The Human Karaoke Experience

"America's #1 live karaoke band!"

CBS2 New York

"With blurbs from CBS’s own 1010 WINS as well as Time Out NY magazine, it’s hard not to take this group somewhat seriously. They care about two things: rocking and karaoke (not necessarily in that order). Unlike many other live karaoke bands, HKE prides themselves on willingly stretching into non-rock genres and never charging fans a “per song fee” to sing with them. The group has attained a fairly loyal following that has established a supportive environment dedicated to celebrating music and supporting all who are brave enough to sing a couple of covers. This is a great spot for beginners wanting to get their feet wet.!"-- July 19, 2012, 1010 WINS Radio 

1010 WINS Radio

"The Human Karaoke Experience is one the best 5 things to do in NYC tonight! It’s finally your chance to be the lead singer of a real rock ‘n roll band. Come to O’Flanagan’s tonight at 9 p.m. and sing with The Human Karaoke Experience. This power trio has given plenty wanna-be singers the chance to belt out a tune or two. The band knows everything from Hendrix to The Who. Get there early to enjoy watching random strangers get up on stage. But watch out…they’ll probably try to get you up there, too!"-- August 18, 2011, 1010 WINS Radio 

Time Out New York

"Show off your Jagger strut with accompaniment from this power trio, which has backed wanna-be Micks for seven and a half years. The band’s experience shows: More than 600 ditties by the likes of the Who, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix are in its repertoire. You can catch this crew at the Upper East Side Irish pub O’Flanagan’s most Thursday nights. Just make sure to show up early; the band tries to get everyone on stage, but occasionally people are able to perform only one song. O’Flanagan’s, 1215 First Ave between 65th and 66th Sts (212-439-0660, Thu 9pm; free."-- August 3, 2011, Time Out New York 

Yelp Reviews

“This New York's Finest Live Band Karaoke. The outside reminds me of a red British bus or a Fire House. The inside looks like an old school Irish pub. The environment is extremely friendly with very few Frat Boys. The food is good with their Chicken Marsala and Lasagna. The staff and the bartenders are very fast and courteous.

The band playing is called the Human Karaoke Experience. The sound is awesome and rotations are fair. They play great music and they totally rock my life. They have a great song selection for a live band karaoke. When I was there, I was dressed in CHP style pedal-pushers, White T-Shirt and a leather jacket for a punk rock look. Before I sang "Blitzkrieg Bop", someone ask me, "Why a Cupcake like Anne Hathaway singing the Ramones...Just might sound like Edith Piaf?" After singing the song, that same guy said, "This Lady is Anne Benatar...Anne Hathaway and Pat Benatar Combined!"-- May 5, 2008, Yelp

“CAVEAT: I hate Karaoke. I love air guitaring, doing the robot, dancing like a retard so you would think it would be a perfect fit. Well, it ain't. I really despise it.

Anyhow, now that we have that out of the way, my colleagues recently hosted my good-bye party at O'Flanagans. Clearly they thought me + karaoke = the perfect fit, as well. Either that or they were super psyched to get rid of me. Imagine my shock horror when I not only heard we were going to the Upper Eastside (downtown snob, I know, I know) BUT a karaoke bar. I nearly didn't go.

But, I did - and you know what? I had SUCH a good time! Did you know they have a band - an actual band - that knows basically every song ever written from REM "It's The End of The World" to The Divinyl's "I Touch Myself" to, well, everything. You sign up for whatever you want, your name is called and you get to rip it up like a real rock star with your own back up band! Yeah, it's a different crowd - an eclectic one to say the least - but everyone is so excited and so pumped (and likely so sauced on Irish whiskey) that it was a complete blast. I mean, let's be honest, who wouldn't want to sing along to George Michael's "Faith" with the bar maid and a random 300 lb dude to a standing ovation? (Answer: Not me. Sign me up, baby!)”-- March 25, 2008, Yelp

New York Restaurant Guide

"Went there on a Thursday night. The food was good and so was the service. The place itself is very relaxing, with a nice friendly crowd - good for bringing friends or making new ones.

On the night we went, they had an amazing live karaoke band - where you get to sing karaoke with a band instead of prerecorded music. I'm definitely going back on alternate Thursdays when the band (The Human Karaoke experience) performs.

O'Flanagans is my new hangout, for sure!" -- August 19, 2007, New York Restaurant Guide

Time Out New York

"Like pretty much every living human being, my dream is to be a rock star. Lucky for me, I reside in New York City, and thanks to the genius of live-band karaoke - real guitars, no lame videos - I have the opportunity to kick it like a genuine rock & roller. 

I went to The Roadhouse, a cavernous juke joint in Tribeca. The Human Karaoke Experience, whose members know an amazing 461 songs, follow a singer no matter how high he or she launches into the stratosphere. 

