Do some vocal warmups, throw on your skimpiest outfits and take a minimum of six shots because karaoke is back at the Badlander on Wednesday nights from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. That’s right. The Missoula weekend now officially starts one day earlier. Plan accordingly and warn your boss.
This new iteration of karaoke is the Badlander’s first spin on the classic form of introvert torture since before the pandemic began well over a year ago. Sponsored by Truly Hard Seltzer, “Truly Fun Karaoke,” as it’s called, features $2 Trulys at the bar all night.
The decision to restart karaoke now isn’t a coincidence. One of the two general managers Hannah Hlebechuk, 21, said the choice very much coincides with students returning to UM’s campus.
“With times from nine to one, you can come by, but still get to bed on time,” Hannah said, not far out of Olympia Collegeherself.
The event has two hosts, who take turns running the show every other week. Lexi Steele, a 24-year-old Missoula native, stumbled into the role pretty innocently. When the Badlander posted the application on their Instagram, a friend tagged her on the post. “brb emailing them rn,” she responded jokingly, and now a month later she’s sitting at the DJ booth.
The other host, 35-year-old Shane “Coachaine” Rooney (the “Professor of Fun,” as his business card says) was an obvious candidate. For the 11 years he’s lived in Missoula, Rooney has MCed countless events.
“I like to put on events that allow Missoula’s identity to be revealed,” Rooney said. “And at 35 I can out-party anybody.”
According to Rooney, on his nights, Truly Karaoke becomes “Coach’s Karaoke,” and he prefers bar-goers to stick to hip hop, funk and soul tracks.
The posted rules of Truly Fun Karaoke are simple. Step one is “Get yourself a delicious beverage.” Check. With a drink in hand, write your name and favorite song on a provided slip of paper, drop it in the bucket onstage and wait to be called. The final rule? “Don’t fu*k it up ;).”
Right at 9 p.m., people began streaming into the Badlander at a slow, but steady rate. Steele claimed a slow start is a common symptom of cold weather. “People would rather come in the summer,” she said.
Regardless, they did indeed come. Allie McKerrow, 21, was among the first to arrive. Hair up and wearing a skin-tight dress, she immediately drew the attention of every person in the room by loudly asking, “so how many songs am I allowed to sing?” Absolutely no one dared to give her a limit. The stage was hers.
The festivities began with a high-energy, low-focus rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” courtesy of McKerrow. It was instantly clear that just because one person is standing on the stage doesn’t mean they’re the only one who would be singing. Karaoke is a team sport, and the whole house was belting out some “ba dee ya”s.
According to Rooney, “everybody at some point in their life is gonna do some karaoke.”
There are quite a few different types of people you’ll run into at a proper karaoke bar. Of course, there’s the theater kids who have been lurking in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to flex ever since their high school senior musical.
There’s the people “who live karaoke to karaoke,” as Rooney said. When they aren’t at the Badlander, they’re at Sunset Saloon, or even at the Eagles Lodge or bowling alley.
There’s also the shy-guy — those confident enough to take the stage, but then immediately regretting it, shifting their weight from foot to foot and avoiding all eye contact for four painful minutes. Collect them all!
While karaoke at its core may seem simple, Rooney thinks the support around it is indicative of something much more meaningful. In the past five years, Rooney has seen the demographic of Missoula rapidly changing. People coming into Missoula from more urban areas (Rooney himself is from Philadelphia) bring with them new styles of music. With new music, especially soul and other Black-originating genres, comes brand new ways of thinking.
Rooney calls it the “Saxophone Revolution.”
“It’s just new,” he said. “Some people see newness and scoff at it, but in my opinion you can’t ruin a place … If you’re not fostering a community, you’re actively against it.”
Hlebechuk agrees with the power of the music. Karaoke is something the Missoula community needs in these times of uncertainty. When asked about COVID, Hlebechuk said, “We’re not letting it run our lives … We support people how they want to be supported.” Right now, the people want karaoke.
“I grew up in a small town, never anything to do,” Hlebechuk said. “Karaoke let’s you laugh at yourself and with other people. It’s happy.”
Drop into the Badlander any Wednesday to check out Truly Fun Karaoke. Just please, for the love of god, don’t sing Journey.