Friends, I don’t know about you, but when I need some joy in my life, I turn up my jam and belt it out—in the shower, the car, or the empty house of course. Every *once* in a while, at the best of concerts (Remember concerts?) I’ll sing along with the crowd, collectively experiencing that “there’s hope for the world” feeling. It’s a glorious feeling.
Harold Goldston is trying to bring that feeling to Downtown Knoxville with Knox Box Karaoke, a basement karaoke bar on Gay Street that opened this past fall.
“This thought that you should leave singing to the professionals is a really strange, modern, Western idea,” Harold says. “Singing has been a part of the human experience since time ancient civilization. It’s a communal experience.”
Knox Box pulls out all the stops to show singing doesn’t have to be a professional performance. It’s intimate, with capacity for only about 60 people, and there are no leagues or competitions (Yet.). There isn’t even a stage.
“Standing up with all the lights and stuff can make people really anxious. Here, you can sing at the bar or at your table,” Harold says. “I want this to be a dancy, sing along type place.”
Still nervous? Harold suggests picking a crowd-pleaser to sing.
“Everyone will start singing along. I’ll start singing along. So will the bartenders. We all sing,” he says.
STILL nervous? He has drinks for that. Also, grilled cheese if you’re more into comfort eating.
These aren’t just the old favorites though. Harold brought in his friend and local mixologist Vince McCarty of Knoxville Beverage to concoct the drink menu, including the Liquid Courage shot (salted watermelon vodka and blue curacao), which sounds as tasty as it is necessary. The grilled cheeses are similarly delicious and fancy. With salami, spinach, and marinara the Italian One seems more like a pizza, and the Sweet One has goat cheese, honey, and walnuts. Yum.
Knox Box’s beverage claim to fame is the Copacabana, a recipe inspired by the large amount of time Harold spends in Brazil.
“It’s my favorite place. I go every two years or so. I met some Brazilians as an undergrad at UT, and they’re now lifelong friends. They’re just the warmest, friendliest people,” he says. “The culture is amazing. So are the food and drinks.”
Knox Box uses real cachaca—a Brazilian liquor similar to rum—in their Copacabana, and as far as we know it’s the only cocktail in town that does. They also source drinks closer to home, with PostModern Spirits in many of the cocktails and taps from Gypsy Circus, Next Level, and Pretentious.
So, there are clearly reasons to go even if you’re not a big singer – but Harold is confident he has your jam on tap too. Knox Box offers over 20,000 songs, including literally anything that’s been a top 40 hit for the last 30 to 40 years, and even some obscure stuff. It took about two flips of his book to find something neither one of us had ever heard of: Kelly Price, “As We Lay.”
“I don’t think we’ve played the same song twice during our soft opens,” he says. “On Saturday we had the game on, and no one sang Rocky Top.”
But Knox Box is dedicated to a communal experience and inclusivity, yes even if you aren’t a Vol fan. Harold hosts special events like karaoke drag shows and singing for charity. He’s hoping with a little more practice, he and some friends can be our backup band for live music karaoke.
“It’d be your chance to be a band’s lead singer, if you do like to perform,” he says. “I play piano and drums, and we’re working on a set list of about 40 to 50 songs.”
When Harold sings, its usually mid-2000s rock like the Killers or Jimmy Eat World. He fell in love with karaoke while he was living in NYC, but he takes music everywhere he goes.
“I’m constantly either whistling, singing, humming, or drumming to a beat, even my blinker when waiting to make a turn in the car,” Harold says.
Admit it: He’s not the only one. You do it too. So go do it with friends over drinks or grilled cheese and get some extra joy from it at Knox Box Karaoke!