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Back in October 2000, Caroline Hostetler and Jimmy Askew got fed up with the inflated cover charge at their usual karaoke haunt, Doubletree’s Skydome Lounge in Crystal City, Va. “So we figured we’d just move karaoke into the neighborhood place,” Askew says outside the Galaxy Hut, where he and Hostetler (known at the bar as the “mistress of karaoke”) are hosting their third “Hump Nite Karaoke.”
The Galaxy Hut, a bar and restaurant about the size of a studio apartment, regularly hosts performances by local, regional, and national indie-rock and punk bands. The Arlington venuewhose upcoming featured acts include Satanic Butt Slayer and Crucial Defectis not where you’d expect to hear people crooning to the likes of Toto, Ace of Base, and Amy Grant. But they doheartilywithout the lounge ambiance traditionally associated with high-stakes karaoke. Outfitted in the ties, skirts, and sweaters of the young-to-middle-aged-professional set, the crowd is united by a high threshold for off-key vocals and a surprising willingness to step up to the mike.
At their inaugural sing-along, three months ago, Hostetler and Askewtwo of the Hut’s large cast of regulars (Askew is the bassist for the garage-rock band Motor Cycle Wars, which has played at the Galaxy Hut a couple of times)plugged in a donated karaoke machine, only to find it was a dud. The duo raced to a nearby Best Buy, laid down almost $200 of their own money for a new machine, and sped back to the Hut. Half an hour later, the bar’s semimonthly, Wednesday-evening karaoke series was born.
Tonight, things are rolling along a lot more smoothly. By 9:30, the joint is noisy and crowded, and you can’t talk to anyone without catching a strong whiff of beer breath. Beneath crisscrossing strands of white and multicolored Christmas lights, 33-year-old Rebecca D’Angelo is making her way down a crowded aisle to the stage, a 2-foot-square clearing in the red-and-black-tile floorin front of the bathrooms. The petite, brown-haired freelance photographer starts shaking her top to the music in the direction of two guys sitting near the so-called stage. She showcases her choreographic skills in a 360-degree turnaround before biting into the chorus of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” her voice painfully flat against the backing music. White-lettered lyrics flash across a TV screen, prompting her, but D’Angelo’s eyes are closed; she knows this one by heart.
“That was just a warm-up for ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’ [the Bee Gees’ version!],” the red-wine-sipping D’Angelo says after her one-song set. “I still need a few more drinks to get my voice up.” She admits, though, that she feels little pressure. “This is makeshift karaoke,” she says, “like bowling for novelty.”
The familial crowdloaded with Galaxy Hut regularsis pretty forgiving. When 48-year-old Jim Van Blarcom grabs the mike for an inebriated, high-volume version of the B-52s’ “Love Shack”and when he roars incorrect, off-tempo lyricsthe audience is remarkably tolerant. “Everyone here is supportive, like brothers and sisters,” Van Blarcom says after his song, shoving the front door open and chucking his cigarette onto Wilson Boulevard. “It’s a big love-in.”
By 11:00 p.m., the Galaxy Hut has attracted so many wannabe crooners that blazing a trail to the bar requires a machete. Twenty-eight-year-old Gordon Meuse, who’s relocating to Dallas in the morning, strikes up David Bowie’s “Changes,” flailing his arms Michael Stipe-style to loud shouts of confidence from his going-away posse. “A lot of people here pretend like they’re distant from the karaoke thing. They think it’s kind of ironic that they’re even doing it,” he says afterward. “So, they can have their irony, but they get to actually have fun, too.” Dan Gilgoff