Friday, June 13, 2008

Be Rock Star

By MELODY STONE, The Eureka Reporter
Published: Jun 12 2008, 4:55 PM · Updated: Jun 12 2008, 5:02 PM
Categories: Arts, Arts

According to Time Asia, the karaoke machine was invented in Japan in 1971 by Daisuke Inoue. Multiple venues in Humboldt County are extending its legacy, offering patrons the chance to sing their favorite pop song in front of strangers. What happens when electronic drums, guitars, bass and a scoring system are added to that equation? “Rock Band.”

“Rock Band” is a video game released in 2007 by Harmonix Music Systems. The genre of music video games was first popularized by “Guitar Hero,” where players push colored buttons and strum a lever on a plastic guitar controller to emulate playing chords and strumming a guitar. The buttons coincide with images on the video screen, which indicate which button to push and when.

Even before the rise of “Guitar Hero,” there were arcade games based on emulating playing musical instruments. There was also “Dance Dance Revolution,” which had a pad controller with squares that the player stepped on to “dance,” following instructions on the screen.

Through video games, players can live out what they’ve always wanted to be: singer, rock star, dancer. The Red Fox Tavern has transported those games out of players’ living rooms and into a real venue.

Though the Red Fox Tavern also hosts live performers like Jackie Greene and Steve Kimock, once a week it opens the stage to gamers.

Each player gets their own audio and visual monitors, and the screen is projected on the wall for spectators to keep an eye on how the band is doing. If the drummer misses a beat, it’s recorded and scored by the game.

“We run it through our $1,500 PA, which just sounds awesome,” said Red Fox booking agent Ryan “Dutchy” Kemble, who had the idea for “Rock Band” Night.

Kemble said the event has turned into karaoke extreme. “Some people come down all dressed up. We’ve had several all-girl bands.”

Kemble plans to host a battle of the bands on June 25. The scoring system will be bracketed and paired bands will compete one at a time on the same song. The band with the most points will move on to the next round. There will also be prizes for the best dressed bands.

Every Tuesday, new songs are released for download. Kemble makes sure he gets all the new songs. Last Tuesday, he downloaded some Jimmy Buffet songs and put margaritas on the special.

“Everybody gets out there and gets to live out their inner rock dreams,” said Kemble.

Brad Van Pelt, the general manager at the Red Fox, said he doesn’t classify himself as a hard-core gamer, but he’ll play the drums frequently. “It’s a lot of fun. People down here are just having fun and that’s what it’s about.”

The players range in skill level from beginners to experts. Roman Sandquist and Dustin Vallance, from Fortuna, have even made it into the top 300 players on the online charting system for “Rock Band.” As of last Wednesday, they were No. 271 (out of about 100,000 bands).

Another frequenter of “Rock Band” Night is Goofy and the Peeps. Eric Kuster plays guitar in Goofy and the Peeps and said they have set practices before they perform.

“Everybody in high school wanted to be in a band. For a couple of hours you get to be a rock star,” said Kuster, who wore eyeliner for his performance. Kuster also wears sunglasses while onstage because he said it hides the fact that his eyes are watching the screen and not the audience.

Kuster said he likes playing “Rock Band” at home because his children get to listen to the music he loves. “My 7-year-old daughter loves The Rolling Stones.”

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