The Show Must Go On: 2016 Karaoke with Ken Wrap-Up

Lisa (my wife) and I left the Hyatt Regency for Brando’s Speakeasy a little after 8 PM on Sunday evening, to be sure we’d be there to welcome the other participants. To our surprise, upon our arrival we found that the door was locked and a handwritten sign said simply, “Closed Today!” When our initial shock subsided, I tweeted out a note that we were returning to the hotel to regroup and consider alternative plans. I also asked Kate Hagan, AALL’s Executive Director, to post a note in the conference app, and Cara Schillinger kindly did so a little while later.

Lisa had left a voice message with the bar’s owner, and after concluding that there was no alternative venue available, we decided to salvage the evening by joining CALL for its trivia night at Timothy O’Toole’s. Debbie Ginsberg, Julie Prabarja, and their colleagues were very accommodating. I joined Debbie’s team while Lisa found a stool at the bar, and Julie kindly asked the bar manager whether they could bring in the karaoke DJ. Ultimately he could not make it. The trivia crowd of about 120 was four times the size they were expecting, and it was a raucous and fun time.

During the evening Ron Wheeler put me in touch with the manager at Brando’s and he explained that a water pipe had burst that day and flooded the bar. He assure me that they would reopen on Monday and we planned accordingly.

Cindy Bassett and Ken Hirsh dance while Bonnie Shucha sings.

Photo courtesy Corie Dugas

With Thomson Reuters promising “Librarian Idol” for the customer appreciation event, it looked like karaoke would be the order of the evening. After I invited Cindy Bassett to dance while Bonnie Shucha rocked the house, Lisa and I returned to Brando’s. Later in the evening we were joined by about 35 of our gang, making the evening a success despite the smaller than usual turnout. All-in-all, a great two evenings thanks to all the folks I mentioned above and many more!

Courtesy of Heather Kushnerick, here’s a shot of Lisa and me, with Lisa singing harmony on the choruses of “Hallelujah.”

Ken and Lisa sing Hallelujah

Please plan on joining us in Austin next year!


CS-SIS Karaoke with Ken at #AALL16: Meet Us at Brando’s

In July AALL holds its annual meeting and conference in the Second City, returning to Chicago for the first time since before I joined in 1988. The conference hotel is the Hyatt Regency Chicago, which is large enough to host the programs, meetings, and exhibit space! For this year’s karaoke excitement, we’ll be heading to Brando’s Speakeasy at 343 S. Dearborn Street on Sunday, July 17th.

Brando’s has a karaoke bar with an in-wall touchscreen for finding and selecting your song, just inside the Dearborn Street entrance. The management is reserving the tables near the karaoke stage for us. The Plymouth Court side of the restaurant offers a lounge for those who want a brief respite from karaoke.

Brando’s is about a twenty-minute walk or a brief cab/Uber ride from the Hyatt. The singing kicks off at 9 P.M., so please make plans to join us. Be sure to add CS-SIS Karaoke with Ken to your calendar in the conference app!


Karaoke Venues: What Makes a Good One? #AALL15

With just under three weeks until this year’s CS-SIS Karaoke with Ken event, let’s talk about the venues. This year will mark the second time since the official designation as an SIS sponsored social event that we will return to a venue. We last visited McGillin’s Olde Ale House on July 24, 2011 when AALL met in Philadelphia four years ago. It marks the first time that both visits will have been as a sponsored event. In 1999, prior to its official status, and again 2009 we sang at Cafe Japone near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. At the last visit we overflowed the small establishment with 75 attendees, spilling out into the sidewalk. Unfortunately, Cafe Japone has closed and we cannot return there in 2019!

McGillin’s was a loud venue, with conversation and music already blaring when we arrived. So it took a few minutes extra to get things started. Singers, bring your boombox larynx and audience, be alert to hear our folks sing their hearts out!

Other venues for this event have included Kikugawa at Riverplace in Minneapolis, 2001. There Tory Trotta thrilled the crowd with her rendition of “Leader of the Pack.” Kikugawa also has since closed. In 2002 in Orlando we visited the Lucky Leprechaun Irish Pub on International Drive. This was the only time we heard our members perform a rousing rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Perhaps it’s time for a repeat performance!

In 2003, despite my bad back, we made it to Jack’s Roadhouse in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Ten years later on our return visit to the Emerald City we traveled to the Hula Hula Tiki Bar, with as much kitsch in the decor as you would expect. But the beverages and the playlist were great! 2004 in Boston found us at another Japanese restaurant where the karaoke videos included leaping dolphins! On our first visit to San Antonio in the following year Tory had found us Suds and Songs, a bar in the mall that featured our first experience with a DJ loading the slections from his computer’s hard drive.

