By Daniel | May 28, 2010
For the last 2 years I’ve been packing in the karaoke crowds at country honkytonk Little Red Hen in Greenlake. Billed as “Dangerous Karaoke”, the inference was that the show wasn’t your mama’s karaoke, but a mashup of singalongs, hip hop dance music and lots and lots of alcohol. It’s a place where the 20-something frat crowd can get wild and drink themselves into oblivion.
In fact, I set a new attendance and revenue record there last Fall, which far surpassed anything the place has done in its over 40 year history – including the country bands which play there 5 nights a week.
Interestingly, Little Red Hen is licensed as a restaurant – not a bar – although I think anyone who eats there is rolling the dice. By law, they must have food to serve at all times, which for much of the day consists of canned soup and cold premade sandwiches. (Usually at the end of the night the staff will pick through to find the least soggy one to eat.) But make no mistake, this establishment’s one and only priority is to sell alcohol…particularly on Wednesdays.
I’ve been a professional DJ and karaoke host for over 20 years, appearing at literally thousands of events private and public. I totally understand that alcohol was the reason karaoke was invented. For most people it takes a couple of pops to just get up on stage in front of a couple of hundred people, let alone grab a microphone and sing.
But it’s when an establishment fosters drunk and belligerent behavior among its patrons by its cavalier service of alcohol that the trouble begins. Perhaps even what could be termed by some as “overservice”. It seems just about every week some drunk troublemaker is 86′ed for behavior ranging from groping another customer to starting a fight. Sometimes it’s a full-on brawl complete with police presence. What I found most incredulous was how often those 86′ed individuals were let back in by management because, after all, it’s their alcohol purchases that make the registers ring. To me, it seems that should be secondary to providing a safe environment for their customers.
For your humble karaoke host, with nothing between me and a sea of drunk patrons, Wednesday nights at Little Red Hen increasingly became a nightmare. On a weekly basis I was subjected to countless threats and epithets from inebriated patrons, damage to my gear, willful destruction of my songbooks, drinks thrown at me and near-violent confrontations with stumbling, staggering customers whose time perception was so impaired they would yell in my face how they’d been waiting for “hours” for their song – when they actually only turned in their request 25 minutes ago. (I timestamp all karaoke slips for that reason.)
And while no large group is going to be 100% happy 100% of the time, the fact that I grew the bar’s Wednesday night crowds to new records speaks volumes about my acumen as a professional karaoke host. I’ve never pulled a no-show, always start on time, never had gear break down during my show and give everyone a smile even when they’re cursing in my face. But make no mistake, there is no other show in town where a karaoke host regularly endures such discord from the crowd.
Then last week, to quote that famous sailor man, Popeye. I had to throw up my hands and assert, “That’s all I can stands…and I can’t stands no more!” when a couple of drunk guys who tried to scam the rotation encouraged a couple of drunk female singers to spike the microphone on the stage after their song. As with most karaoke shows, all the gear is not owned by the bar, but by ME, the karaoke host. As usual when this happened, the bar’s bouncers already had their hands full at the door to notice or take any action.
I let management know if they wanted me to continue to be in the line of fire as babysitter for ridiculously drunk frats, they would have to add a stipend of “hazard pay” for the gear I had to frequently get repaired or replaced, as well as compensation for my constant abuse by patrons – which didn’t seem to matter much to management as long as they kept selling drinks.
Because the owner rarely showed up on Wednesday nights, he was no doubt oblivious to the hard work and constant attention required to pull off this show successfully. They opted to roll the dice and bring in another host. To that individual, I wish much luck, tolerance and resolve.
Imagine that! Dangerous Karaoke finally got TOO dangerous. For me!
Two final words:
First, the majority of Little Red Hen’s Wednesday night crowd were there to have fun, not to be rude, belligerent or start fights. Of course it only takes a handful of troublemakers to ruin everyone’s good time. To those who came to see me week after week, I want you to know that I appreciate your support very much.
Second, I’ll be starting two new shows shortly at venues which I believe not only care about the ring of the register but their reputation and the happiness and safety of their employees and customers. All of them. I’ll announce those soon and hope to see lots of my Hen singers there!