Walking down Atwood Street on a Tuesday night, Oakland residents may feel a certain energy radiating from the Garage Door Saloon as a line covers the block and a familiar mix of singing voices and screams pour out of the windows.
“Karaoke nights are great because normally shouting the lyrics to ‘Piano Man’ loudly will get you kicked out of any place,” Caleb Porto, a Pitt student in attendance last Tuesday, said.
Garage Door — or GDoor — hosts karaoke every Tuesday night. The event has become a staple of many nights out for locals and students alike. Unlike a normal trip to the bar, karaoke in Oakland provides a communal experience for those both on and off the stage.
Porto, a senior mechanical engineering major, makes an effort to go to GDoor karaoke whenever he has the opportunity. The bar’s distinct energy motivates not only the people who see karaoke as a fun novelty — such as Porto — to go to GDoor, but also the frequent visitors.
Laura Byko, a 2016 graduate of Point Park University with a degree in journalism, has been a regular attendant of GDoor karaoke for over a year.
“I started going regularly when my roommate turned 21, so since May 2016 I’ve probably averaged two to three times a month. It’s really embarrassing!” Byko said. “But it just turned into a tradition and then a compulsion.”
But even as a regular, she still has the same reasons for attending as those who stop by on any random Tuesday.
“The entire bar yelling along to at least one and as many as four Killers songs in one night is something you don’t usually get outside of karaoke,” Byko said.
Karaoke as an activity consists of two parts — singing and watching. The idea of going to karaoke can be intimidating because many believe that getting the most out of it involves actually performing.
But this is not necessarily the case. For both Byko and Porto, being an audience member is just as enjoyable as being on stage, and in some cases more so.
“It’s like you’re in a TV show, and every week there are the recurring cast members who always sing Michael Buble and Disney songs and whatever,” Byko said. “And then there are also guest stars every week, like a girl who sounds exactly like Amy Winehouse, or a 40-year-old who looks lost and confused and sings Frank Sinatra, or a white preppy kid who does a Kendrick Lamar song and makes everyone mad.”
These typified examples stem from the culture of karaoke. For people like Byko, part of the fun of being in the audience is seeing people from all walks of life and their myriad personalities.
“There’s one guy who looks like a Seamus, so my friends and I call him Seamus. He seems like someone with a musical theater background,” Byko said, mentioning another regular she and her friends call “Eyes-Closed-Jack.”
“I don’t remember if his name was actually Jack, but he would get incredibly drunk by 11 and then sing the entire song with his eyes closed, and make up the lyrics if he couldn’t remember them,” Byko said. “I miss him.”
For sophomore Taylor Ridge, the environment of karaoke is synonymous with celebration. A pre-med student at Pitt, Ridge attends GDoor whenever the occasion calls for it — whether it’s the end of finals week or a friend’s birthday.
“I think that stuff like karaoke is a lot more fun and lighthearted when you just want to go out and not worry about anything,” Ridge said. “Either you impress the pants off someone or you embarrass yourself, but I haven’t had a night yet where I haven’t had a story come out of it!”
That thrill of giving it all you’ve got up on stage can be cathartic.
Porto — whose song of choice is always Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” — thinks there is something really enjoyable in the anxieties of performing.
“I do have stage fright when singing in front of other people!” Porto said. “But for me that’s part of the enjoyment of doing it.”
The environment of karaoke at GDoor is usually nothing but positive and encouraging. Most of the audience is there because the act of watching amateur singers have fun is inherently fun in and of itself — the quality of voice is not why people go out every week.
Porto feels like karaoke is an opportunity to immerse himself in his stage fright and finds that overcoming those anxieties boosts his adrenaline and makes him more confident. He said there is nothing like interacting, getting laughs and enjoying the company of strangers.
“Every time someone sings karaoke they put a tiny bit of their heart on a stage for your consumption,” Byko said. “And if you’re a creep like me, that’s fun to experience.”