'I like the way you sing!'

Karaoke at State Street Tavern, a fun, positive night out

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NORTH ADAMS — With a street cone's orange exterior and a SAT prep book's thickness, the binders holding 30,000-plus songs at State Street Tavern's karaoke nights might scare off some people. But Kebra Ward isn't intimidated by the KaraFun catalogs resting on tables around the bar. In them, she finds inspiration for her song selections.

"I like to flip it to a page," Ward said last Friday.

The Clarksburg resident is one of the daring many who grab the mic at the North Adams bar every Friday evening beginning at 9 p.m., putting their vocals to famous, and some not-so-famous, instrumental tracks. While organizers stress that the overall level of those belting tunes is impressive, unpredictability is still at the core of the bar's karaoke performances.

"There's definitely singers where it's like, 'Oh, my God, that's incredible,'" host Daniel Matz said, "and then there's singers where it's like, 'Oh, my God, why are you here tonight?'"

Matz quickly added that singers of all levels are welcome and supported, something bartender Jenn Schmidt stressed during her standard Friday night shift, too. According to Schmidt, when a singer is struggling, it's not unusual for a spectator to step up to help.

"We don't watch you suffer," Schmidt said.

Ward made it through her solo performance of Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" and a duet rendition (with Schmidt) of Dixie Chicks' "Wide Open Spaces" without any need for assistance. As she adeptly glanced at a monitor to her left displaying the songs' lyrics, Matz, Ward's husband, leaned over a nearby laptop toward the bar's rear.

"We actually did karaoke on our second date," Ward said.

The two music lovers have sung at bars in a number of states and countries, Matz said. He has been hosting the State Street institution's karaoke night on-and-off for the past two years, taking over for Bill Horsfall. It's his first time running a karaoke night.

"But I had studied it for a long time," he said.

At State Street Tavern, he said that the talent level is typically high and that there are an inordinate amount of regulars. Dennis St. Pierre, who bought the bar with Bob Cellana more than 35 years ago, can't remember exactly when karaoke night started, but he noted that participants of all ages have shown their skills in the years since.

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"Some of the old-timers are good. Some of the kids are unbelievable," St. Pierre said.

The youth movement is influencing song choices. Recently, music from the 1990s has become increasingly popular, and not just at State Street Tavern, according to Matz.

"[We're] definitely in a '90s era. The '90s has become classic rock. We have to live with that," he said.

Matz's role has allowed him to expand his personal music library.

"I definitely learn songs that I would not know [otherwise] from karaoke," he said.

The bar also holds music trivia nights on a couple of Saturdays per month, according to St. Pierre, but it is certainly known more for its karaoke. On this Friday night, traffic was slower than normal, likely because it was Memorial Day weekend. Before karaoke got started, there was a prolonged silence among several patrons. Soon, the music picked up the room's energy level, though there were gaps between some tunes as Matz solicited volunteers.

"It's not a long list tonight," Matz quipped between songs.

Usually, competition to get behind the mic is much more crowded.

"The last four weeks has been like an hour-and-a-half wait, which is way too much," Matz said.

The delay doesn't stop locals from cheering on their friends at this neighborhood bar. After Matz opened the night with Tom Petty's "You Don't Know How It Feels," Schmidt made sure to get his attention. She called out, "I like the way you sing!"

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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