If you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to be a star, sign up for Live Band Karaoke at the California Mid-State Fair.
Just like Alice Cooper, Pitbull, Meghan Trainor and Keith Urban, you’ll get to sing on stage in front of an audience at the Paso Robles Event Center.
Granted, thousands aren’t watching you, but it’s a thrill nonetheless.
I know. I’m not a rock star. But I was for a day on Monday.
I have to admit, it takes some nerve. I’ve done karaoke before, and failed miserably twice.
Once, I muddled my way through Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” at Silver Cloud in San Francisco before the crowd took over and finished the song for me, leaving me bobbin’ and steppin’ on stage. (A word of advice: Don’t sing a rap song unless you know the lyrics really well because they go by fast on the screen).
Another time in Colorado Springs, I botched Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and was gonged off the stage according to tradition at that particular establishment. Fortunately, the DJ liked the song and escorted me back on stage so we could finish it as a duo. Good rescue.
On Monday, I found myself in front of a modest daytime crowd of about 20 at Mission Square at the fairgrounds. It wasn’t exactly U2 selling out Madison Square Garden.
Still, those butterflies crept up: How am I going to sound? What song should I choose? How do I get the crowd involved? Should I dance?
Adam Donald, who operates Rock On! Live Band Karaoke based out of the Bay Area, said it’s best not to pick sad songs. (In other words, keep the party going; don’t bore the crowd.) He also advises: “Try to say something or have good stage presence to get the crowd involved.”
My first selection: “La Bamba,” as popularized by Ritchie Valens.
Once the band started playing and I got those first few lyrics out of the way, the stage was mine.
I’ve practiced the song before, so I knew the timing pretty well. Plus, it’s a peppy tune.
After hitting the first round of “Por ti seré” and “Yo no soy marinero” I was starting to feel it. As I went along, I was singing and dancing like I was in my living room and nobody was watching.
If the audience had been a little more rambunctious, or, eh, inebriated, at the 2 p.m. gathering, I’m sure I could have had people up and on their feet dancing right along with me.
But, alas, the leisurely group assembled to sip Bud Light and Coors on a 92-degree afternoon wasn’t cutting any rugs. Nonetheless, I received warm applause and a few compliments of “Good job, Nick.” I’ll take it.
Brandon Anicich, the fair band’s master of ceremonies this year, said he has watched people take the stage as nervous as can be and leave it feeling great about their experience.
Anicich is good at welcoming people to the stage — including Bella Soto, the young girl who sang “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen” on Monday.
She initially was glued to her chair, though it was clear she wanted to sing.
Once she was coaxed up on stage with her little brother, she sang in a high-pitched, melodic voice — looking out at the crowd a little tentatively.
What a cutie.
Bella stole the show after a cowboy named Eric killed it, singing “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams. Eric said the microphone could be “unforgiving,” but it seemed to treat him pretty well.
Once you get that taste for live band karaoke, it’s hard to stop. Next up for me was “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash.
Admittedly, this is a hard song to sing. Cash can never truly be imitated.
Still, I knew this would be a fun one, and I love that rhythm guitar. Plus, I was wearing mostly black.
When the music started playing, I saw more people walking past the stage stop and gawk.
“Who is this guy?” “Hey, that’s a good song.” I imagine that’s what they must have been thinking as Anicich and band leader Taavet Adamov jammed on their guitars and the drummer beat his sticks behind me.
I can’t get my voice as low as Cash’s, but I still had a blast. Hopefully he wasn’t rolling over in his grave.
I think he would have appreciated giving an amateur a thrill.
So here’s my advice to you: Go take a chance. Pick a song. You might bomb, but the crowd will still love you.