Sit in with the band

Friday, January 28, 2011

The list of karaoke songs is standard: "Love Shack," "Brown Eyed Girl," "Total Eclipse of the Heart." But at this karaoke night at the Clarendon bar Whitlow's on Wilson, the stakes are higher than at the stereotypical showcases of intoxicated singers squinting at lyrics, laughing as they miss the beat. At HariKaraoke, you perform with a live backing band, and a mediocre rendition can get you gonged.

"People love it, and they get up there and they sing their faces off," said Kenny Lewis, 48, who started HariKaraoke last year and drums with the supporting band.

The audience also participates, so be warned: If you don't bring your best George Thorogood, people will signal their dissatisfaction. On the other hand, if you play it up, people will support you, as they did when recent HariKaraoke star Collin Dwarzski, 22, sang "Bad to the Bone," leapt off the stage and threw his button-down shirt to a girl in the audience, who then pretended to faint.

The band rocks out, too. The expert musicianship elevates the singers and amps up the show for the audience. "I get people writing me [that] it was a great experience, to feel like a rock star, to get up there and sing with the band," Lewis said.

On HariKaraoke nights, there's a lot of talent in the house. Take flight attendant Adrienne Mach, 47, who got up to perform on a recent night with dark-rimmed glasses and blond hair hiding her face. She sang Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" so beautifully she earned a standing ovation and walked back to her corner bar stool while the crowd gave her hugs and high-fives.

You don't have to be Mach-good to perform, but you may want to plan what you'll sing before you show up. (Check out the list of songs on the band's Web site, Harikaraokeband.com.) You can also hide onstage behind a wig, a hot pink scarf, oversized shades or a wacky shirt that the band provides. A beer in hand might help, and, indeed, a special cup holder is attached to the microphone stand.

And if your song doesn't go well, the worst that can happen is you get to sit down. When a nervous-looking Nate Gross, 31, in glasses and pegged jeans, crooned "I Did It My Way," some in the crowd called for the gong while others screamed, "Leave him alone!"

Afterward, Gross, who started doing karaoke a couple of months ago, said singing was "just another thing to do to blow off steam. . . . You either go big or you go home. You have to enjoy yourself."

- Moira E. McLaughlin

Where is it? Whitlow's on Wilson Bar and Grill, 2854 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. www.harikaraokeband.com.

When is it? 9 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month. The sign-up sheet is available at 8:30 p.m.

How much is it? Free. (Liquid courage not included.)

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