Karaoke is dead. Meet the new kid on the block – Bandaoke.

Ten years ago in the Triangle, karaoke was all the rage. There was a 5-year stretch where every establishment had a karaoke night …if they served alcohol. Of course, the places without liquor licenses never had much luck with karaoke – no one was brave enough to get on stage. In its heyday, karaoke filled up dozens of Triangle establishments on traditionally slow nights like Wednesdays. He’s Not Here, in Chapel Hill, has had karaoke on Sunday nights for the last 25 years. Duke students literally arrive there an hour beforehand, by the busload. And why not? Singing your favorite song is fun.


Karaoke has singlehandedly brought people out of their showers out into the public arena, and made it safe to watch…like a wreck on the side of I-40 during rush hour. After all, if someone gets up on stage and butchers a Brittany Spears song, the shared cringes and elbow pokes among friends are almost as entertaining as watching a heart-stopplingly good version.

Karaoke started in Japan, in the early 1970s. Rumor has it that a coffee-shop owner was so distraught that his musical act didn’t show up that he invited his customers to sing along with an 8-track tape. The real story is that a man named Inoue Daisuke, a singer at the time, invented a machine that plays a song minus its vocal track. (which explains the etymology of the word – karaoke means “empty orchestra.”). He didn’t patent the machine, a man from the Philippines did, but Daisuke was issued a Ig Nobel Peace Prize, and received a standing ovation from largely Nobel Prize laureates.

But now, karaoke, in 2012, as an entertainment medium, is on its way down. After hitting its peak in 2002, karaoke machines sales have fallen 80%. To make matters worse, people just aren’t getting in the car and driving uptown to sing Lady Gaga like they used to. They’re staying at home. Video consoles like the Sony Playstation and Microsoft XBox have their own karaoke games, many which feature custom characters, vocals skills competitions, and equally-cranky electronic versions of American Idol Judges.

There is a version of karaoke, however, that has taken the Triangle by storm. It’s called bandaoke. It’s just what you think it is – karaoke, with a real live band. Yes, now anyone can be a real rock star…for 3 minutes. That is, a guitarist, bass player, keyboardist, and drummer let you get on stage and sing with them. This time, though, there’s no synchronized ball bouncing across the lyrics – when they call your name, they hand you the lyrics, and the stage is yours. They post their set list in advance of the shows, so you can sign up in advance. (Here’s one set list from a previous show: http://goo.gl/SJNaq)

It’s a completely different sensation from old-fashioned karaoke. For one, you feel like you’ve stepped into a Def Leppard music video from the 80’s. The guitarists are wearing long-haired wigs, one’s wearing furry cheetah pants, and the other, a black leather jacket with dangling gold chains, and cowboy boots. The bass player is wearing pants tighter than the red leather pants on the cover of Loverboy’s second album, “Get Lucky.” Not to mention his fedora, piano key tie, and Member’s Only jacket. Oh yeah, this is rock and roll theater at its finest.

“The entire production is like an off-Broadway show you’d see in the W. Village of New York City,” says Chris Gray, another regular to their shows. They have 5 televisions on stage, each playing a different movie from the 80’s”. It’s not uncommon you’ll see the first two rows break out into an aerobic routine, for they’re following along to “Jane Fonda’s Workout.” Or the entire room will shout, for the shower scene from “Porky’s” is playing.

“Between all the 80’s songs, and the rock star costumes on stage, you’d expect Martha Quinn to step in any moment,” says Matt Ellison, another regular to their performances. Actually, she already has. Martha was so enamored by “Voices Carry” that she tweeted about it. http://twitter.com/MarthaQuinn/ status/193399677872381952. Yes, her and the bass player did go to high school. But that didn’t stop Greg Kihn, singer of 80’s hit “Jeopardy” from following them on Twitter.

Singing on stage with 4 other musicians versus singing along with a karaoke machine is like comparing apples to typewriters. “It’s so exhilarating to be standing on stage, and hear the music coming from behind you,” said one eager participant at The Pinhook, where “Voices Carry” played to an audience of 120 people. The exhilaration was shared by their audience, perhaps too much. By the end of their set list, people were literally begging the band to let them sing a song they’d played the hour before.
Singing on stage with a real band is much more challenging than the traditional sterilized environment. “If you mess up in old-fashioned karaoke, no problem, you can catch yourself in the next line. Out on stage, it’s much more intimidating, for you’re live, and you’re letting down 4 musicians doing backing vocals and playing their hearts out.

Francis George, founder, and guitarist, says “We do like to make it easy for our singers. While we’re playing a song, we’ll literally nudge them with our rear ends during the song so they don’t miss their parts. ”

On the flip side, the reward factor is increasingly higher with bandaoke. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that you’re living your rock and roll fantasy from childhood: You’re on stage, flanked by people who look like rock stars, doing synchronized guitar dance moves while you’re belting out the chorus for “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

What happens if people don’t sign up to sing? “That has never been an issue.” says David Criswell, who plays bass and sings backup. “We can sing 80% of the songs ourselves, so we put those in the front. After our 3rd song, there’s always a line in front of our sign-up board. Which is great, because we can’t sing the Go-Gos.”

Francis George, front man, talks about his inspiration. He said “Everyone in the band loves 80’s music, but we realized the Triangle doesn’t need another rock and roll cover band, where everyone’s passively standing around and watching, or worse yet, ignoring them altogether. Watching a band is like seeing a show on television. We wanted to create a Broadway theatrical performance, while giving our audience the script in advance, and inviting them to jump on the other side of the curtain, to be a part of the show.”

It worked. We were kind of floored by the reaction, says Mr. George. Every place we’ve every played has asked us back, people always stay afterwards and tell us how much fun they had. We’re playing a couple shows a month, which is about the perfect pace for a bunch of 40-year olds.

“Voices Carry” is a bandaoke act based in Durham, NC. Participants choose from a set list, they are
handed the lyrics, and the stage is theirs for 3 minutes. Participants get to bang their head like Billy Idol and strut around that stage like Pat Benatar while flanked by a real guitarist, keyboardist, bass player and drummer, all dressed like they just stepped out of a Def Leppard music video). It’s Real Band Karaoke – a rock and roll experience you’ll never forget!

The band: Voices Carry
URL: www.realbandkaraoke.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/voicescarryband YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/voicescarryband Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/VoicesCarryBand
Our setlist / advance sign up list: http://goo.gl/SJNaq