I’m not expecting much when I walk into The Barn Light for its weekly Thursday night karaoke. The place is dimly lit and crowded, and you have to put up a fight for attention from one of the bartenders, who, it should be noted, are very friendly and patient.
But I know I’m in for a treat when I glance up at the makeshift stage and see Jason Fike — known professionally as “Jukebox Jason” — performing a pitch-perfect cover of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.” (Fike says he sings the clean version of songs as much as possible.)
Before signing up to sing my version of Phil Collins’ masterpiece ballad “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now),” I talk with Fike.
“For me, it’s about practice,” says Fike, a professional singer and entertainer. He says doing karaoke is a low-stakes way to experience the rush he gets from performing professionally, as well as being a cheap rehearsal space. “Eugene and Springfield have a karaoke place everywhere.”
This is true. The Barn Light is one of the most famous karaoke venues in Eugene, but it is just one of many bars and restaurants hosting a weekly or biweekly karaoke night.
Bre Strop, who runs Breezy Bee Entertainment with Caught in the Act Productions, emcees shows from Wednesday to Sunday at a variety of places, each of which has its own feel. “The Barn Light is an animal,” Strop says. “It’s loud and boisterous.”
She describes her other haunts. Cornucopia on 5th Avenue, where karaoke happens on Wednesdays, is “an amazing group of artists,” an “open, warm group of people.” Fridays at The Duck Bar and Grill has a “working class, after-shift kind of show.” And Sundays at Agate Alley Bistro, according to Strop, is the “jewel of karaoke.”
Compared to the rowdy crew at The Barn Light, the crowd at Agate Alley is older and more distinguished looking. More unique tunes are sung there, and fewer audience members sing along with the performers. When you sing karaoke at Agate Alley, people listen. The lights are on, and there’s little to hide behind. But the audience is receptive. Loud, encouraging applause follows each song.
At Agate Alley, a musical-theater cover performed by karaoke regular named Shannon Ball grabs my attention. She sings “The Wizard and I” from Wicked, and — despite the obnoxious thespian in me begging to sing along — I listen respectfully.
She nails it, and I am further awakened to the wonders of karaoke in Eugene.
“Most people want an audience,” Strop says. “For some people, that’s like jumping off a bridge, and it’s really good for them.”
Strop says karaoke provides a fun, comfortable space for a lot of people. “It was a great safe space for me going out alone as a woman,” she says. “This town is horribly entertaining.”
And, by the way, I did end up singing my heart out to Phil Collins. I received hoots and hollers not just from my group of friends who invaded The Barn Light with me, but from strangers, too.
Thanks to the audience’s support, it was much more thrilling and less terrifying than I expected.
So if you’re trying to belt out your angst, get a healthy adrenaline rush or show the world how talented you are without being too obvious about it, you might want to take a spin on the mic somewhere in Eugene’s thriving karaoke scene.
Plenty of people are waiting to applaud you.
Check out EW’s What’s Happening Calendar for karaoke events around town.