Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Archive II: Karaoke Sandbagger (or Stories from Lincolnton Nightlife)

Short of goat news (and I think y'all are probably goated out by now) I don't have much to contribute creatively so I'll reach back and pull an archived essay from Memorial Day.

One of the things I have noticed about Lincolnton is that there is not much nightlife. When I pointed out the lack of bars, clubs & lounges to Marty one night, he pointed out that we were deep in The Bible Belt. And not just The Bible Belt. But The Baptist Bible Belt. Churches – we got. But bars?

Up until last night (May 29th) I knew of 2 “bars” in Lincolnton. One, was at Fatz – a restaurant chain akin to Applebee’s or Chili’s. I don’t know about Fatz’s in other parts of the world, but the Lincolnton Fatz is quite the hot spot. Seriously. Several years ago, we were down visiting my in-laws and Fatz had just opened. My mother-in-law pointed it out and commented on how popular it was. Marty & I rolled our eyes in the backseat of the car. We were from New York. Chain restaurants like Fatz were not popular and packed on a Saturday night. Babbo was. Grammercy Tavern was. Le Bernadin was. But Fatz?

I figured Fatz was not in my future but on our second night in town (incidentally a Saturday) we found ourselves in need of some place to eat at 9:45 p.m. Short of driving 20 minutes to Hickory or hitting the McDonald’s drive through, Fatz was the only place open until 11 p.m. in town. So we went. And ate dinner. And it was…fine. There was no culinary revolution, but after a long day of unpacking, the fact that I could get a glass of average wine and a Cobb salad was a welcome relief. I didn’t check out the bar at Fatz, but Marty went to grab a beer when the waiter forgot to bring the one he ordered (let’s just say these guys didn’t graduate from the Danny Meyer school of service). He indicated that the bar was probably a better place to eat than the tables and so it seemed that the bar was more of a dining alternative (with potentially better service) and not a place to come party.

The second bar is actually a bar. It’s called Rock Garden and it’s located in a small shopping complex about a mile down the road from the house. Marty told me about it and when I found out that our sleepy little town actually had a place where people went for the purpose of drinking and hanging out, I told Marty I was going to check it out one night. “Research,” I called it.

“I wouldn’t go alone,” he said. Apparently Marty had been to Rock Garden when he stayed here a few weeks last summer. He said it was sort of divey, perhaps just a little seedy, and not a place where a pretty girl like me sits at the bar by herself and nurses a Chardonnay. Unless of course I was looking to be picked up. By some country boys. Or bikers. Or both. So I asked if he would take me one night and he agreed but one night never came and I feared that I would never experience what little Lincolnton had to offer in the way of nightlife.

Monday. Memorial Day weekend. Marty & I had been out all day. We had driven up to the mountains and then stopped at the local brewery in Hickory for a few drinks and an early dinner. We had no intention of going out, but our houseguest, Kelly, had been cooped up for 2 days straight and wanted to grab “a beer or 2” to clear his head. Our neighbor Carl was over giving me a lesson in Hickory geography (which I will save for another tale as frankly, it’s too painful to address) and Kelly invited us to join. So at 9:30pm on a Monday night of a holiday weekend, the four of us piled into the car and headed down the road to Rock Garden. I confess that I was anxious with anticipation. What would this adventure yield in terms of material? Was Rock Garden really that scary?
Rock Garden (which is officially called Rock Garden Private Club & Sports Bar – I am not sure what about it qualifies as private) was closed. Not a total surprise seeing as this was after all a holiday weekend. People were home with their families. Barbequing. Memorializing. And this late – probably sleeping.

Carl – who has lived in the house next door for 50 years said that he had never been to Rock Garden – but that there were 2 bars he liked to go to. One – was a Country & Western bar called The Silver Bullet that’s only open on Friday and Saturday nights. Not an option for us that Monday. But he said Zipper’s was pretty good.

Zipper’s? That little hole-in-the-wall grill in the parking lot in front of Wal-Mart? The very same one according to Carl. They serve a good breakfast, he said, and there’s apparently a bar attached to the side. So it was off to Zipper’s. There were a handful of cars and a larger handful of Harley’s in the parking lot. The place was surprisingly packed.

We walked in to a smoke-filled strip that instantly made me long for the no-smoking laws of New York and New Jersey. The strip –was just as Carl described – attached to a little grill with plastic tables and chairs that reminded me of a place called Dewey’s I used to go to in Woodstock when I was a kid (I know that doesn’t help any of you but it gives me a good frame of reference).

There wasn’t much to the bar. The bar itself. A dozen or so stools. A trivia machine on the far end. All I can say it was a far cry from the bars I tend to frequent in New York.

