For many, karaoke conjures images of drunk people enthusiastically singing along to dated ballads with little regard for key or pitch.
As a karaoke regular at the Belmont House of Smoke, my pleas for karaoke night have been met more often with cringes than shared excitement from my musically-averse friends.
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Admittedly, the hobby brings out the unapologetically boisterous, which can be grating, particularly in conjunction with off-key, painfully loud singing. In Norfolk, however, karaoke has been more than an embarrassing hobby for me. It has been an opportunity to practice failing, meet new people, and participate in a judgment-free community dedicated to bringing out your best self.
The key to successful karaoke is to recognize that it isn’t an audition for The Voice. Karaoke does not require musical talent. The drunk kickball team sing-shouting “Tiny Dancer” occupies the same stage as the trained singer from the Virginia Opera, and both are applauded for having the courage to perform in whatever state of inebriation they found necessary. “Unconventional” renditions offer a chance to embrace your weaknesses and flaunt your passion. Michael Curbelo, who owns Klass Act Productions, the company that hosts karaoke throughout Ghent, says all types of people can and do participate in karaoke, even the quiet ones.
“A lot of it has to do with expressing themselves in a way that they can’t on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Many patrons use the stage to take a break from their normal identity, myself included. I went to karaoke for the first time over a year ago, and while I’ve always considered myself an extrovert, I had a lot of anxiety around public speaking and performance. Karaoke made it easy to embrace the embarrassing moments, and after building up my confidence, I felt comfortable enough to pursue new hobbies on the stage, including improv.
While the karaoke experience is what you make of it, Belmont has become my favorite local spot largely because of the people. Curbelo, who goes by DJ Mike Cee on Thursday nights, compares the Norfolk environment to his hometown in New York, noting that, “Ghent… is like the Village, just toned down a little bit. You’ve got a little bit of everything.”
While Klass Act Productions hosts karaoke at different local bars each night, including Cogan’s Pizza and Colley Cantina, Belmont in particular brings out a variety of different people. After more than a year of regular attendance, I’ve seen office dinners, birthday parties, and a lot of kickball teams, all with an energy that isn’t usually matched by a normal night at the bar.
Curbelo explains that the fun-loving milieu comes from the people, who not only embrace their own performances, but support everyone person who steps on stage.
“The Belmont is my favorite place to do it, hands down, [because of] the crowd – you guys – and that’s because of the relationships there,” he said. “It’s a neighborhood bar, everybody knows each other. There’s so much of that community [atmosphere] there.”
Karaoke night is a fun hobby, but at Belmont, it’s also a reflection of the strong community spirit found in Norfolk. It’s entertaining, but it offers an opportunity for personal growth I could not have expected the first time I sang “Love Shack” on the decorated stage. If the prospect of listening to terrible drunk singing isn’t a compelling reason for you to attend, you should try it for the chance to meet a group of charismatic new friends and to learn something new about yourself.
Klass Act Productions Karaoke Nights:
Tuesdays – Colley Cantina [For two free tacos from Cantina, click here.]
Wednesdays – Cogan’s Pizza. [For a free slice of pizza from Cogan’s, click here.]
Thursdays – Belmont House of Smoke [For a free Pulled Barbeque Sandwich from Belmont, click here.]
Recycling Perks is available in the Cities of Chesapeake, Suffolk and Norfolk. It’s already part of the recycling program, built as a way to reward the efforts of individual citizens choosing to recycle and beautify their community. Recycling Perks incentivizes saving the world with discounts and freebies from local businesses. It only takes 60 seconds to activate your account online at www.recyclingperks.com. What are you waiting for?