St. Louis in 2006 was most notable for the inability of the taxi drivers to find the place we were meeting. In New Orleans, 2007, we visited the world famous Cat’s Meow on Bourbon Street, where the performance queue takes twice as long to move through because the D.J.s sing every other song. In 2008 we were in Portland at a dive bar, the name of which I don’t recall, and as noted above we were back at Cafe Japone in ’09. Armida’s TexMex was our 2010 Denver host, and of course McGillin’s in ’11. Boston the following year found us at the Elephhant and Castle in Boston, and with Seattle in 2013 and The Republic of Texas last year for our return visit to San Antonio, you have the list. One of our favorite performers in the past few years has been Jackie Prentiss, who channels a mean Lady Gaga.

So back to the question: What does make a good karaoke venue. In my mind, the best ones have this:

  1. Location close to the meeting hotels.
  2. Ample seating.
  3. A DJ with a friendly attitude, a killer playlist, and fast access to the songs.
  4. Seating that lets us hang out with friends and mingle with each other to make new ones.
  5. Tasty beverages, whether soft or hard.

Hope to see you in a few weeks!


How did this whole thing start?

Beginning with the 1997 meeting in Baltimore a small group had found a karaoke bar and listened to at least one of the group attempt a song or two. In 2001 the event became officially sponsored by the Computing Services Special Interest Section and there were 25 in attendance, several of whom sang their own rendition of familiar songs. For those of you not familiar with karaoke, in Japanese it means “without orchestra,” or at least that is what web sites and urban legend say.

Of course, you can check out the Wikipedia entry. The singer reviews the venue’s selection list, picks out the song he or she wants to attempt, and waits for the turn to play pop, Broadway musical, or opera star while the music and lyrics are provided by a karaoke machine. Well, maybe not opera. Without consulting any reference sources beyond my own memory, I can tell you the concept first became popular in the U.S. in the 1980′s, faded for a little while, and has been enjoying a resurgence here since 1994. If you need a primer, rent the video of “Duets,” the 2000 movie starring Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow. The pair teamed up on “Baby Let’s Cruise,” earlier a hit for Smoky Robinson as “Cruisin.” But one need not be as talented as that star duo. Karaoke singers range from the truly great, who regularly enter and win contests; to the truly awful, who enjoy singing in front of an audience and who equally enjoy an audience who is relaxed – or slightly intoxicated – enough to not object to any and all comers. In addition to Ken Hirsh, previous AALL singers have included Tori Trotta and George Pike, along with many others. The 2009 excursion to Cafe Japone in Washington, D.C. brought out more than 75 attendees, and many new singers in the group.  We had a slightly smaller group but just as much fun in Denver in 2010.

[Reposted to engage Twitter cards]


CS-SIS Karaoke with Ken at AALL 2015: Back to the Future in Philly

AALL and Karaoke with Ken were last in Philadelphia just four years ago. We return this summer to the same venue: McGillin’s Olde Ale House at 1310 Drury Street. McGillin’s is a short walk from the area of the headquarters hotel at the Philadelpha Marriott Hotel. Mark your calendars now by using the AALL 2015 app from eventmobi. The party kicks off at 9:00 P.M. on Sunday, July 19th.

If you need some basic information about karaoke and this event, check our our background page. Watch this blog and follow @KaraokewithKen on Twitter for updates!


2014 Karaoke with Ken Wrap-Up, with Photos!

The invitation

The invitation

This year’s outing to The Republic of Texas on San Antonio’s Riverwalk was a smashing success. Between 40 and 50 folks joined us for an evening of singing, camaraderie, and all-around-fun! The venue provided plenty of space and comfortable seating, and the karaoke DJ had every song we requested. Among the many performers were Fran Norton and Wendy Moore as the new Sonny and Cher with “I Got You, Babe;” Rich Leiter with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire;” Dan Blackaby and George Taoultsides and another gentleman* with Cash’s “Folsum Prison Blues;” a group of young ladies doing Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back;” and Jason Sowards on Taylor Swift’s hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Bonny Shucha and I duetted to Elton John and Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart;” Bonnie was much more faithful to Kiki than I was to Sir Elton. I was especially thrilled to take my first try at John Legend’s “All of Me” and to again sing Rufus Wainwright’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Another large group of ladies did Cindi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” And audience member Susanna Leers rocked out too!

*There were many more singers and if you want to add your name and song to my list, feel free to let me know! Here are some photos and links to videos courtesy of Cindy Bassett, Meg Kribble, Beth Holmes, and Fran Norton.

