Up and coming singers…You Tube is awash with them. Open mike nights in clubs give amateurs a stage from which to be seen. Television shows such as American Idol, The Voice and America’s Got Talent showcase singers from all over the country—and most of them hope to be the next big recording artist and all the fame and financial success that it can bring. The competition is fierce and only a few ever reach the goal.
But the beauty of music is that it doesn’t require perfection to be enjoyed or appreciated. It is so much a part of our lives—we often begin learning songs at a very early age and most any four-year old can sing the ABC song and a host of childhood songs. Every generation has a link to what they consider to be “their” music—often what was big when they hit their teen-age years. Admitted or not, singing in the shower is common for many of us. From the recordings on vinyl in the 50s and 60s, to eight-tracks, cassettes, compact discs and now personal devices that hold thousands of songs on a computer chip, singing along makes the miles go faster on long trips and allows us to enjoy our favorites at home as well. It is an integral part of everyday life and a universal language with few barriers.
So it’s really no surprise at all that an activity called karaoke that originated in Japan, has become a popular pastime for so many people the world over, including the small Wyoming town of Guernsey. Karaoke takes a common sing along with a leader to a higher level. Participants choose songs from a list that is identified by the DJ with a disc and song number. They submit their song request and the DJ plays that particular cds. Karaoke cds are instrumentals only but also linked to a video that plays the lyrics to the song on a screen, allowing the person to be the performer by following the words as they are highlighted and flow across the screen. Vic and Theresa Soto, residents in the community, know exactly how popular karaoke is. They know because they owned and operated Sounds Unlimited Mobile DJ in the Denver area before their move to Guernsey following retirement. Most of their business centered around providing entertainment at weddings, private parties and corporate events. Vic comes from a musical family who have been members of some of the most popular area bands in western Nebraska, southeast Wyoming and northeast Colorado.
After moving to Guernsey, the Sotos realized that there were limited things for people to do in a town of around 1,000 residents. With the pressure of a regular work schedule a thing of the past, they also realized they now had the time and the desire to share something with others—their love of music. Theresa pointed out, “We wanted to share how music is fun, enjoyable and can even be healing for some people.”
Already armed with the equipment and a huge music library to provide karaoke, the Sotos were able to rent an unused portion of a retail business building and soon began holding once-a-week karaoke sessions for anyone that was interested. Over the past five months, “Soto Street” has continued to grow, held on Wednesday nights, and scheduled for two and a half hours. But with people often waiting to get in before the 6:30 p.m. start time and the final song often played well beyond the 9 p.m. close, it’s easy to see this is an activity well-received by the community. Participation has grown with as many as 15, ranging in age from seven to 85. The majority have been seniors but it is open to all and anyone who wants to participate is welcome. Most sing, either alone or as part of the group but it’s not required, and some come just to enjoy the music and spend some time with friends. A song that starts out as a solo often ends up with everyone singing along.
Snacks and drinks are also provided, brought in by those who attend. It is a completely free-of-charge activity and the Sotos intend to keep it that way. Vic stressed their feelings about their involvement saying, “We just want people to be able to get together, enjoy getting out and visiting with friends, enjoy the music and have a good time. It’s a way we feel we can give back to our community.”
The requests cover a wide range of music styles and artists. Some of the most popular include Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Jr., The Eagles and Elvis Presley.
While karaoke has been the focus, the Sotos have also encouraged those who play instruments to let them know. Besides his duties as a DJ, Vic plays guitar and drums with several other local musicians so an occasional jam sessions are set up for another time, depending on schedules for those who would like to play.
The Sotos say they are also exploring the idea of putting on a movie night or afternoon. “We have a huge library of movies so it’s something we’re looking into that we might be able to offer in the future.”
For now, the Sotos are just very appreciative of the response they’ve had for something they both truly love and want to share. “We appreciate the help of Chuck and Mable Frederick in allowing us the use of the building, and we are so grateful for all the people who have come out to participate and support us.”
To those who attend, most say they could care less about the actual quality of someone’s voice. One participant said, “It’s not really about being able to sing. That’s ok, but it’s not the most important thing to us.”
Perhaps the best explanation of the goal is found in the words on the sign Theresa and Vic have hanging just outside the door. “Soto Street: A gathering place to play music, sing karaoke and fellowship.”