We drew stares as we walked to the end of the bar – maybe because we were strangers. Maybe because we were thin. Maybe because I had my 3-carat engagement rock glistening on my finger. I felt better that we were with Carl who is definitely a local.

Ninety-percent of the time, when I go to a bar, I order white wine. I’ll even drink white wine at Fatz. But Zipper’s isn’t exactly a wine bar. In fact, when I looked at the selection of booze behind the bar, I couldn’t spot a recognizable brand of vodka anywhere. As far as I could tell, it was mainly Well brands on the shelf behind the bar with a few familiar faces – Beam, Malibu, Wild Turkey – thrown in.

We ordered 4 Bud Light bottles and settled into a corner of the bar. I surveyed the patrons. Mostly men. Many who looked they belonged to the assorted motorcycles parked out front. A few women – maybe 6. One or two with boyfriends. The rest seemingly single. They had spent too many hours in the tanning bed and had fried hair styled circa 1986. One of them could have used some upper body support. The crowd was older – 40s, 50s – maybe 60s.

It didn’t take long to figure out that it was a karaoke night at Zipper’s. As we sipped our beers, we were bombarded with one worse song after another. These people – were for the most part – a terrible bunch of singers (save for one guy named Joe who sounded exactly like Johnny Cash). Simon Cowell would have had to walk out of there. People were off key. Off pitch. Off tempo. Out of tune. It was bad. Worse than bad. It was offensive to the ear. Even worse was that I didn’t know the majority of songs being sung. It was all Country music – which I like by the way. It was just Country songs I didn’t know.

I should pause for a moment to bring you back to our houseguest, Kelly. The one who wanted to go out in the first place. Kelly is a professional singer. He has been in bands, performing and on the road for the better part of the last 30 years. He has 20+ albums to his credit and has worked with some real talented musicians in his life. He is currently the vocalist and second half of Paris Keeling – Marty’s band – and he is living with us for a few months while they work on the album.

I asked Kelly a few weeks ago if he ever sang karaoke. He laughed at me. I suppose it’d be like asking Wolfgang Puck if he ever gets the urge to go behind the counter at McDonald’s and make himself an Egg McMuffin.

Still – as soon as we discovered it was karaoke night – we started to needle him. “Come on Kelly – just sing a song.” Kelly – who has no problem getting on stage in front of thousands of people – clams up in smaller settings. Too intimate for him. He doesn’t like to be face to face with his audience. And Zipper’s was intimate – no doubt.

But Carl plied him with a shot of Wild Turkey and we begged and pleaded and maybe after hearing so many bad renditions he decided he had to do it himself. So Kelly put his name down to sing the Beatle’s song “Oh Darling.” It’s not a Beatle’s song I know – and I was pretty sure the song choice would not sit well with the locals who seemed to favor Hank Williams and LeAnn Rimes. But it was a song Kelly knew well and one he liked to sing.

About 10 minutes later, Kelly was up. He was handed a microphone. When most people were handed the mic, they slunk back against the wall and waited in nervous anticipation for their song to begin. Not Kelly. He introduced himself. Mentioned Paris Keeling. Talked about the album he was working on. He was working the room. In fact – he was talking so much he missed the opening line of the song. But he slid right into it like Cinderella into her glass slipper.

A karaoke sandbagger.

At first, the bar became eerily quiet. No one else’s performance had commanded this much attention.

As Kelly hit each note with force and perfect pitch, people responded. They whistled. They whooped. I even heard one man exclaim: “He can sing for a white boy.”

One of the permed and tanned single gals sat down next to Kelly and leaned against him while he sang. If he noticed (which later he told me he did) he didn’t let on. Ever the professional, he put heart and soul into that performance, and when it was done, the bar rewarded him with a round of raucous applause that had heretofore not been heard. The woman running the karaoke handed him the book of songs, flipped open to the Beatles section. “Anything you want,” she said.

Kelly sang three more songs. When he sang Hey Jude (another favorite) he got the entire bar involved and we all joined in on the Na Na Na Nas and the Hey Judes.

You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC did not seem to move the crowd as much although Kelly sang it brilliantly.

And his final performance was a duet with me. Unforgettable. And while Kelly did Nat King Cole proud, let’s just say my performance was fairly unforgettable. In fact, it was less of a duet and more of a solo as I let Kelly sing most of my part too.

But Zipper’s has karaoke every night but Wednesday’s. So I’ve told Kelly I’ll practice and we’ll try again next week.

If that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

P.S. I have since actually been to Rock Garden (now closed for 3 months while they relocate) and have a new outlook on Fatz (for another post).


Fairy God Sister said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fairy God Sister said...

I'm breaking out into hives just reading these posts. And I thought being forced to go into Macy's at the Mall at Short Hills was torture. God bless you Sarah; Marty is one lucky cowboy.

4:41 PM