Rich sings "Ring of Fire."

Rich sings “Ring of Fire.”

Happy audience members include Bonnie and Susanna

Happy audience members

Fran and Wendy Got Each Other, Babe

Fran and Wendy Got Each Other, Babe

Ken opens with "Hey There Delilah"

Ken opens with “Hey There Delilah”

Ken, Gail, and Caroline starting out the evening.

Ken, Gail, and Caroline starting out the evening.


Jason channels Taylor SwiftJason channels Taylor Swift

A Quintet Does "Baby Got Back."

A Quintet Does “Baby Got Back.”

Dan, George, and a Friend are stuck in Folsum Prison.

Dan, George, and a Friend are stuck in Folsum Prison.


Jason and Austin having a good time.

Jason and Austin having a good time.

Darth Vader takes a selfie with Cindy and Bonnie.

Darth Vader takes a selfie with Cindy and Bonnie.

Bonnie takes a bow.

Bonnie takes a bow


Ryan does his number.

And a bonus: videos of Susanna Leers rocking to our Bruce Springsteen at the table and the AALL ladies singing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”


2014 “CS-SIS Karaoke with Ken” on the Riverwalk

Greetings fellow karaoke goers. The venue we used when AALL last met in San Antonio in 2005 is no more, so this year we move to the Republic of Texas restaurant at 526 River Walk Street. The restaurant is a half-mile walk from the Marriott Rivercenter, this year’s headquarters hotel. The singing festivities begin at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 13. There’s a special treat this year: as one of her last “official” acts as President-Elect, Holly Riccio has promised to join me in a duet.

For those of you unfamiliar with the karaoke experience, please check out our backgrounder.

Hope to see you in San Antonio!

1-Ken back

1-Ken with sign


Fill Out Our Playlist: AALL 2013 Karaoke with Ken Wrap-Up

About 40 AALL attendees — some from the east who were beyond sleepy — came out for this year’s event! We had a great time at the Hula Hula Tiki Bar in Seattle. One lesson learned: beware the accompanying video on Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice.” This year I’d like to build a playlist of our participants. If you were there and sang, please put your name and selection in a comment below. Thanks for helping make this year’s event a success, and I look forward to seeing you in San Antonio next year!


2013 CS-SIS Karaoke with Ken in the Emerald City

Greetings fellow karaokers. (To coin a word; maybe if we use it enough…) Karaoke artist or performer is the accepted term for the proper among you. This year in Seattle we descend upon the Hula Hula Tiki Bar (before you click, be warned that their image of a Polynesian woman may be NSFW) at 9:30 PM on Saturday, July 13. The venue is located at 106 1st Avenue North, Seattle, and is about a ten-minute walk from the Seattle Center Monorail Station. It’s also about a mile-and-a-half from the headquarters hotel.


Tina Ching adds that there are public transit options using the 1, 2, 13 or D buses. “They pick up just 3 blocks away from the Sheraton on 3rd avenue between Pike and Pine. $2.25 each way. It should only take about 15 minutes. Just as a warning, it’s not exactly the friendliest bus stop in town, but it is Saturday night so there should be lots of folks around and a police presence. Those from big cities will think it’s nothing.”

I’ll be heading over from the hotel lobby between 8:45 and 9. I encourage anyone looking for a fun evening to join us. If you’re new to the karaoke experience, check out the backgrounder. Thanks to Tina Ching and Zach Gose for suggesting the venue!


Karaoke with Ken 2012 – Wrap-Up

About fifty karaoke fans came out for this year’s CS-SIS Karaoke Night, held at the Elephant & Castle Pub and Restaurant in Boston. There were many able performers keeping us well-entertained.  I hope I won’t offend anyone by omitting names, but two I especially liked were Jackie Prentice, our resident Lady Gaga channeler, performing “Yoü and I” ( I was late and missed her earlier numbers), and Toby Shucha doing both the Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias parts on “To All the Girls I Loved Before.” I thought he even might do both voices at once for the duet parts! There were many other terrific numbers, and I regret we didn’t have someone keeping a playlist for us.

The venue itself was great, with plenty of room and a good bar. The playlist was varied, but shortly after we started the DJ turned up the volume past 12, never mind 11, and the music was literally deafening. Nevertheless, I believe most of us had a terrific time, and a few hardy souls were still there when I left a 1 A.M.!

Earlier I put out a call for photos on Twitter, but the only one I’ve seen was one of me on the AALL conference blog, and we’re really looking for photos of other participants. So if you were there and took any, please let me know.

Next year we’ll do it again! Tina Ching and the local arrangements committee have already given me the lead on what promises to be another great venue. See you in Seattle!