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Lee & Jerry serve up karaoke with a twist of nostalgia

Press Photo by John Odermann Josh Nichols and Bryan Erhardt sing a duet of "Elvira" by the Oak Ridge Boys during the Lee & Jerry Karaoke Show Friday night at the Queen City Club in Dickinson.

Every Friday night over the past eight years, thousands of songs have been sung during the Lee & Jerry Karaoke Show at the Queen City Club.

Now, those karaoke singers who feel a tinge of nostalgia for the good old days can venture out to "the Queen" each Friday before karaoke starts, from 8-9 p.m., to see footage of past shows.

"That's terrifying," former karaoke regular Stuart Savelkoul said with a laugh.

But despite the potential embarrassment of past and possible future performances Savelkoul said. "If I'm in Dickinson on a Friday night, you can bet that I'm going to make a concerted effort to make it out to the Queen."

Savelkoul, who now lives in Bismarck, is just one of several karaoke "stars" on the tapes Jerry Johnson, owner of the Queen City Club, and the "Jerry" of the Lee & Jerry Karaoke Show, started recording the first night the karaoke show hit the stage.

"I just thought it would be something a guy could look back on, memories basically," Johnson said. "It's kind of like a library of karaoke."

At first, Johnson loaned the tapes to people so they could make copies for themselves, or watch them to improve their performances.

It wasn't until a night a couple of weeks ago when it was unusually slow that Johnson thought of another use for the tapes.

"One night it was a slow night and we started watching them and people showed interest in it," Johnson said. "So we thought that would give people another reason to come out, to see the videos."

Johnson's co-host, Lee Klein, said watching the tapes is great because you get a chance to see people who used to be regulars, but for whatever reason can't make it out to the show as often anymore.

Klein, who farms south of Lefor isn't married and doesn't have any kids, so the familiar faces at the Queen each week have become like family to him.

"They get to be like family, especially if they've been coming for awhile," Johnson said. "It's just like they're coming home. You're glad to see them. You like to listen to them sing."

One of those family members is Josh Nichols, who was invited by Savelkoul to come out to the show about two years ago. Nichols has made the show almost every week since, and even helped host it a couple of times when Johnson or Klein couldn't.

That familial bond isn't exclusive to the hosts.

"They've kind of become family, you meet them every week and it's usually the only time you ever see them is at karaoke," Nichols said. "You learn about their families and you learn about their jobs and what they do."

Nichols said karaoke is like an addiction he loves to feed and has sung several other places, but to him there's no place like the Queen.

"I have to say that in the bigger places I've done karaoke, it's been too big ... this is more laid back," Nichols said. "It's just a nice crowd and everybody is pretty friendly there."

The thought of going out to the Queen to sing karaoke was intimidating to Savelkoul the first time because he thought it was more of a "cowboy bar," but he quickly learned that everyone had their own style.

"The regular crowd there was pretty diverse, it ranged in age, it ranged in interest, but on Friday night everybody from Stormin' Norman (a elderly regular at karaoke) to a junior in college could have fun at the same place," Savelkoul said. "I think there was a special blend of both talent and just overall good people that enjoyed hanging out."

Klein said he and Johnson try to give customers what they want, whether it be with the "Spokey Karaoke" wheel that singers can win prizes by spinning, or other promotions. There has even been talk of a possible smoke-free karaoke night at the Queen, but Klein said the need more feedback to see if it would be feasible.

Johnson and Klein said they've always tried to foster an atmosphere where you sing what you want to sing, be who you want to be and they'll get out of the way.

"You want these people singing those songs that they lived them or whatever you want to call it. It means something to them," Klein said. "We decided we were never going to sing because that's not our job. We furnish the lights and sounds and things. You guys furnish the voices."

And the addiction Nichols spoke of isn't rare, Klein said.

People tend to be tentative their first time on stage, but once they get used to being up there, they can't get enough.

That, accompanied with a friendly crowd and gracious hosts, makes for a fun atmosphere Savelkoul said.

"It's like any kind of spectators sport," Klein said. "You got people that race cars or go to rodeos or whatever. They do it because they like it, but they also like to see that crowd cheering for them."

Johnson and Klein hope many people come out and reminisce when they begin showing the videos, especially old regulars who haven't made the show in a while and after watching their old performances, decide to stick around and sing a few more songs.

Savelkoul said the show, which is one of the "best kept secrets" in Dickinson is something everyone should check out.

"It's a service to the city of Dickinson," Savelkoul said. "There's not always a lot to do in that town, but it's good to know that on Friday night there's always going to be people laughing and having a good time down at the Queen City."