And oh man, was I high the night I sang "Just What I Needed". Women were grabbing at me, and the cynics by the bar hoisted their pints in a gleeful salute. I encored with "Born To Run", a hard song for any mortal to sing. But I was invincible - thanks to the Human Karaoke Experience!" -- June 29, 2006, Time Out New York 

"The Human Karaoke Experience may be the best of the city's many faceless live sing-along bands, mostly because this trio of unassuming, but highly capable musicians - they know 458 songs! - has no agenda other than making your rock & roll fantasy come true." -- May 3, 2006, Time Out New York

Manhattan User's Guide 

"Hi MUG, Not sure if you've posted this one or not, but you must absolutely feature the Live Human Karaoke Experience at the A&M Roadhouse. They started a few years ago...It's really catching on and you now have to get there really early if you want to sing." -- April 19, 2006, Manhattan User's Guide

Downtown Express

"Along with the thrill of performing live on stage, it may also be this supportive atmosphere that brings the singers, pretenders, and American Idol wannabes to the Roadhouse on certain Friday nights." -- November 19, 2004, Downtown Express 

The Rand Show, Rutgers University

"Karaoke equals awesome. Now I'm just saying. That's how I disarm all objections to all of my idiotic statements, I'm just saying. But Karaoke equals awesome is true and you know it, I know it, and if you're snickering because I said it, it's because you're lamitude is just so massive it's cutting off oxygen to your brain. So since Karaoke equals awesome and awesome band equals awesome, Live Band Karaoke (if you have an awesome band, which was the case with the Human Karaoke Experience) equals mega awesome, and so I had a good night last night. 

I hit up Live Band Karaoke, hosted by the Rutgers University Planning Association (RUPA!) (always a fan of their work) and I partied like it was some year that's highly associated with partying. Well, let me say before I just ramble on and on and on and on and on and on and on... 

Ok, well why was this so cool: First of all the band was pretty sweet. Second the song list was massive. So that was cool. And it was fun. It was good to have fun. It's been a taxing week, and so it's nice to feel alive like that. For the rest of my days on earth (sing it brother, guitar solo!). That's one thing about the Human Karaoke Experience - awesome guitar solos! " -- November 10, 2007, The Rand Show 

Bachelor on a Budget

"BudgetFun: Live Karaoke. Now, as an Asian, naturally ANY karaoke is going to be great time for me. It's a little known fact that Karaoke is a Japanese word meaning "Asian guy singing Elvis songs." 

However, this enjoyment is multiplied ten-fold when it's karaoke done to a LIVE backup band. Guitar Hero is great and all, but this is the way to REALLY feel like a rock star. Plus, it's typically cheaper than regular karaoke - no per song charge, no room charges. You just have to wait your turn. There's never a cover charge. The main live karaoke band in the city to look for: 

The Human Karaoke Experience: This is a great place for live karaoke beginners. They're a super cool and relaxed trio with a mind-blowing playlist of 500 songs! Pick out your songs from their website and get to their events early as they have a hardcore group of regulars that always get there and fill up the first couple of pages rather quickly. Put your name down in the earliest slot available, then once on each of the next pages if you want to sing several songs during the night. They play in multiple venues so check their website for a schedule - I've gone to see them at O'Flanagan's Pub on 1st Avenue between 65th and 66th Streets. They serve food there too; I heartily recommend the O'Flanagan Burger for $9.95. Great size and quality of beef, with swiss cheese, mushrooms, onions and sour cream, and decent thick and dirty fries. " -- November 30, 2007, Bachelor on a Budget 

Making Music Magazine

"Andy Warhol’s prediction that everyone will experience 15 minutes of fame is coming true, believes Fernando Menendez, percussionist for The Human Karaoke Experience, a live sing-along band based in New York City. 

Warhol was just a little off on the timing. Today, fame might only last about three minutes, the typical length of a pop song. 

“Just look at the American Idol phenomenon,” explains 47-year-old Menendez. “The line between audience and spectator has grayed out. Music has gone from the audience being only observers to becoming participants.” With The Human Karaoke Experience, every audience member has a chance to do more than just participate—they can become an integral part of the band’s performance. All it takes is a little courage. 

Own the Stage 

The concept behind The Human Karaoke Experience is simple. Ditch the prerecorded music and videos of song lyrics, but just like video Karaoke, allow amateur singers to belt out a tune, feed their inner diva, and have fun with their friends, while being backed by a real, responsive band. 

Human Karaoke Experience band members admit they didn’t come up with the live Karaoke concept, but they have become one of its most popular proponents. In fact, they’re afraid of becoming victims of their own success. Their sign-up list maxes out at around 40 singers each night, and the list sometimes fills up days before a gig. As musicians who play open jams themselves, they’re aware of the frustration singers experience if they have to wait hours before getting in front of an audience. As a result, they assign strict time slots to everyone. 

