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A seven-night survey of SA's karaoke scene

Karaoke is the next best thing to bowling. From the streets of Kobe City, Japan, the term karaoke derives from two words: karapoo, which means empty, and oke, from okesutura, meaning orchestra. For many, the word karaoke means only one thing: fun.

In popular American culture, television's Solid Gold and The Mike Douglas Show pioneered competitive

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Kimberly Young belts out a song during Friday night karaoke at Cootey's while Warren Dunn of Dunn-Rite Karaoke loads the next song in the background. Photo by Mark Greenberg
karaoke, leading to today's Star Search and American Idol. Rising stars sing someone else's song for a shot at their own success in showbiz.

To break one's "cher-e-oke" means that someone will sing karaoke for the first time. I broke mine 10 years ago in a dive bar somewhere in Yokosuska, Japan. Memories of that unforgettable evening sent me on a crosstown search for the best stage, sound, and selection in San Antonio. My journey revealed many of the city's karaoke hot beds.

Monday blues makes my karaoke itch in two places. Heavy metal karaoke at Medieval Knights (4110 Naco-Perrin, 590-0502) might sound silly, but the club's stage and equipment are nothing to snicker at. Singers can feel like real rock stars with professional equipment and blaring volume, which might cause a performer to raise his fist to the purple light and confidently point to an audience member. Medieval Knights has more than 7,000 songs in its songbook, ranging from traditional country and pop to rockin' mainstream radio hits.

Another great Monday night karaoke joint is the Silver Dollar Saloon (1422 N. Main Ave., 227-2623). With a

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Philip Johnson takes a turn at the mic. Photo by Mark Greenberg
cash prize of $50, you can bet the stakes are low and talents are high. Karaoke requires the person holding the microphone to actually sing a tune, meaning there is no lip-synching at this drag show. Cheap beverages allow the patron to overcome fear and grab hold of the mic with vim and vigor. The songbook selections range from Spanish rancheras to Metallica - something for everyone.

Popular bars such as Jewels (5500 Babcock, 691-3000) and Martini's (8507 McCullough, 344-4747) offer a karaoke fix to get singers over the Wednesday hump and primed for the weekend. If you want to dive deep into the karaoke underworld, try the Our Glass (4422 Walzem Road, 599-7036). Located in a small strip mall on Walzem Road, this neighborhood bar offers karaoke every night but Saturday. There is a nice songbook selection, an enthusiastic crowd, cheap drinks, and a friendly MC. The Our Glass is that special place where those who can and cannot sing are praised and applauded. Come alone or bring an ante rage; either way, the house is coming down.

Thursday is the beginning of the weekend for many; for others it is just another day to get your groove on - your karaoke groove that is. Chacho's Mexican Bar and Grill (7870 Callaghan Road, 366-2023) offers a different twist to the average karaoke experience, drawing talent from all age groups. The patio area accommodates a large audience; the sound system draws listeners from each corner; and kids sing in

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Cassie Dunn gives it her all while singing the Lita Ford/Ozzy Osbourne classic, "Close My Eyes Forever." Photo by Mark Greenberg
that ever-so-cute tone while you stab at a huge burrito. Chacho's offers a good food menu, but its song menu is impeccable, with thousands of selections.

There is no better way to unwind from the week than with a cold beer and a menu of songs to thumb through. For that much-needed Friday night release, go to Cootey's (8318 Jones-Maltsberger, 342-4998). Don't let the name scare you. Cootey's has that good ol' tavern feeling. The bar's songbook of traditional favorites also includes new pop and rock hits, and the 20-something crowd is receptive to everyone. With the PA at just the right level, Cootey's elevates a singer in his special moment onstage.

Saturday night is always popular for amateur karaoke. It's the night you bust out your cutest outfit and head straight toward the teleprompter, taking a date and your own personal karaoke CD. Dad's Singalong (2615 Mossrock, 340-3887) is a San Antonio institution. The bar has been open for more than a decade, but it never changes. Its timeless ambiance is inviting - a place where everyone partakes in the fun and entertainment, including the host and the bartenders. There is a lot of talent in the limelight, but don't let that discourage you; there is always someone there doing it for the first time.

Another fun place is Mustang Sally's (3428 Roosevelt Ave., 922-0957). With all the charm of a VFW post, Sally's

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Song lyrics scroll down the screen of a small monitor to help performers stay on track during a karaoke session. Photo by Mark Greenberg
has a DJ and a dance floor, and karaoke and line dancing co-exist. Refresh yourself on them old line dances like "Boot Scootin' Boogie" and "Electric Slide" - it might come in handy.

Whenever you feel the need to sing 'til cops come to shut you down, San Antonio has karaoke bars to suit your fancy. The trick to a successful performance is to pick a song you know by heart: the song you sing in the shower, the one you sing when your heart breaks. Chances are that your need to be prompted by the screen will be low, giving you the power and confidence to concentrate on cutting a path through the crowd with the stage presence necessary to complete the ultimate karaoke experience. •

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