By Jesse Wood
In the late ‘70s, Keith Richardson was on vacation in the Bahamas just before a light bulb went off in his mind. The tiny bar he was hanging out at in Nassau was dead with about three customers enjoying their beverages and looking out into the marina.
It was vacation after all, so Richardson was still having fun. Soon, though, a fellow walked in with some equipment, and almost immediately, the place was packed – and the outside patio, too. Richardson asked someone what was happening.
“He said, ‘It’s karaoke.’ I said, ‘What is that?’” Richardson reflected. “I had no idea [what karaoke was at that time].”
Some three decades later, Richardson, owner of a local company called Sound Technique Mobile DJ, hasn’t looked back.
While Richardson was born and raised in Florida, his parents are from Deep Gap. In the late ‘60s, Richardson moved back to the High Country and ran a music shop, Sounds of Music, for about five years.
He would move back to Florida in the ’70s, where he was a luthier, building and repairing guitars, and a sound technician for local bands before he was asked to deejay at a singles dance in Ft. Lauderdale.
“After a while, the deejay business took off, to the point I had to start hiring people to do the repair work for me and after a while, I closed the repair shop in Florida,” Richardson said.
Then he took that vacation to the Bahamas and discovered all about karaoke. As soon has he got back to the states, he tracked down a distributor, which at the time had only four laser disks containing about 100 songs for karaoke, in New York and bought the disks.
Richardson became the third person in South Florida to start doing karaoke. He told a bar owner about his new idea, and the owner said, “You got to come in and start working in the bar.”
He was soon “booked up solid.” He hired four employees and performed at a variety of clubs and bars, cruise ships, parties for TV stations and big corporate events, big picnics and pro-bono work at gatherings for nonprofits benefitting children. Karaoke, Richardson said, provided weekday gigs in a business that was reliant on the weekend party nights.
In 1996 as his parents grew older, Richardson said he sold the business and moved back to the High Country.
“When I got up here, people who knew me said where’s you equipment, so I had to rebuild and start from scratch up here,” Richardson said.
His first job in the High Country was at Nick’s Restaurant and Pub on Tynecastle Highway in Banner Elk that first year. Richardson said that it started out only on Friday night with competition from another venue on Saturday night.
“Soon we took over both days, and it got so big we had to close the place,” Richardson said.
Then he started working out of Geno’s on N.C. 105 in Boone, where 350 to 500 people would pack the place on a Wednesday night.
“It got really crazy. It lasted two years, and [the owner] couldn’t take it any more,” Richardson said.
Currently, Sound Technique Mobile DJ has karaoke offerings at four local bars throughout the week:
- The Rock on Wednesday, from 9 p.m. to midnight
- The Ale House on River Street on Friday, from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
- Nick’s Pub and Restaurant on Friday, from 8 p.m. to midnight
- Town Tavern in Blowing Rock on Saturday, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Like everything else, over the years technology has changed the way his business operates. Instead of the ordering the discs, which feature a limited number of songs, Richardson pays for a monthly service, so he can download just about any song you can think of – as long as it is available for karaoke – on the spot and have it ready by the time you walk up to the microphone. You can even pick out what key you want to sing in.
In addition, he has an app you can download on your smart phone that catalogues more than 10,000 songs for singers to choose from. While he still has his hard copy catalogues, this technology prevents a lot of confusion for customers as to what songs are available.
“It’s so much faster, more convenient,” Richardson said.
As for what Richardson likes about karaoke, he notes that there are good nights and bad nights and every once in a while a drunk person ruins it for everybody. But he said seeing people have fun at the events are what make his job worthwhile.
“There is something about singing. People like to sing. They feel good if they can sing. If [a new person to karaoke] can get past the initial butterflies and sing, they will get back up and think that wasn’t so bad,” Richardson said. “To see smiling faces makes my night. It makes my night.”
Sound Technique Mobile DJ, which recently joined ACES (Association of Consulting and Event Services), offers DJ services and karaoke services for outdoor events, banquets, family reunions, weddings, bars and restaurants and parties of all kinds.
See photos of the fun at various establishments below:
Town Tavern at Blowing Rock
Ale House at Rivers Street
Nick’s Pub and Restaurant