wearing a tight tank top and an Atlanta Braves cap with a curved
bill, hunched over and tried to give his best impression of Alan
Jackson. He clutched a microphone in both hands like it was one of
his landscaping lawn rakes. He didn't think about the audience. All
he could see was silhouetted cowboys because of the bright light. He
thought about his 7-year-old daughter, Shenna, the blond-haired girl
who inspires him, as he sang Jackson's "Between the Devil and Me."
The gates of Hell
Swing open wide
She's all I see
between the Devil
finished, disappeared into the clapping crowd and hoped for the best.
He wants to grab the Triad's biggest prize in karaoke: a chance to
visit Nashville, Tenn., during the biggest event for any country
"I'd love to
go to Nashville, to succeed and excel, but hell, I'll be honest: I
just like to sing," said Musselwhite, 29, a landscaper from
Ramseur. "It helps me express my feelings."
For eight years,
singers have come to Riders in the Country during its karaoke night
to shed their work-a-day personality. They have jumped into someone
else's skin and forgotten about divorces, disappointments and life's
other problems in front of Riders' hand- painted sign.
But the Nashville
contest, which began in March, has drawn a crowd. John Dean, who
helped create the contest with Riders' owner, George Rider, has had
so many contestants he has had to turn some away every Thursday.
On May 18th, the
Finals will be held...28 singers - 14 men and 14 women - will compete
to win an all- expenses-paid trip for two to Nashville's Fan Fair, a
five-day event in June when fans can meet their favorite country performers.
The trip includes
transportation from Royal Tours of Randleman, five nights of lodging
and tickets to 30 hours of stage shows at the Ryman Theatre, the
Country Music Hall of Fame and other exhibition areas. Total cost: $1,100.
It's a trip that
many contestants say they can't afford without help from Riders. But
it's more than that. The trip will take them to Nashville. For them,
that city is the Promised Land.
"A lot of
people want to be professional singers, and this is the closest they
can get," said Dean, owner of Karaoke World Entertainment and
called by some the Triad's "King of Karaoke."
"But to go to
Nashville, that's a dream. They get to be in the town where it's all
happening. And who knows? They could pass along a tape to somebody
and become a star."
Randleman Road long enough, and you'll run into Riders in the Country.
It's 12 miles from
U.S. 85 in a small neon oasis along a dark, two- lane road. Riders
straddles the line separating Guilford and Randolph counties. It sits
across the street from the County Line Package Store Tobacco Outlet,
a small place that advertises snuff on one sign and proclaims on
another: "We Fixed the Cooler! Our Brew Is a Cool 32."
Walk past the
pickup trucks, the older model American sedans and the few Harley
Davidson motorcycles parked near the door. Pass through a weathered
wooden door, and you enter a 7,500-square-foot building decorated in
bar room elegance: glowing beer signs, twinkling red lights, NASCAR
cardboard cutouts, dark wood and two sets of American and Confederate
flags hanging side by side.
The smell of
Sunday afternoon baseball often mingles with the cigarette smoke. Hot
dogs and buns sit in a steamer in the back of the bar beside two
tables full of chili, coal slaw, ketchup, mustard, salsa and a deep
bowl of fresh tortilla chips. Patrons eat for free.
disc jockey Bryce Wilson and the night's host, Steve McGuire, got
ready for the night's contests inside a raised, pentagon-shaped DJ
booth. Singers circling the booth flipped through notebooks thick
with more than more than 1,000 song titles they can sing.
Tim Geise, 43, a
home health nurse from Burlington, was one of them. He won one of
Riders' Nashville preliminaries a month ago. Geise, a large, stout
man who started doing karaoke three years, won by singing Vince
Gill's "If You Have Forever in Mind."
here, and you can let loose," Geise said. "Then you're in
your own little world."
So is Sarah Hamby,
a woman with long brown hair and an earring through her right
eyebrow. A year ago, her mother coaxed her to sing karaoke. Her hands
shook, and she broke into a sweat when she stepped on stage. But
loved it. She realized she was addicted to karaoke.
Now, she visits at
least six Triad clubs to sing karaoke. She sings so much some of her
acquaintances on her off-duty job as a security officer call her
One of her regular
stops is Riders. And like Geise, she won one of the club's Nashville
preliminaries by singing Sheryl Crow's "Sweet Child of Mine."
"I'm a single
parent, I have two ex-husbands - I feel like I've lost everything I
had, and my little girl is all I've got," said Hamby, 23, a
Greensboro resident who is raising a 3-year-old girl and working as a
security officer for Koury Corp.
"This is what
I want to do. I'd like to be Martina McBride, although I may have too
many tattoos for that. I just want to hear someone say, 'Hey, you're
It's 11:15 p.m.
McGuire walks onto
the dance floor with a portable microphone. He paces like a pro
wrestler underneath the ceiling of black lights. With his
beige-and-white collar shirt glowing, he turns into the ringmaster of
Thursday night's singing circus.
"It's good to
be back in Riders in the Country!" McGuire shouts. "If
you're feeling good, give me a 'Hell, yea!' "
yea!" the crowd shouts back.
The crowd of about
100 people was not as large as at previous preliminaries. People hung
around the dance floor and the back bar near the pool table, waiting
to see who wanted to be the next Tim McGraw or Martina McBride.
Bill Hoffner, a
68-year-old retired mill worker, was one of them. He stood near the
bar, decked out in one of his seven Riders' outfits. He was wearing a
brown Stetson hat, a brown vest, a black bolo tie with a silver boot
clasp and a horse belt buckle as big as a saucer.
People at Riders
call him "Cowboy."
right, I reckon," Hoffner said of the karaoke singers. "It's
country. And that's good for me because it's easy to dance to. It
gives me a chance to dance with all these different girls."
- 10 men, 10 women - are allowed to compete each Thursday. But on the
13th Thursday of the contest, only a handful of contestants showed
up. They stepped onstage, watched song lyrics scroll across a small
TV screen and belted out their best renditions of country classics.
By 12:30 a.m.,
McGuire announced the winners. One was a 23-year- old secretary
called "Little Bit" by friends and family. The other was
Musselwhite. When he heard his name, he pointed at the crowd, tipped
his Braves' baseball cap and mouthed, "Thank you very much."
News & Record