Sunday, July 18, 2010

Punk Rock Karaoke in Billings MT: July 17

Driving through the West has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Of course I have seen photos in magazines and on television, and depictions in paintings. But it's true what they say: nothing beats seeing it with your own eyes.

Saturday morning I left Dickinson, North Darkota, bound for Montana. The landscape all around me continued to take my breath away. It would change every hour or two as I sped along the highway, settling into a certain kind of wondrous vista, only to change drastically again an hour or two later, into something quite different but equally stunning.

A short bit into Montana on I-94, I stopped for lunch in Miles City, Montana. I was struck immediately by the sight of the main drag littered with tiny little buildings the size of your average Taco Bell, all labeled "Casino." Apparently gambling is quite legal in Montana - I did not know this! After lunch I stopped into one next to the restaurant, just to see what it was like. It seemed to be filled with machines known as "Video Keno." I put $1 into one machine that was 5 cents per game, just to see what it was. I needed to pick 10 numbers between 1 and 100, and then the machine would randomly pick 20 numbers between 1 and 100, and I would do better the more of my numbers that were matched by the machine. I was bored silly. People spend their life savings on this? But I guess I can appreciate any sort of potentially-addictive behavior. There were lots of flashing lights, free drinks (of which I did not partake, obviously -free booze at 1 in the afternoon? seriously??), and although it did not hold my interest, I could see how the game might provide that addictive buzz from winning for someone, coupled with that dastardly mechanism of being able to play over and over again, however many times I wanted.

I got back on I-94 West and continued on, driving through more and more gorgeous scenery everywhere I looked. Around 4 o'clock local time I pulled into a rest stop, and had to snap the photo you see above. At first the sign made me laugh out loud, and then I thought: shit, there might really be rattlesnakes around here...that's no joke, yo! Finally around 5pm I made it to Billings.

Up front I want to thank Mike and Sean at the Railyard Alehouse for giving me a full show on such short notice. When I arrived, I went inside and it looks like a great place - big stage, great sound system, plenty of room for everyone. Unfortunately, the door man and sound man could not make it in to work, so the venue decided to cancel the show. I was disappointed, but Mike especially could not have treated me better or been nicer to me. Several people around us heard Mike tell me the show was cancelled, and they generously came up to talk to me and asked for a CD. Mike also invited me back sometime in the future when I could provide more notice, which I would love to do.

So...what's a boy from New York City to do all alone in Billings, Montana on a Saturday night? Well, karaoke, of course! I walked by a bar and overheard people talking about it, so I said what the heck and headed inside. I signed up to sing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, and the first few people all did rock songs, so I felt pretty comfortable with my selection. Then we headed into a long, serious period of old school country covers, all of them very well done, with much enthusiasm and spirit which I appreciated. One thing I don't particularly care for about karaoke is when someone who is really too scared to sing is goaded up by friends. Quite often this particular individual is also well hammered. Then that Journey song I like so much starts up and the "fun" begins...

Anyway, finally it was my turn and I laid into Cobain's most famous musical rant. Afterwards I thought about how Kurt would probably be quite disgusted that Nirvana songs had made it onto the karaoke machine playlists (there were about 8 possible Nirvana tunes in the machine used at this bar). But then I hoped at least that if karaoke had to happen, that someone like me would rip through a Nirvana song in fine punk rock fashion every once in a while. I had a great time in any case. I would have preferred to perform my own songs with my guitar that night, but many things are beyond my control, and hey, somehow in a town I've never been to before, I found a microphone, back-up music and a punk rock anthem to sing. A boy could do worse.

I met several nice people at the bar, but I wanted to especially mention Amanda. Amanda stands out on a Saturday night in Billings - she has a big mohawk haircut, a black leather Anarchy jacket and a Dead Kennedys tattoo on her arm. She does not, as Marisa Tomei's line from the film My Cousin Vinny goes, "blend." But Amanda is someone who is very comfortable with herself and who she is, and manages to hang out in a karaoke bar on a Saturday night, being herself and making friends. I feel very fortunate to have met her, and her rendition of Sid Vicious' take on "My Way" was outstanding.

After that I was planning on just heading back to the hotel, but I kind of felt like dancing. So I went to a dance club called Carlin's, and met two lovely ladies, who were childhood friends reunited during one of them visiting. Dani and Sammy grew up together in Billings. Dani is now married and lives with her husband and kids in Seattle, Sammy is married and lives in Billings. Dani is back with her children visiting her parents, and it was a night for the two childhood chums to go out and have some fun together. I was really glad I got to meet these two great gals, they kept me laughing and smiling all night. I also met Sammy's friend Chris, who announced to the table that the Billings professional Arena Football team had just won the national championship.

Dani was nice enough to dance with me, and we had some nice, innocent fun together on the dance floor. Her husband's a very lucky guy, and I'm grateful to her for helping a traveler with nothing in particular to do have a much more enjoyable evening.

Now it's Sunday morning ,and I'm about to pack up the car and cross the rest of Montana, ending up in Missoula tonight.

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