Jammin’ Janice Karaoke at the Gateway Offers a Sing-Along Good Time

By J.D. Watson | Jul 17, 2019

Ship Bottom, NJ — Of all the many dozens of music venues on Long Beach Island in the summer, perhaps none has fostered as much of a loyal following as the Gateway on Tuesday nights, for that’s when Jammin’ Janice hosts karaoke there.

Yes, karaoke. Despite images of drunken tourists and frustrated singing wannabes making up for their lack of vocal talent with exuberance and volume, karaoke can actually be fun, especially when curated by a pro like Jammin’ Janice.

Janice, a retired school teacher, has been hosting karaoke on the Island for years, and that doesn’t happen by accident. Her genuine enthusiasm for the songs and the singers is infectious and a large component of her longevity.

On a recent night, as the evening was just getting started, she recognized some patrons at a nearby table. “I remember you guys from last year. You were a lot of fun!” Observations such as that won’t drive people away.

Bob Burnette of Surf City is one of a coterie of regulars who have followed Janice wherever she has hosted karaoke on the Island. “It’s been 10 years now,” he said, sitting at the bar after having sung a charming “Summer Wind,” complete with a couple dancing slowly in the corner of the small dance floor in front of the slightly raised stage. “I come every week. I followed her from the Bayberry (Inn in Ship Bottom, now The Arlington). We have a lot of fun. I look forward to it all week.”

Janice acknowledges Burnette’s role in bringing her to the Gateway. “The Bayberry was great,” she remembered. “It was small, like ‘Cheers’ (the fictional bar of the ’80s NBC sitcom of the same name, where “everybody knows your name”). Everybody knew everybody. But after (Superstorm) Sandy, and the Bayberry closed, I figured I wouldn’t do it (host karaoke) anymore. But Bob talked to the owner here and suggested they should hire me, and they called, and I said, ‘As long as it stays Tuesday nights.’ And it’s been great. The Gateway is bigger and is able to accommodate a bigger crowd. And they are great. The boss is a great guy; he allows me to do my thing. They are very accommodating.”

More than anything else, Janice recognizes it is the unique draw of karaoke that keeps people coming back.

“Who doesn’t like music?” she queried.

Karaoke, which features a live performer singing to prerecorded accompaniment, started in Japan in the 1960s, popularity grew through the 1970s and ’80s with increased access to more-portable storage of the accompanying music.

Janice, who started as a music major in college before switching to education, said music had remained a big part of her life. “Music was more than just a hobby,” she said. “Music brings people together; it makes them happy. And music is universal – it stretches across demographics.”

She described how her early career evolved from playing live music to having guests come up and sing with her. “First the keyboard went out the window. Then the guitar went out the window,” she said with a chuckle.

What was left was the karaoke machine – and the singers.

Not only must the machine play the music, it must also display the lyrics in a way in which even an inexperienced singer will know when to begin singing.

“It’s a lot like ‘Sing Along With Mitch,’” marveled Deedy Humphrey of Dayton, Ohio, who summers in Barnegat and, with her husband Larry, is another of Janice’s regulars.

“Sing Along With Mitch” was another NBC television show (that was itself an offshoot of his popular Columbia record album collection), which featured bandleader Mitch Miller conducting a male chorus singing hits of the day. The show included the song lyrics at the bottom of the screen, encouraging viewers to sing along.

The show was influenced by a series of animated cartoons and short films in the 1920s that first encouraged the audience to sing along while they “follow the bouncing ball.”

When Janice first began with her karaoke machine, the technology had already advanced from 8-track and cassette tapes to compact discs. Even that epitome of ’90s hi-fidelity proved problematic. “It was tough with a CD; you had to buy the whole CD for one song,” she lamented.

Now, with computer-based storage, her library of songs available to her audience is larger than ever. “I update the song list every month. I now have about 500,000 songs stored. It’s a full terabyte in the hard drive.”

Aside from the sheer size of her song library, the digital library has other advantages. “With the digital uploads I can change the key, as well,” raising or lowering the key of any given song, making it easier for the singer to sing along.

The increase in technology doesn’t mean much without the singers, Janice acknowledged.

“We’ve got so many regulars who come up and sing every week,” she said. “We have several regulars who have done music their whole life. Some used to be in bands. Some blow you away, they are so good.”

Larry Humphrey, of Barnegat by way of Dayton, performed a more than credible version of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” the Jerome Kern composition made famous by the Platters, on a recent Tuesday night, his strong, clear baritone inspiring a handful of dancing couples to circle in close embrace on the dance floor.

But at the heart of it, karaoke’s appeal lies not in the singer’s technical vocal skill, but in the sheer desire to sing.

Bob Burnette described when he first started to sing karaoke. “I had been following Janice for years,” he said. “I just watched for years. One day I tried it; I was so nervous.”

Now he’s one of the regulars, usually singing two songs a night. Newcomers usually get slotted toward the end of the night. “Some people come in and really belt it out; you don’t want to follow them,” he said with a sheepish grin.

Even The SandPaper’s own Eric Englund has been known to take a break from writing headlines on a Tuesday evening as the paper is going to press. He is usually especially keen to remember some of the doo wop favorites he grew up on. A recent Tuesday found him gliding through the Capris’ “Morse Code of Love,” effortlessly switching from the bass parts to soaring falsetto.

Janice said she always welcomes the infusion of new singers, especially kids. The Gateway usually allows children accompanied by an adult to sit at the bar side tables until 8 o’clock.

“The kids are great,” Janice said. “They are a lot less inhibited; I think it’s because of ‘American Idol.’ If I work a house party and there are kids, they all want to sing.”

And now, after a generation has grown up with the idea, there are lots of young adults who love to sing karaoke.

“A few weeks ago, we had a bunch of lifeguards that came in, and they all wanted to sing. It was great!” Janice explained. “Everyday people sometimes have very nice voices.”

Indeed, and with the lyrics not just visible on a small screen to prompt the main singer but also projected onto a large screen on the upstage wall, everyone can sing along. And there is something charming about a bar full of people who love to sing singing along to some old chestnut.

Even for those who don’t like to sing on their own, karaoke has some allure. “Non-singers sometimes get up and dance. Some get up and sing backup” to the main singer, Janice explained, adding a whole new level of fun.

Jammin’ Janice Karaoke is at the Gateway LBI in Ship Bottom every Tuesday from 6:30  to 10:30 p.m. until Dec. 17.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.