Karaoke Fever
Local Karaoke performers ‘Help to Heal the Island Soul’

November 11th, 2011
by Thomas Tomczyk


John Bailey at the Friday night Palapa Bar Karaoke

John Bailey at the Friday night Palapa Bar Karaoke

At least six places on Roatan offer regular karaoke performances. Applebee’s and Yacht Club in French Harbour, Nardo’s in Coxen Hole, Blue Marlin in West End, Palapa Bar and Turquoise Bay Resort in Santos Guardiola–all have a karaoke night. But you can’t have a good karaoke without a DJ, and Roatan has a few. One of the best is John Bailey.

Bailey, wearing baggy Bermuda shorts, tee-shirt and sneakers, sways from foot to foot. He is 62 years old but reminds one of a teenager. Bailey is far from intimidating or scaring people from picking up the microphone. “John’s got charisma and character. He also has a following wherever he goes,” said Mike McKmney, manager of Palapa Bar where John plays every Friday. “Few people can interact with people the way I do,” says Bailey, “I am not that good [at singing] so that doesn’t intimidate others.”

Timmy, a bartender at Palapa picks up a mic to sing “One Love” with a Jamaican swagger. A birthday party is in full swing. Two 40-something expats sway to the beat. If you want to be Louis Armstrong, you can. If you want to be Tina Turner, no problem. Karaoke gives everyone an opportunity to escape into another reality, if only for a couple minutes. “No two nights are ever the same,” says Bailey, sounding a bit like a policeman.

In fact Bailey is more like a therapist; and one can definitely see some “therapy” taking place in his coordination of each karaoke night. He helps people overcome their shyness, find the right song to express their soul, and sometimes even intervenes when they struggle with a song. “I won’t let anybody fail. If I have to sing with them I will,” he says.

Bailey used to sing in a rock and roll band in Ottawa. Around 20 years ago he began running karaoke in what eventually became the biggest karaoke venue in Ottawa, Wally’s Inn. “He is good because he will bail you out when you get in trouble,” says Marci Weismann, who, according to John, is one of Roatan’s best female singers. Bailey also mentions Harmony Storms, John Ebanks “a really good crooner,” and Luis, a manager from TACA who Bailey says “is probably the most talented singer on the island.”

Bailey works three days a week–Appleby’s in French Harbour, Palapa Bar at Parrot Tree and Blue Marlin in West End–and can easily fill a restaurant or bar to the brim with his steady following. Blue Marlin is probably Bailey’s most popular venue, but he brings in a great Spanish-singing crowd at Appleby’s. “It all gets going after 10pm. I don’t have to sing at all after that,” says Bailey.

There are Spanish singers, island country, country western fans, and rock and roll. “It becomes a problem if it becomes a contest,” says Bailey. At most karaoke events on Roatan, singing is definitely not a contest but a way to express your inner feelings and impress some friends.

“He helped me once with ‘Imagine’ in getting the rhythm right,” says Helmer, an engineer who comes to sing karaoke at Appleby’s every couple of months. “It’s a release, but just a substitute for playing in a band,” says Weisman, a local realtor who has been singing in a rock and roll band in the US.

Another karaoke man of Roatan is Ralph Shotswell, 72, a retired vice-president of a plumbing company who moved with his wife to Roatan six years ago. After doing karaoke on the island for four and a half years, Shotswell says he has seen his skill at singing steadily improve: “Finally you lose the shyness. As you gain confidence you progress and try doing new things.”

Shotswell’s experience with singing hails from his high school choir, and now every Wednesday he performs karaoke at Turquoise Bay Resort, which brings in as many as 50 people, locals and vacationers alike. “I’m a crooner: I do Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Elvis Presley,” says Shotswell. “I’m the only one doing the love songs. When you get my age that is the only love you get.” [/private]

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