the seatback pocket in front of me on the plane when disembarking, and never recovered it. So I had to purchase a replacement Kindle; and my new e-reader bore the model name “Kindle Oasis.” That inspired me to do a song by the band Oasis. 🙂
Utah had become state no. 38 on my American Karaoke Tour. Despite my illness, I had rallied and wouldn’t need to make a repeat visit to Utah to make my karaoke debut in that state! I may return to Salt Lake City at some point, but if I do, it will be by choice. 🙂
14. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (October 2017)
If I was going to complete all 50 states, I was going to have to get to Oklahoma Sooner or later. (See what I did there? 🙂 ) So I went to Oklahoma City (OKC). Sadly, OKC is probably best-known to most Americans as the city where Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck filled with explosives outside the Alfred P. Murrah Building on an April morning in 1995; the resulting explosion killed 150 people. An essential part of my time in OKC was a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. The museum relates comprehensively the events of that awful day in 1995, as well as the aftermath – culminating with the execution of McVeigh and the sentencing to life imprisonment of his co-conspirator, Terry Nichols. Outside next to the museum is as poignant memorial to the victims of the bombing. Reminiscent in many ways of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, some portions of the museum are upsetting and emotionally wrenching to pass through; but I believe that both museums (the one in NYC and the one in OKC) are valuable for reminding us that there’s evil in the world.
Of course, the atrocity that occurred in 1995 doesn’t and shouldn’t define OKC. My wanderings there also brought me to, among other things, the American Banjo Museum, a unique institution that presents the history of that musical instrument and also displays a plethora of vintage banjos dating back to the early 20th century. The museum proved quite informative for someone like me who hadn’t been familiar with too many banjo players other than Kermit the Frog and Steve Martin. 🙂 For instance, did you know that banjo music was insanely popular in the U.S. during the 1920s – a decade that’s often termed the Jazz Age? (Technically, the Jazz Age wasn’t perfectly co-extensive with the decade, as it’s often said to have had its inception with the end of World War I in 1918, and it came to an abrupt halt with the stock market crash in October 1929. But let’s not get too granular here. 🙂 ) It was also fascinating to see the exquisitely beautiful banjos in the display cases – many adorned with elaborate painted images.
Karaoke in Oklahoma City
For karaoke in OKC, I opened with a very Oklahoma-y song: “Okie from Muskogee,” by Merle Haggard. Here’s a video of approximately the first two minutes of my rendition of it:
Unfortunately, my live Facebook transmission of “Okee from Muskogee” suddenly ceased at the point where this video terminates, and the rest of the song wasn’t broadcast or captured on video. So I followed with another song, which you can watch below in its entirety: David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”
Oklahoma had become state no. 39 on my American Karaoke Tour. And that night at the Don Quixote Club I made a new friend, Stefanie, who instantly became one of the most loyal and supportive followers of my karaoke tour and travels. So Stefanie, if you’re reading this, thanks for being a fan and for virtually tagging along on my journeys!
15. Burlington, Vermont (October 2017)
Roadside Americana is a unique aspect of my country. You can find the quirkiest buildings and objects placed, seemingly randomly, along the U.S.’s and highways and byways. For example, in Burlington, in an overgrown field just off Flynn Avenue, you can see what purports to be the world’s tallest filing cabinet. Containing 38 drawers and rising to a height of just over 40 feet inclusive of the base, it was installed in 2002. You may wonder: why did its sculptor, architect Bren Alvarez, choose a giant filing cabinet as her subject? Well, at the time of its creation, a project to build a roadway to ease traffic problems was languishing; and Alvarez intended to satirize urban planning and bureaucracy. The road construction plan had first been proposed in 1965, and so Alvarez’s public artwork includes one drawer for each year that the road had remained unbuilt (1965 to 2002). As far as I can tell from my research, as of 2018, the road – which was to be called the Champlain Parkway – still has yet to begin construction. No word on whether Ms. Alvarez plans to stack any additional drawers atop her sculpture to represent the additional 16 years that have now elapsed.
While the supertall filing cabinet is hella-awesome, Vermont is much better known for a pair of food products: maple syrup and the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand. However, during my visit to Burlington, I didn’t partake of any activities related to either of those delicious treats (although the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour is quite popular). Nor did I explore Vermont’s stunning fall foliage, even though my venture into Vermont came in the heart of the autumn season. Instead, I chose to tour a teddy bear factory. The Vermont Teddy Bear Company is itself an iconic Vermont-based manufacturer, which produces some 500,000 hand-crafted teddy bears per annum. And teddy bears are really adorbs! Being that my tour was on a Sunday, the factory floor was not in operation; the employees who make the bears only work Mondays through Fridays. But I received a comprehensive overview of the process by which the company creates and distributes its stuffed ursines. My tour even included the “hospital” that repairs damaged teddy bears that customers send in.
Karaoke in Burlington
Ever since the beginning of 2017, I’d wanted to karaoke a Billy Joel song that describes events set in that year: “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway).” (That song was one of the tracks on an album released in 1976.) In Burlington in mid-October, I realized that with the year winding down, my chances to sing “Miami 2017” while we were still living in 2017 were dwindling. So I decided to finally perform that song.
Vermont had become state no. 40 on my American karaoke tour. Now that I’d reached that milestone, I really felt like I’d entered the home stretch, and the goal of completing all 50 states was firmly in my sights!
