As a drummer with local punk act Gina Go Faster, Mark Armijo always thought karaoke was kind of cheesy — especially since he'd written, recorded and played his own music. The few times he'd been to karaoke nights, people were always singing Sinatra, Elvis or Patsy Cline.
But that was before he teamed up with former Machine Gun Blues bassist Jermaine Smith to form Rock Star Karaoke a few years ago, offering weekly stints at the hi-dive, Walnut Room and Rockbar. And when Smith decided to give up karaoke and return to the bar-and-restaurant industry, Armijo kept the spirit alive, starting his own company, Mark Star Karaoke, and introducing a night at Interstate Kitchen & Bar on Thursdays. His idea of taking the cheese out of karaoke and replacing it with rock and roll proved so successful that he now has gigs five nights a week, including Teddy T's on Fridays, first Saturdays at the Berkshire, Rockaway on Sundays, the Hole on Tuesdays and 3 Kings Tavern on Wednesdays. "I want to trademark the term 'rockaroke' because Mark Star shows are rock and roll," he says, "and I think because of that, people enjoy my shows — because it's not cheesy karaoke."
Even so, Armijo admits that at first he was a little embarrassed to tell his musician friends that he was doing karaoke. But his show has enough cred, he says, that Karen Cuda, formerly of Hemi Cuda (an act Armijo toured with) and now Nashville Pussy, told him, "It's just perfect for you. It allows you to be you."
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As long as he can remember, Armijo wanted to be a rock star; when he was seven, he sang along to KISS records in his Superman Underoos. And today when he channels his punk-rock energy into karaoke, he's still a madman with the microphone. He starts off his karaoke nights with one of three songs by David Bowie — so fucking awesome in his glam-rockness and uniqueness, Armijo says — and then closes out the night with a raucous take on Electric Six's "Gay Bar."
"I like to fuck with people a little bit," he says. "I like to push people. So when I do 'Gay Bar,' I tell everybody to put on their gay shirts. You've got ten straight guys putting their shirts in Daisy Duke style and singing 'Gay Bar,' and it's such a party. It's a tribute to a good song, and it's a tribute to what I think rock and roll is. That's also makes my show unique, and it brings people out to see Mark Star.
"This is all I do now," he says. "Coming from thinking karaoke was cheesy as fuck to owning Mark Star. It's a legitimate business now."
Club scout: On Friday, July 8, DJs Uplifter and Bloodpreshah will introduce their new monthly roots reggae and dancehall night Feel Good Fridays at Chances Bar & Grill (1135 Bannock Street). Two blocks away, City Hall (1144 Broadway) is now the site of Blues on Broadway With the Sam Mayfield Blues Revue every Friday, an 18+ show hosted by KUVO's Carlos Lando. And the nearby Bar Standard (1037 Broadway) is hosting Genie and a Bottle at 9 p.m. Fridays, when the rooftop deck features hookahs and belly dancers as well as Arabic, Persian and Far East beats mixed with Top 40.