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Best karaoke night in Thurston County

Clipper karaoke is more like a variety show

CLIPPER KARAOKE: Host Steve Yonkers brings it every night.

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On any night of the week, one can meander past the main bar in Olympia's China Clipper Club Cafe, to the back room where a disco ball, stage, stellar PA system, extensive song list, savvy DJ and lively, often tipsy, crowd scribbles on tiny, colorful paper then waits ... for Clipper Karaoke.

There are number karaoke nights around the South Sound, but only one karaoke night that has been named Best Karaoke in Thurston County three years running in the Weekly Volcano's Best of Olympia issues.

"We're different - at least that's the ambition," says Steve Yonkers, who has been hosting Clipper Karaoke since 2007. "We want to run more of a variety show. We don't just call up your name and sing. I interact with the audience. I think its more interesting.

"It's not a diva contest here," he continues. "I want it to be fun and relaxing and encourage people to have a good time."

The China Clipper is the only lounge in Thurston County that hosts karaoke seven days a week. It's also the only lounge that uses state-of-the-art sound equipment rather than the typical karaoke set-up with a cordless mic that's passed from table to table. 

"Its the closest thing people will get to being in a live band," says Yonkers.

Regular Clipper Karaoke participant Henry "Moya" Chavis concurs. 

"People can be the super stars they've always wanted to be," says Chavis. "I can make sincere eye contact with them and gain a level of respect they deserve as performers, no matter the novelty. It completes a community for me. I go as often as I can to support and cheer. I love it."

Yonkers, who hosts five days a week, is known for his music trivia interjections and dry humor. "Let's not bust Willie Nelson for pot anymore," was recently said as a segue to one of the notorious country singers ballads.

He's also known for his bubble wand, which he often places in front of a fan, transforming the stage into even more of a rock and roll fantasy. 

"I respect (Yonker's) dedication over the years and his unparalleled compassion to continue day after day," says Chavis. "The man is a great human being."

While there is a strong regular crowd, the weekends usually bring in more first-timers, says Yonkers.

His advice for newbies?

"The most important thing is find a song you know how to sing - a song you know so well you can sing without looking at the words. Don't do the Beatles; they are deceptively difficult. I always recommend something simple, mid range - that way being on stage and being nervous is in the background and all you have to do is concentrate on singing."

Whether it's the cast of regulars or curious passersby, Clipper Karaoke welcomes everyone - always has, always will. 

And let's not ignore the fact that it's not just the karaoke that makes the experience so good. It's the rest of the Clipper, too. It's the stiff drinks, the full bacon menu (PB & bacon anyone?), the cute pandas painted on the building, and of course, the owner and staff.

"All of us are really grateful that we were chosen. It's really cool," says Yonkers. "Readers' picks means a lot. We want to convey our thanks and gratitude for being so supportive."

Clipper Karaoke, 9 p.m. daily, 402 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.6300

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