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MUSIC: Sing, sing a song

Rochester is a karaoke hotbed



Its title derived from mashing up the Japanese words "kara" (meaning empty) and "okesutora" (meaning orchestra), karaoke has been around for a long time. And some of its roots, believe it or not, are American. In fact, one of the oldest examples has ties to good ol' Rochester. From 1961 to 1966, NBC carried a karaoke-like series, "Sing Along with Mitch," hosted by Rochester native Mitch Miller. Miller led a chorus of singers, and the lyrics to the songs were superimposed near the bottom of the TV screen so that home audiences could sing along with the gang.

Flash-forward 50 years and karaoke is more prevalent than ever, in just about any city in America. There is no shortage of people interested in grabbing a mic and singing along to their favorite backing track. That's definitely true in Rochester. It's an off-night — as in, not a Friday or a Saturday — but rather Tuesday at 140 Alex Bar & Grill on Alexander Street. DJ Blake is setting up his karaoke gear as a crowd slowly builds. By the time 10 p.m. rolls around, the place is packed. There is a range of preparation and nervous anticipation as serious performers don their stage attire and props and the more casual hopefuls crowd together, working up the courage to belt one out. The air is electric.

Blake credits the karaoke boom on national boob-tube trends. "Shows like 'Glee' and 'American Idol' have been the catalyst," Blake says. "Everyone wants to do it now."

Karaoke, though initially plugged in to fill slower nights at bars and nightclubs, has become a draw all its own for clubs and bars like Temple Bar & Grill in the East End, where the joint puts on karaoke Thursday and Saturday nights. Temple has been doing karaoke for five years now. Its appeal is wide, says Temple owner Mike O'Leary.

"The demographics are all over the board," O'Leary says. "Younger, older, you name it; black, white, Latin — everyone seems to enjoy it. It has a lot of appeal. Even the varying degrees of talent are cool."

Everyone likes a train wreck every now and then. That's part of the charm, right?

"Well, yes and no," says O'Leary. "Sometimes people sit here and cringe because of the talent or the song."

The varying degree of talent on display doesn't seem to bother the performers. It's their chance to shine in a musical setting without the commitment required of launching a full-blown musical-performance career.

"I don't have to practice or rehearse with a band," says Denise — just Denise — as she came off from belting out a well-received Weezer tune at Scotland Yard Pub on St. Paul Street. The crowd loved her.

At Scotland Yard's Friday karaoke night, bartender Dan Kelly gets to hear it all, from the sublime to the sub-prime. As we chatted, a performer's rendition of a Foo Fighters song was disintegrating into a shrill, profanity-laced crescendo.

Kelly — shouting to be heard — pointed out, "There are a lot of good performers, too," he says. "But they're having fun." And they're buying drinks.

"We're packed most Friday nights for karaoke," says Scotland Yard owner Pat McMahon, over a singer belting out a show tune with amazing range and tone while simultaneously filming himself. (The singer got a standing ovation.)

It's easy for some to dismiss karaoke as being a joke musically, or as something for the amateurs and wannabes. But folks take this seriously; O'Leary found that out the hard way.

"When I first started doing karaoke here, I brought a gong in," O'Leary says. He would use the instrument to cut off singers he thought sucked, a la Chuck Barris and "The Gong Show." "Man, did I get beat up. They didn't like it. I've been hated before, but they crucified me."

"There's always at least one lunatic," Kelly says. "I swear to god, there's a circuit of delusional rock stars." And as soon as one leaves, there's another one to replace them.

"But people are having fun," O'Leary says. "And that's the most important thing."

Local karaoke nights

NOTE: These listings were confirmed as accurate as of February 2014, but may have changed since then. Call ahead to verify before heading out. If you know of another regular karaoke night, add it to this article at rochestercitynewspaper.com.


Italian American Karaoke. Italian American Community Center, 150 Frank Dimino Way. 594-8882. iaccrochester.org. 7:30 p.m. Free.

Karaoke at Mayfield's Pub. Mayfield's Pub, 669 N. Winton Road. 288-7199. 9 p.m. Free.

Karaoke at Sanibel Cottage. Sanibel Cottage, 1517 Empire Blvd. Webster. 671-9340. sanibelcottage.net. 6 p.m. Free.

Karaoke w/Cyd Scarlett. Jose & Willy's, 20 Lakeshore Drive. Canandaigua. 905-0222. Joseandwillys.com. 8:30 p.m.

Karaoke Wednesdays. Renaissance Cafe & Lounge, 719 S. Plymouth Ave. 451-1000. 8 p.m. Free.


Karaoke at Willow Inn. Willow Inn, 428 Manitou Road, Hilton. 392-3489. 8 p.m. Free.

Karaoke at Brickwood Grill. Brickwood Grill, 250 Monroe Ave. 730-8230. brickwoodgrill.com. 9 p.m. Call for info.

Karaoke at Pineapple Jack's. Pineapple Jack's, 485 Spencerport Road, Gates. 247-5225. facebook.com/PineappleJacks. 9 p.m. Free.

Karaoke Night w/Debbie Randyn. Pittsford Pub, 60 N. Main St. Pittsford. 586-4650. thepittsfordpub.com. 9:30 p.m. Free.

Let Your Voice Be Heard Karaoke. Club Clarissas, 293 Clarissa St. 232-3430. Call for info.

Karaoke w/George.Temple Bar and Grille, 109 East Ave. 232-6000. templebarandgrille.com. 8 p.m. Free.

Karaoke w/Shotgun Music. McGhan's Pub, 11 W. Main St. Victor. 924-3660. Free.

Karaoke w/Summer Bob. Shorts Bar & Grill, 35 N. Main St. Fairport. 388-0136. shortsfairport.com. 10 p.m. Free.

