The Karaoke Cowboy
Every week Fandango over at This, That and the Other posts a provocative question. Everyone is said to get there 15 minutes, Fandango’s question asks us to explore fame and expose our claim on it. This week’s question is…
“What is your claim to fame?”
Back when I attended Lakehead University I would take the train back home. You don’t really get a feel for how big Ontario is until you try and cross it. The trip from Toronto to Thunder Bay, itself the amalgamation of Fort William and Port Arthur sitting at the western end of Lake Superior, is a 20-hour train ride. That only moves you from two points within Ontario. There is still another ten hours from Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border in the west and six from Toronto to the Quebec border in the east. Alaska and Texas are small in comparison to Ontario’s vast geographical area.
As odd as it sounds VIA Rail (Canada’s Amtrak equivalent) did not pass through the City of Thunder Bay. It ran along CN Rail’s northern route through the small logging community of Armstrong situated about 250 km and 3 hours north of Thunder Bay.
At the time, Armstrong was home to about 1300 residents, about 100 more than call it home today. The town had two bars, both nothing more than one-room dives. The first location played classic rock music through an old Jukebox and the other played country and western through a karaoke machine. This was 1993 so Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, and Reba McEntire were filling the airwaves and with the advent of Soundscan to properly track record sales, the genre was seeing a resurgence fueled by young and charismatic artists across North America. My girlfriend and I were listening to “New Country” as it had been dubbed, hitting up local rodeos on weekends and spending nights cutting a rug at the local honky tonks.
Anyway, here we are in this tiny bar, me in my deerskin cowboy boots, blue and black Garth Brooks cowboy shirt and a black ten-gallon hat. Naturally, my girlfriend insisted I go up and sing her a song. She even picks out the Randy Travis’ classic “Diggin’ Up Bones” and me being a fool in love agrees to make an arsehole of myself for all to see. For my efforts, I may have spent some time in the back seat of a fogged-up car before hopping on the train back to Hogtown, but my memory is a bit fuzzy.
So here is this fool on a makeshift stage crooning to the ball boppin’ across the screen of the Karaoke display. The room is full of about 25-30 mostly Aboriginal Canadians from the nearby reservation. When the music finally ends and I set the microphone back on the stand the room erupts into applause, a few so moved they even jump to their feet to give me a standing ovation. Later on, as we were sitting at our table sippin’ on Molson Canadian, the only beer they served, one of the patrons who was clearly three sheets to the wind stopped by our table and insisted I should consider starting a career as a singer/musician, he even suggested he could talk to the owner of the bar to get me a gig for a few nights.
FYI, you will be happy (or at least your ears will) that my singing career has remained largely confined to an empty car or the bathroom shower!!!
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