16. Manchester, New Hampshire
Manchester has a rich industrial heritage. This historical legacy is on display in the Millyard District, which was once home to a thriving textile industry. Today, the district is home to a number of technology companies. Its past continues to be celebrated in the Millyard Museum; and in the form of a sculpture known as the “Mill Girl,” who represents working women in 19th century industry.
Did you know that there are not one but two Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Manchester? One of them, the Zimmerman House, offers guided public tours. I took one of those tours, making the Zimmerman House the third Frank Lloyd Wright House I’d walked through in 2017 – joining Taliesin West in Arizona and Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. The Zimmerman House was built in 1951. (The other Wright-designed home in Manchester, the Toufic H. Kalil House – also erected in the 1950s – is a privately owned and occupied residence. Although random strangers like me aren’t permitted to enter the Kalil abode, I was able to Uber over to it and glimpse and photograph its exterior.)
Karaoke in Manchester
My karaoke appearance in Manchester took place on a Saturday 3 nights prior to Halloween. Thus, in addition to its weekly karaoke night, McGarvey’s was hosting a Halloween party. I was probably the only customer on the premises who wasn’t in costume. (Hey, preparing for my travels is time-consuming enough without also worrying about procuring a Halloween costume. Plus, it would be challenging to stuff a costume into my carry-on suitcase on top of the clothing and necessary supplies that I already pack for any weekend getaway. 🙂 ) But I did get into the spirit of the occasion (pun intended) by choosing a song that’s a Halloween classic: “Monster Mash.”
I’d love to be able to show you a video of me singing “Monster Mash.” But when I finished the song, I discovered that my phone’s 4G reception had cut out almost as soon as the song started, which had the effect of putting the kibosh on my Facebook transmission. So there’s no video of me doing the “Monster Mash.” (The same result probably would have obtained if I’d used WiFi instead of 4G for my attempted Facebook broadcast; the bar’s WiFi signal was weak.) So you’ll just have to take my word for it when I tell you that my performance was a graveyard smash. 🙂 For the second song that I’d submitted a slip for, I planned to have someone record on my smartphone an MP4 video of me karaokeing, which I could then upload to YouTube.
But I never got the chance to perform a second song at McGarvey’s. Instead of gradually working new singers into a rotation, the incompetent insisted that he wouldn’t let me sing for a second time until every patron who wanted to – regardless of the lateness of their arrival – had sung at least once. The estimated time until song no. 2 that the KJ quoted to me kept getting longer and longer. As well,the KJ needed to pause the karaoke for a while to judge a Halloween costume contest. Finally, about 2 hours after “Monster Mash,” the KJ informed me that he wasn’t going to get to my encore song at all before closing time. The end result: for the first time since Alsaka in 2013 (which at the time became state no. 14 on my American Karaoke Tour), I came away from a U.S. state with no video to document my karaokeing in that state.
Despite the disappointing lack of a video, New Hampshire had become state no. 41 on my American Karaoke Tour. For Halloween 2018, I hope to again sing “Monster Mash” in a city outside of NYC – and to generate a video of it this time!
17. Albuquerque, New Mexico
The vibe in Albuquerque probably would have been quite different prior to 2008. That was the year when the television program Breaking Bad premiered; and ever since then, Albuquerque (affectionately dubbed “the Q”) by its residents has gained fame as the setting for that series. During my sojourn in the Q, I visited the house that was used as Walter White’s domicile in Breaking Bad, as well as the fast-food eatery that portrayed Los Pollos Hermanos on the show; and I was driven by the carwash that appeared in Breaking Bad as a carwash that Walter White and his wife operated.
In the Q, I hung out with my friend Sara, a burqueña (the feminime form of the demonym for a denizen of Albuquerque). She generously drove me all around her city, and also took me to karaoke. Sadly, I accidentally deleted from my phone my photos of many of the sights that Sara showed me – such as an art deco theatre, and a gorgeous and historic hotel that opened in 1939 as the first Hilton property outside of Texas. (Today it’s an elegant, independently-owned boutique hotel called the Andaluz. It’s also reputedly haunted, but I digress.) Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels and a great-grandfather of Paris Hilton, was actually born in New Mexico.
Karaoke in Albuquerque
When I stepped up to the mic in Albuquerque, barely more than 2 weeks remained until Christmas. That called for an appropriately festive song. Every year, I enjoy singing “Feliz Navidad” during the run-up to Yuletide; and in 2017, I sang it in Albuquerque.
New Mexico had become state no. 42 on my American Karaoke Tour – and the 14th new state on that tour in 2017! As 2017 drew to a close, I’d been to 42 U.S. states and karaoked in all 42!
Parting thoughts and what’s ahead
As I write this blog post in February 2018, I only have 8 states remaining to complete my project of visiting and singing in the entire set of 50 U.S. states! (In case you’re wondering, in addition to those 42 states, I’ve karaoked in the national capital of Washington, D.C. – many times. Living in D.C. for 3 years while I attended law school there greatly facilitated that. 🙂 )
Firm plans are in place for me to check off my final 8 states by the end of 2018. In order, the first part of that schedule calls for me to travel to Biloxi, Mississippi; Little Rock Arkansas; Boise, Idaho; Fargo, North Dakota; Casper, Wyoming; Billings, Montana; and Martinsburg, West Virginia — all by early July. Then, in late December, Hawaii – which joined the U.S. as its 50th state in 1959 – will become my 50th state! My drive to 50 promises plenty of exciting experiences – beginning with Biloxi, which I’m headed to this coming weekend!