Sonoma’s Live Band Karaoke has a birthday
A visit to Starling Bar in Sonoma to see Live Band Karaoke (LBK) is a unique and fun way to spend an evening with the local music crowd. You will see a dozen or so Sonomans putting on their best Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks or Tom Jones. The unique thing about the karaoke event is, as the name so clearly states, there is a live band to back up the singers. A really good live band, commonly called the Starling House Band.
John Arntz is the promoter and bandleader of the night. He spends his time onstage as the bass player and musical quarterback. Davo Farrell rocks any number of electric guitars, filling space with tasty licks. Bob McBain is the keyboard guy, adding an unmistakably lush and soulful sound to the songs. The secret weapon of the band could very well be drummer Michael Israel, a monster of a timekeeper.
But, of course, the stars of the night are the singers. Friends and neighbors by day, rock stars by night.
Folks familiar with the formula of LBK become addicted, much like fans of “American Idol” or “The Voice.” The question is which of their friends will nail the tune tonight? The singers are amateurs, or are they?
The formula is straight forward. Prospective singers approach Arntz with a song they would like to perform. Arntz makes a quick “yay or nay” call based on his knowledge of what the band could pull off in convincing fashion. A “yay” gets the singer moved into the lineup for the next show. A discussion determines which version of the song the singer would like to perform, and in which musical key. The band is then charged with learning the song.
The moment of truth is when the singer is called onstage by host Randall Burrows. The microphone stand is adjusted, the crowd’s chatter falls, the singer’s pulse rate rises, the drummer counts off the song… “1, 2, 3….”
The next LBK show is Nov. 21. That night will mark the second anniversary of the series. During the two years of its existence, LBK has turned local wannabes into local celebrities.
Arntz always has a “featured vocalist” sing several songs to open the second set of the night. In the past, he has presented well-known singers, folks who perform in local working bands. Occasionally, Arntz chooses a relative newcomer to take the limelight for the night.
The featured vocalist Nov. 21 will be Rebekah Lurtz, a singer who has performed admirably at LBK several times in the past. “I have been a bit of a fixture there for the last year. When John asked me to be the featured vocalist, I was surprised, excited, and scared. Usually they have a more established singer,” said Lurtz.
Lurtz is a personal trainer and physical therapy assistant, and now can add singer to her resume. She will perform four songs on Nov. 21. Narrowing the songs down to four from the lengthy list she had been keeping “took about a week of contemplating.”
Traditionally, the LBK featured vocalist has the luxury of rehearsing with the band, albeit only one run through per song. “You only get one shot to get it right,” Lurtz said.
Since she has performed many times already, Lurtz is not typically nervous, but this time might be a bit different. She recalled her first performance at LBK, “I almost don’t remember it, I was so nervous. It was over before I even started.”
Lurtz has also gotten comfortable with the band over the last year. “They have the same energy and same support for everyone,” she remarked. She also has had thoughts of performing in her own band. “That would take a lot of time and effort. I am on the fence with that. I love singing with LBK in the meantime. It gives you that moment, for a few minutes up on the stage… you are a rock star.”
Live Band Karaoke expanded to Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Hotel a few months ago with mixed results, and the series retreated to the friendly confines of Starling. But a good idea well executed is hard to keep under wraps. They are now heading over to the Napa Golf Club as an additional location for the event.
The LBK band that will perform in Napa is the same as the Starling House Band, except that drummer Joe Shotwell will replace Israel. Look for them to provide the same groove-oriented instrumentals to start the night. The shows there will be monthly, just like in Sonoma. Mark your calendars for Wednesday, Dec. 11, as the inaugural show.
Live Band Karaoke will continue its monthly shows at Starling for the indefinite future. A recent $5 cover charge seems to have only heightened excitement. With the Napa location added to its monthly tour, more people will get to experience that moment of stardom.