Around D.C., only the would-be powerful or tearfully apologetic (and sometimes both) elect to slide behind lecterns in the harsh light of day and do the public address thing.
But come Wednesday, Congress’ closeted crooners climb down from their mountain and make a beeline for Hill Country, where they loudly and proudly belt out their personal anthems with a little help from the HariKaraoke Band.
Those who’ve never been to Hill Country’s weekly Rock ’n’ Twang Live Band Karaoke should know that it’s far removed from the tragic-comic torture originally visited on us by sake-blind Japanese businessmen. Which is not to say that Hill Country is totally devoid of musically challenged performers. (We’re looking at you, dude who overemoted every last bar of Radiohead’s “Creep.”)
But that is, of course, all part of the fun.
“If you can’t sing, it really is a friendly room. If we know the words, we’ll sing along with you,” a Hill Country spokeswoman said of the insta-camaraderie that the weekly cover-fest fosters. “Usually when Congress is in session ... it’s packed down there.”
HariKaraoke drummer Kenny Lewis suggested the quirky quartet, which formed in May 2010, is happy to rock out with anyone. “We’re there to supply people a release,” he asserted, noting that the band deliberately exclude the giant gong that it hauls around to other local shows because Hill Country doesn’t want to alienate any of its off-key customers.
The band got its start accompanying entertainment-starved Columbia Heights denizens who would gather at the Wonderland Ballroom. The group is now in demand almost every night of the week, jamming biweekly on Tuesdays at the WB and Whitlow’s on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Va., on Wednesdays at Hill Country, on Fridays at SoBe’s in Clarendon, Va., and usually one Saturday a month at the Lion & Bull in Haymarket, Va.
Hill Country, however, remains the band’s largest and most enthusiastic crowd, Lewis said. “At this point, tables fill up by 8:30 p.m., it lasts till midnight ... and it’s packed and crazy every night,” Lewis explained, though he predicted the mounting throngs at SoBe might eclipse Hill Country come spring.
For now, the ebb and flow of Hill Country’s shindig is dictated more by available time than visiting talent. Lewis said the band tries to accommodate about 40 singers per night (allotting about five minutes per performance), amassing a songbook of 300-plus tunes that apparently strikes a chord with all kinds of folks.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.