Karaoke w/Cyd Scarlett. Victor Village Inn, 34 E. Main St., Victor. 925-5025. 8:30 p.m. Call for info.

Sushioke: Karaoke hosted by Mark Lembroke. Banzai Sushi & Cocktail Bar, 682 South Ave. 473-0345. banzairochester.com. 10 p.m. Free.


Karaoke w/Cody. Nashvilles, 4853 W. Henrietta Road, Henrietta. 334-3030. nashvillesny.com. 5 p.m. Free.

Karaoke at Flaherty's Webster. Flaherty's Webster, 1200 Bay Road, Webster. 671-0816. flahertys.com. 9 p.m. Call for info.

Karaoke w/Andy. Sunset Lanes, 1317 Chili Ave. 585-235-1350. 9 p.m. Free.

Karaoke at Pineapple Jack's. Pineapple Jack's, 485 Spencerport Road, Gates. 247-5225. facebook.com/PineappleJacks. 9 p.m. Free.

Karaoke by Dan & Sherri. Barnard Restaurant & Party House, 360 Maiden Lane. 663-1250. 8 p.m. Free.

Karaoke w/Cyd Scarlett. Norton's Pub, 1730 N. Goodman St. 266-3570. 10 p.m.

Karaoke w/Krazy George. Scotland Yard Pub, 187 Saint Paul St. 730-5030. scotlandyardpub.com. 10 p.m. Call for info.

Karaoke w/Summer Bob. Shorts Bar & Grill, 35 N. Main St., Fairport. 388-0136. shortsfairport.com. 10 p.m. Free.


Karaoke w/Andy. Sunset Lanes, 1317 Chili Ave. 585-235-1350. 9 p.m. Free.

Karaoke w/Cyd Scarlett!. Norton's Pub, 1730 N. Goodman St. 266-3570. 10 p.m.

Kick-Ass Karaoke.Temple Bar and Grille, 109 East Ave. 232-6000. templebarandgrille.com. 10 p.m. Free.


Karaoke w/Cyd Scarlett. Jose & Willy's, 20 Lakeshore Drive. Canandaigua. 905-0222. Joseandwillys.com. 8:30 p.m.


Karaoke Tuesdays w/DJ Blake.140 Alex Bar & Grill, 140 Alexander St. 256-1000. 140alex.com. 10:30 p.m. Free.

Karaoke w/Tina P. MicGinny's, 2246 E. River Road. 247-7770 ‎. micginnys.com. 9 p.m. Call for info.

In This Guide...

    Annual Manual 2014

    CITY's guide to visiting, living, working and playing in Rochester, NY
    Read articles on politics, neighborhoods, art, happy hour dining, theater troupes, a calendar of events for 2014 and more!

    CITY/COUNTY: Know your neighborhoods

    Introductions to Monroe Avenue, Mendon, 19th Ward, and other Rochester area communities
    Monroe County is about as diverse a community as you can find: a mid-size city, rural areas with orchards and farm markets, suburbs with 20th-century tract houses and shopping malls, and quaint, Victorian villages. The Genesee River and the Erie Canal bisect the county, more or less vertically and diagonally, so geology and history are a constant presence, shaping everything from traffic patterns to architecture and public festivals.

    POLITICS: Meet your pols

    A guide to your elected representatives
    Monroe County has a vibrant political scene, but it also has a pronounced party divide. Democrats control the governments in the city and a couple of inner-ring suburbs, while Republicans hold the power in most of the towns.

    LIVING: Getting settled

    New to town or coming home? Some things to consider
    Up until the 1960's, Rochester's economy was dynamic and growing, and the area's major employers of the day often needed to build their management teams with outside talent. Eastman Kodak, Xerox, Bausch and Lomb, and several other firms were industrial giants, and some offered prospective executives handsome relocation packages.

    DINING: The happiest of hours

    Six Rochester happy hours worth checking out
    Whether you've just had a rough day at the office, need a quick bite before dinner, or want to avoid the late-night crowds at the bar, happy hours are a great way to enjoy local food and drink at a discount. They are the perfect chance to try something new, or get that second drink.

    ART: Gems from Rochester's art museums

    Connections with collections
    When people visit a museum or gallery, they are typically drawn in to view a specific exhibition, and perhaps linger a while to wander the permanent collection as well. But since most cultural institutions have neither the space nor the funds to present their entire collections to the public at all times, many objects reside in storage, and a percentage of the collection is fairly unknown.

    THEATER: A theater town

    A look at some of Rochester's niche theatrical troupes
    Anyone who believes that theater is a dying art has not spent much time in Rochester; we have always offered a remarkably full range of theater, for consumption and for participation. To use a word theater people enjoy, the Rochester theater scene is very textured; there's a little of everything offered, and something for everybody to see, to try out for, or to get involved in.

    MEDIA: The last bastions

    Where to find fading media in Rochester
    Now that Blockbuster has gone the way of the dodo, closing what remained of its stores at the start of this year, it seems the end is near for physical media. The fall of the former giant of home entertainment is just the latest reminder that the now omnipresent Kindles and Nooks, iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon Prime have had a profound effect.

    HEALTH/WELLNESS: The Lotus Flower City

    The history and growth of Yoga in Rochester
    These days, you can't go anywhere without hearing about the newest yoga craze. Before the dawn of the Victoria's Secret yoga pants empire, though, things were a little bit different.

    EVENTS: Mark your calendar

    Rochester's upcoming special events
    If there is one thing Rochester has an abundance of, it's festivals. Keeping track of all of them can be daunting, and we know that you wouldn't want to miss out, so we did the hard work for you.

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