Best of Dayton: Karaoke unites the Dayton area one song at a time

Division threatens to keep people huddled in their respective corners these days, but karaoke continues to be a beacon of fun, joy and unity across the Dayton area.

In this year’s Best of Dayton contest, Red Carpet Tavern took top honors for Best Karaoke. Soft Rock Café received second place followed by The Stage Door in third place.

For the past five months, Tom “Bearclaw” McDonald has been hosting karaoke at Red Carpet Tavern, located at 3301 Wayne Avenue in Dayton’s Belmont neighborhood. On Fridays and Saturdays at 9:30 p.m., you can find McDonald encouraging confident and hesitant patrons to take the stage in their own way.

“You don’t have to sing like someone on ‘The Voice’ or other TV shows,” said McDonald. “I tell people to just cut loose, have fun and enjoy yourself. We’re a neighborhood bar that provides a nice comfortable atmosphere. We want people to have a good experience to the point they’ll want to come back.”

More importantly, he’s proud of the bar being a judgement free zone.

“You should never be afraid to try something new,” said McDonald. “Everyone who enjoys karaoke just wants to have fun. After someone sings, I enjoy telling them they’ve done a good job.”

According to McDonald, the Red Carpet’s playlist runs the gamut from country and pop to rock and rap. He also doesn’t pass up the chance to perform some personal favorites.

“When I do karaoke, I love ‘East Bound and Down’ by Jerry Reed from the movie ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ and also ‘Soul Man’ by The Blues Brothers,” said McDonald. “I’m not your average karaoke host. I’m an energetic host. I like to get the crowd involved. The way I look at it is if (our customers) weren’t here, I wouldn’t be here. There’s a lot of karaoke in the area and I’ve talked with other hosts and received some tips from them which I’ve implemented. Karaoke is a neat experience for me just as much as it is for (our customers). When people come inside our doors and they see me they know they’re going to have a good time.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

There’s also a lot of excitement to be found at Soft Rock Café, located at 877 E. Franklin Street in Centerville. Karaoke is offered Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. Owner Mark Hall, who handles hosting duties on Thursdays, attributes the venue’s karaoke clout to longevity and presentation.

“We’ve been doing karaoke for over 20 years so (customers) have come to expect karaoke here,” said Hall. “Primarily, our sound system and light show sets us apart as the main attraction. We use high quality microphones and speakers as well. We have a performance-type (atmosphere).”

Hall also says providing a wide variety of genres is key for repeat customers.

“We’ll have a country song followed by a ‘50s song followed by a rock tune – anything goes,” he said. “People enjoy listening to different styles. We are 100 percent welcoming and very diverse. Whether you’re 21 or 44, we’ve seen a wide variety of ages and personalities. Our crowds are very supportive. You don’t have to be an ‘American Idol’ to sing here. Everyone is welcome. There is camaraderie in karaoke. Everyone is in it together and cheers for everyone to succeed.”

In addition to recognizing the benefit of Soft Rock Café being able to entertain to the fullest after the pandemic shutdown, Hall values karaoke’s inclusive appeal.

“Everyone can feel they’re a part of the show, which is different from when you’re seeing a live band,” he said. “Everyone gets their turn to shine or their opportunity to be a part of the mix. People have also been kind of pent up for so long due to COVID and now that more places are open, people are just anxious to get out again.”

The Stage Door is well known as Dayton’s oldest gay bar. Established in 1960 and located at 44 N. Jefferson Street in downtown Dayton, the bar has become a staple for karaoke on Fridays at 10 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 p.m.

“We’ve been a bar that’s been in existence for 62 years and it’s always been home to many generations,” said Eric Alvarez, marketing representative, bar manager and DJ at The Stage Door. “We do our utmost to provide a fun atmosphere for all of our customers, young and old.”

Alvarez has been leading karaoke in the Dayton area for 15 years and particularly the past six years at The Stage Door. He says the bar still abides by safety measures put in place due to the pandemic to ensure less contact among customers.

“People can submit songs by downloading an app on their phone to access our entire music catalog and (those) submissions are (sent) directly to me,” he said. “It’s definitely a more digital (approach) but the human interaction is still there. Our customers can always ask me about certain obscure songs if they can’t find them on a list. I’m always more than happy to help.”

A big fan of Michael Jackson who chooses to deliver high-energy karaoke with showmanship, Alvarez says selections range from rock and roll to rap. He’s especially proud of the bar’s sound quality which heightens atmospherics.

“There is a lot of appreciation for our sound,” he said. “We have lights going off on cue during certain parts of a song. At The Stage Door, we want to make the experience as fun as possible in order to make our customers feel like they’re at a concert instead of just being at karaoke night. People love the chance to have the stage. They love the limelight and the chance to showcase their talents to everyone.”

For more information about Red Carpet Tavern, call 937-963-2009. For more information about Soft Rock Café, call 937-438-3093. For more information about The Stage Door, call 937-223-7418. You can follow each venue on Facebook.

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