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The Reluctant Adventurer: Voicebox Karaoke

Friday, October 03, 2014


photo credit: iStock

Much like falling in love or the meatballs at Ikea, karaoke always seems like a great idea, but almost never is.

When friends suggest it, I imagine myself rocking the living crap out of "Bohemian Rhapsody," the entire bar raising their glasses and lighters, swaying their arms back and forth and joyfully singing along.

What actually happens is that we spend 90 percent of our night listening to Joe from Mollala’s friends earnestly sing most of Travis Tritt’s catalog while waiting for the name of someone—ANYONE—from our party to be called to sing. We get a short burst of comedy relief when our friend Ted sings a weirdly spot-on version of “Oops, I Did It Again,” but the reality of an evening of karaoke is that it’s mostly just a night of drinking with The Worst Soundtrack in the World.

So when a close friend recently suggested karaoke, I agreed because I love my friends so much that if one of them called and said they were all going to brew their own kombucha and try ecstatic dance, I’d probably do it.

Not What I Expected 

What I didn’t realize is that I was agreeing to THE GREATEST NIGHT OF KARAOKE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.


She’d reserved a room at Voicebox Karaoke in SE Portland. The difference with Voicebox is that for $50-$125 an hour, you reserve an entire room for you and your friends, so Joe from Molalla can’t spoil your fun. Man, I hate that guy.

In most of the rooms, the walls are lined with couches and there’s one big table in the center. There are televisions with lyrics at either end of the room, so you can face whichever way you like. Each room gets two wireless mics, and everyone can find songs and control the song list using their cell phones. 

The thing is, even the most introverted person usually has at least one song they sing at the top of their lungs when it comes on their car stereo.

For me, that song is “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel. I’m not proud of it, but I’m telling you this because I love and trust you. 

So I put that on the list. But it turns out, after two or three or seven sake-infused cocktails (their specialty), it turns out EVERY song is a song you want to sing at the top of your lungs. Even that “Somethin’s tellin’ me it might be you…” song from the end of Tootsie.

Because singing in front of strangers is akin to one of the circles of hell for most people, the great thing about having a private space is that the room is free to turn into a drunken Irish pub, with everyone joining in on the sweet, poignant songs of their youth, like “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Me So Horny” or “I Want Your Sex.”

The Nerves Melt Away

I was there with five friends, one of them a definite introvert, and once we got enough cocktails in us, we were all free to let loose with our deepest, most humiliating guilty pleasure anthems. It became like group therapy, but if the group were lead by David Coverdale from Whitesnake.

Sure, every once in a while our waitress came in to replenish our pitchers of courage, but I would imagine the waitresses at karaoke bars are sworn to the same client/provider confidentiality agreements as lawyers or therapists. What gets screamed in the private karaoke suite, stays in the private karaoke suite. Except that sound actually carries and some of it is going to escape under the door. There’s nothing they can do about that.

Watching one person sing a song horribly is funny for about 30 seconds. Singing along with someone singing a song horribly is fun for everyone for the entirety of the song. (Unless there’s a ridiculously long instrumental break. Those should be outlawed.) 

By the end of the night, my throat was completely raw and I felt like I’d released some major demons. I think most of them came out during George Michael’s “Freedom.” So I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

So if your friend asks you if you want to go out to karaoke, you should agree to it on two conditions: you get a private room, and everyone sings. 

Oh, and there needs to be alcohol. Sober karaoke is like a sober first date. It’s awkward, quiet and no one ever makes the first move.

Voicebox Karaoke

RECOMMENDED FOR: Closet singers, introverted song-screamers, anyone who thinks Prince would make a great therapist.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Joe from Molalla.

Courtenay Hameister is the Head Writer and Co-Producer of Live Wire Radio, a syndicated radio variety show distributed by Public Radio International. She is currently working on a book that will be released through Audible.com in 2015. Follow Courtenay on Twitter at @wisenheimer

Banner Photo Credit: iStock


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