Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Karaoke Chronicles: Palm Springs Eternal

A few years ago, I wrote, "Palm Springs dies every night at 11 p.m." I retracted that statement when I discovered Peabody's Coffee Bar, a joint that unapologetically offers weekend karaoke, but for the past two years Peabody's has been closed when my coworkers and I have ventured into the desert for our annual leadership retreat. So, like a cowboy in the Old West looking for a hospitable small town saloon, I've spent two dreary summers scouring Internet listings for karaoke venues in the high desert -- and, to my surprise, I've never been disappointed. In short, I've been to Palm Springs five times now, and every time I've enjoyed a fond karaoke experience. Does that searing sun bring out one's need to experience a proverbial spotlight at night, too? I've decided to compile these experiences in an attempt to answer this question and uncover the mystery that is memorable karaoke in Palm Springs.

My first trip to Palm Springs was for a friend's bachelor party (apparently, this was the last time something happened to him), and I confess that I don't remember the experience that well, so I asked a few of those old pals for their fondest recollections of that weekend. Interestingly, their respective goggles were lifted as they remembered the same things. Their descriptions of that night's supporting cast are most intriguing: The woman wearing the see-through shirt that wouldn't stop checking herself out in the mirror . . . The larger woman that proudly sang Alanis Morissette's "You Outta Know" . . . The karaoke jockey that planted a kiss right on our bachelor's lips . . . Each of these caricatures reflects a need to be seen and heard, to emerge as a flower from the otherwise barren desert. This may yet prove my theory.

I remember that place we frequented those years ago, and in fact I ventured back there again just last year, but their karaoke equipment was on the fritz. A coworker of mine is pretty handy with computers and sound equipment, so we resurrected the system enough to illicit a crackle of music, but despite my ability to beckon folks in from the street, the bartender was hesitant to let us lead any karaoke festivities. Fortunately, we found an upstairs bar across the street that offered a perfect karaoke memory, where I actually burst onto the balcony to serenade the whole city for a time. Some wayward coworkers went to that initial joint first and told us later that they had indeed cranked the crackling crooning without us -- essentially taking advantage of our help then kicking us out. Were the regulars afraid we'd steal the spotlight? Man, we just wanted to turn it on for them!

Fortunately, this year's experience was more fruitful, as I dragged coworkers to not one but two nights of karaoke, in two totally different locations, no less. On that Thursday night, my cohorts and I were browsing the farmers' market downtown when I spotted an inviting banner outside of the Alternate Route. The karaoke had already begun but the crowd was sparse, so I was able to sing a whopping six songs before the night was over. As the name of the bar suggests, the Alternate Lounge was particularly friendly toward Palm Springs' homosexual community, and while I was afraid that my usually conservative boss would cower at the sight of two men cuddling on the couches around us, he took to the open atmosphere happily. Speaking of alternatives, the comfortable couches were a pleasant change of pace from the usual bar stool or wooden table, so despite the K.J.'s penchant for talking to performers while they sing, everyone was quite comfortable -- with the joint, and each other -- making for a pleasant evening of karaoke all around.

The next night required a little more research, but we found Cicchi's Sports Shack in Palm Springs' neighboring Cathedral City (thanks in large part to our calling the place some four times) with no expectation that it would offer one of the most memorable karaoke experiences I've ever had. Cicchi's is a much more traditional bar than the Alternate Route; without using too much hyperbole, let's just say that a white guy like me, having acquiring some redness on my neck fro the desert sun that day, felt right at home. Within minutes, some rowdy young gentlemen befriended the pretty young ladies in our group, and my song choices, like "Summer of '69" and "You Give Love a Bad Name," were bar-wide favorites. However, when two Valley girls on the prowl for an easy karaoke crowd showed up, they easily stole the show. One sang well enough, but the other was rather . . . outgoing . . . and by the end of the night she left none of her assets to the imagination. Needless to say, I left Cathedral City saying, "Holy . . .!" -- but fortunately I wasn't the one determined to end up on his knees.

While two hot chicks singing and flashing their goods makes for a great story, I wouldn't do my purist propensity for karaoke justice without pointing out how their drunken obnoxiousness threatened the sanctity of the evening. See, Cicchi's doesn't have a stage, which is fine if you tend to stand on chairs like me, but one's vulnerability to crowd interference is becomes greater, especially as the booze flows more freely. I frowned when one of the Valley girls began blowing on performer's ears, especially one hapless gentleman's who seems flushed by her and eager just to finish his tune. When she threatened to interfere in one of my songs, I rebuked her, to which she snidely replied, "Oh, you just want the spotlight, is that it? Do you want the spotlight?" Uhm . . . yeah?! Isn't that why I've volunteered to sing a familiar song in front of a room full of strangers? For some of us, crooning a tune is our makeshift lifting of the skirt, our showing off what the good Lord gave us. At least I can show off what my pipes are capable of in polite society . . .

Now, when her dancing inspired another (an admitted mother of five?) to join her for a virtual strip-off during my Meatloaf's "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)," who was I to stop them? Their contest only drew more eyes to where I was singing, and in those rare moments I essentially facilitated entertainment even those averse to karaoke could enjoy (not to mention coming closer to making my ideal small business a reality).

Which finally proves my point. Something about Palm Springs inspires anyone within its city limits to seek that spotlight, despite the blaring sun's rays during the day. Some use it to escape the monotony of living there, while others of us travel there for the opportunity, and every time I've had that chance I've never been disappointed. Even in the heat of the high desert, one can rest assured that karaoke will always be waiting there, like that stereotypical bull's skull, giving locals and wayward travellers alike a chance to be cool -- if only for the length of their favorite song.

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