Menendez is joined in The Human Karaoke Experience by Tony Novarro, who plays lead guitar, bass guitar, and mandolin, and Marty Bender, who plays bass and keyboards. The band can be found regularly at New York City bar O’Flanagan’s, where casual participants—folks who may have found a little Dutch courage to sing on the spur of the moment for friends—perform along side regulars who practice, memorize songs, and sometimes even choreograph a dance routine to go along with them. 

“We don’t differentiate between performers,” observes Menendez. “Our only requirement is that a singer makes the stage his or her own. It’s their chance to sing in front of a live band and have some fun.” 

Live Magic 

The idea for the band was hatched three years ago, the inspiration of Gregg Raybin, owner of The Jam NYC. A social club for recreational musicians, The Jam NYC prides itself as being a supportive organization where singers and instrumentalists of all abilities meet and join bands that play just about every musical style. 

When a neighborhood tavern around the corner asked for some musicians to play at a Karaoke night, Menendez, Novarro, and Bender jumped at the chance. They drew up a list of about 200 songs, photocopied lyrics, hung a sign-up sheet, and prayed that more than just friends and relatives would attend. 

“Live performing will never go away, because it’s too important,” asserts Menendez, reflecting on his band’s successful format. “And that’s the sort of experience you can’t get with canned Karaoke. You can only get this thrill singing with live musicians. That’s why people come to sing with us.” In return, the audience gives each performer a unique energy and support that he or she may have never experienced before. That’s part of the magic of live performance. 

Follow Along 

Now boasting a whopping 469 songs on its play list, The Human Karaoke Experience has learned something for almost every musical taste, ranging from Frank Sinatra ballads to torch songs by Cher to “Be-Bop-a-Lula” by Gene Vincent to assorted show tunes. That kind of variety demands an ability to accommodate a wide assortment of performers and styles. 

“One moment I could be playing a hard rock song, and right afterwards, a tender country ballad,” says Menendez. “We have to be sensitive to how our performers are singing and make the necessary adjustments, whether it’s in the volume, the tempo, or whatever. It ends up becoming a growth experience for the singers and for us, because it challenges our listening skills.” 

Guitarist Novarro, 45, enjoys the challenge. “You don’t want your singers to lose their place or get off tune,” he says. “If they jump a verse, we’ll follow them. We want to make them comfortable on stage.” 

A regular cover band might have around 70 sounds in its rotation, Novarro points out, but The Human Karaoke Experience can perform that many in just one night. “And it may take six months for a song to repeat, but you’ll eventually get to it, so you have to stay on your toes.” 

The ability to play many songs in many styles takes a lot of practice, although Menendez makes the preparation sound easy: “With The Human Karaoke Experience, we get male and female singers and have to perform songs from just about every time period. So before each show, I’ll look over the songs with the most difficult riffs.” 

Stepping Back 

Classic rock tunes from the late ’60s through the ’80s are most requested. Novarro points out that ironically, 20-somethings have a fondness for singing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s stadium rocker “Sweet Home Alabama” or The Door’s grungy “Roadhouse Blues.” 

“I don’t know what the draw is. I guess these kids must have grown up without any songs,” laughs Novarro. “You’d think they would want to sing the new stuff, but they don’t. Every once in a while, we’ll get a request for a Kelly Clarkson song, but most of the time, the songs requested are least 20 years old.” 
The most requested songs might surprise you, says Marty Bender. It seems people like singing about heartbreak, and perhaps it’s the cathartic value of these songs that makes them attractive—“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette tops the request list, followed by Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive.” 

“‘You Oughta Know’ is a very scary song,” says 48-year-old Bender. “All of us have experienced a broken heart, but in this song it’s more than broken. The heart’s ripped out and the woman is seeking revenge. Every time it’s requested, I take a step or two back. I’ve never known a woman who’s requested this song not know the lyrics by heart. And boy, do they sing it!” 

Despite its impressive repertoire, The Human Karaoke Experience can’t offer everything you might find in a digital Karaoke program. Songs by the Carpenters are omitted by the band, for instance. “I love them,” says Bender, “but we just can’t pull them off to sound like the original.” 

Bender explains that because there are only three musicians in the band, and they have to cover all the musical lines in a song, each member must play multiple instruments, but sometimes the instrumental mix just doesn’t work. “In songs by the Carpenters, you need the guitar, keyboard, bass, and rhythm playing equally. Without all four, their songs sound empty.” 

Creative Chance 

Bender has a final word about the name of the band. Beyond referring to the popular sing-along entertainment device, the band’s name also emphasizes what Bender calls “the humanity in the performer’s experience.” To illustrate, he relates a story that touched his heart. 

A woman who works at a local New York hospital has become one of the band’s regular performers. On several occasions, she even volunteered to type lyrics for the band. At a recent performance, she invited her boss to attend. During the show’s break, the boss took Bender aside and thanked him for helping his employee through a difficult time in her life. 

