Live Band Karaoke returns to Sonoma

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It’s Back! Live Band Karaoke returns to the Starling from 8 to 10 p.m. this Thursday night, Jan. 17.

“This event has grown in such popularity late-comers are finding they have to wait to get in,” said Starling co-owner Fred Johnson. “Avoid the wait and arrive early.”

In the three years since buying the former Blue Moon Saloon, partners Elizabeth Krist and Fred Johnson have steadily changed things around a bit. Perhaps their most popular addition is the monthly event called “live band karaoke,” or LBK.

In traditional Japanese karaoke, the singer performs to an audience using a prerecorded music selection. But with “live band karaoke,” a singer performs in front of a live band. The singer gets the satisfaction of letting loose their inner rock star, and also gets to taste the remarkable feeling of being on stage with a band of live musicians backing them up.

What began as an experiment has turned into a phenomenon.

John Arntz is the local live band karaoke mastermind, and is responsible for bringing it to the Starling. Randall Burrows serves as the emcee. Once a month a handful of locals lets it all hang out in front of adoring and incredulous friends. The first few brave singers are soon followed by almost a dozen more eager to take the stage, with time being the only limit to how many people can perform at each event.

The implementation of Live Band Karaoke is where it gets really impressive. Interested singers contact Arntz about performing. If there is room on the bill, a song title is mentioned, which version of the song they want to emulate is discussed, and the musical key for the songs is determined. Arntz prepares a chart of the song, and distributes it to his band. The members have a week or so to practice on their own. Then, on the Tuesday before the Thursday performance, the band rehearses the songs. The singer never actually sings with the band until, well, show time.

The Starling House Band, consisting of Arntz on bass, Bob McBain on keyboard, Davo Farrell on guitar and Michael Israel on drums, provides the singers with solid accompaniment throughout. Hats off to them for learning so many new songs, and being so musically fluid.

Arntz, who also has years of experience setting up and guiding people across ropes courses, sees live band karaoke as something similar. “It’s a musical ropes course,” he says. Taking a chance, facing fears, then celebrating doing it, all before a lively group of supportive and caring friends.

So, feeling brave and adventurous? Shoot Arntz an email at

It’s way more fun than singing in the shower.

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