The boss explained that several years ago, the woman’s husband died of a heart attack. He was a relatively famous musician. “But he never encouraged his wife to express herself musically,” relates Bender. “Her boss told us that singing with The Human Karaoke Experience has helped her bring herself out of the funk her husband’s death caused.” 

A chance to sing in front of an audience gave her a chance to express herself creatively and work through her grief. “You can’t help but be pleased hearing that story,” concludes Bender. “I guess that’s what The Human Karaoke Experience is all about—giving amateur singers a chance to be on stage with their friends and family in the audience. Everyone is supporting each other. It doesn’t get better than that!” "
-- July, 2007, Making Music Magazine

The Villager

Live band adds twist to Friday night karaoke

By Leigh Devine

The dark-haired young woman shyly approached the stage when her name was called out by the bandleader. She looked nervous as she took the microphone and greeted the band with a gentle smile. But within seconds of starting the song, a solid and confident voice exploded into the familiar rock hit, “Counting Blue Cars,” by Dishwalla.

“I was so scared my hands were shaking,” said Iszellyn David, an accountant who lives in Westchester. This was her second visit to the Live Karaoke Night at the A&M Roadhouse on Murray St., and the first time singing the Dishwalla song in front of an audience. “But the band is so supportive,” she said, “and everyone’s rooting for you.” Indeed, the audience cheers and sings along with every singer. The band helps the singers get through the song when they’re unsure of where to stop, sing another chorus or when to go to a bridge.

Along with the thrill of performing live on stage, it may also be this supportive atmosphere that brings the singers, pretenders, and American Idol wannabes to the Roadhouse on certain Friday nights. The serious folks arrive by around 8 p.m. to get a seat, review the song list and sign up before the band is even ready.

When the names are called out, the singers head up to the stage — sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend, or even a group. With printed lyrics on a music stand, each serenades the audience with tunes from the Beatles to Sinatra to Alanis Morrisette, and to the ever-popular karaoke staple, “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor.

“I fell flat on my face on ‘Just My Imagination,’” said John Pinto, an executive at MetLife, and a near baritone who attends regularly. “But my attitude was like, it’s about having fun,” he said. Pinto tries new songs every week and has attempted everything from “Hotel California” to “Pink Cadillac” to his favorite, “Stray Cat Strut.”

The brainchild of several musicians from The Off Wall Street Jam, a music club next door on Murray St., the A&M Live Karaoke Night has grown steadily since its beginning last March, according to Marty Bender, the bass and keyboard player as well as unofficial conductor and cheerleader. “We worked really hard” to come up with 350 popular songs that a lot of people would know, said Bender.

“At first, nobody knew what to expect,” he said. Most of the early participants were Off Wall Street Jam members who were not afraid to sing with a live band, while others looked on, and perhaps emboldened by a few beers, might venture to the stage later in the evening.

But the bar’s owner, Arthur Gregory, was less skeptical. “I knew it would be big,” he said. “People are starting to really like karaoke.” In response, he says, they’ll be holding Live Karaoke three out of four Fridays in December, and perhaps even more after the New Year. The band sometimes plays till 1:30 a.m., and there’s no cover charge or song fee.

For the three musicians, it’s a big challenge. “We never know what they’re going to pick,” said songmeister Bender, who works in real life for the Department of Homeland Security in Newark, N.J.  Guitar player, Tony Navarro works for the Social Security Administration, and Fernando Mendendez is a computer systems analyst.  They’re too busy with their regular jobs to rehearse regularly, said Bender, and find themselves alternating throughout the night from classic rock to Motown to country, as well as pop and grunge.  They cannot play everything though, and kindly discourage any surprise requests.  But they do try to add new songs each week, and Bender regularly sends out an e-mail to those on his list with the new songs.

“Karaoke Night,” as it’s come to be called, has developed a core following where some well-known regulars are bound to show up. “My favorite is the guy who does Mick Jagger,” said Gregory. He believes the man is actually an Englishman, and loves how he struts on the stage like Mick.

Bender even has nicknames for some of the others including, “Don Juan,” the mystery man who dedicates every song to the ladies and won’t tell people his real name, Lisa, “The Rock and Roll Chick,” “DooWop” Rich and “Stray Cat” John (Pinto).

The key thing, says Bender, is that it’s not a competition. “Everyone’s here to have a great time,” he said. The audience is sympathetic with cheering encouragement for everyone, no matter how tone deaf the performer. “I’d say about 20 percent are really good, 60 percent are okay, and, well, the rest are not professional singers,” said Gregory.  But he adds, the point is that no matter what, they all have fun.  Asked if as the owner, he has ever given it a shot, he replied, “Honey, when I sing in the shower, the water goes off.”
-- Nov, 2004, The Villager