The Under-appreciated Ithaca Karaoke Scene

an interview with DJ Dale



             For almost seven years, one man has brought karaoke to countless Ithaca bars for the enjoyment of the drunken masses. His name is Dale Harrington, but many know him simply as DJ Dale. Over the years, Dale has expanded his DJ and karaoke business into a successful lineup of shows Monday through Thursday, adding a bit of musical entertainment to Ithaca’s nightlife. I explore how he started.

Dale was born not far from Ithaca, just some miles away in Groton. After attending Ithaca High School, applied to and was accepted to Ithaca College.

“I thought that perhaps a career in broadcast journalism was the way I wanted to go: TV and radio production. So, that’s the reason I ended up choosing Ithaca College over any of the other schools in the area or around the area,” explained Dale. “At the time I was looking at IC, it was when they were just finishing building the new Roy H. Park School of Communications. But, after getting into IC, I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be locked in a room with no immediate audience.”

Lauren O'Neal / Kitsch Artist
Lauren O’Neal / Kitsch Artist

He enrolled at IC nonetheless, and began DJ-ing at parties with some friends, honing his CD skills since he started spinning records as they were going out of style. Having DJ-ed his way through college, Dale graduated with a B.A. in English and broke out into the local scene as a DJ for weddings and other events.

“It was a continuation from college,” Dale explained. “It was something I knew I could do and, at the time, I was working for a company that was doing events and parties, that sort of stuff. And I already knew that that was something I liked to do and I figured that’d be a great part-time job.”

His love of DJ-ing and music kept him in the business, but he sought to make it more than a part-time gig, something he could turn into his livelihood. In the fall of 2006, The Haunt gave him a chance to do so. The local nightclub and venue offered him an opportunity to break out into a different area while he continued DJ-ing and entertaining crowds.

“I had DJ-ed a few nights at The Haunt as a replacement DJ, filling in during Happy Hour. They used to have DJs every Friday when they didn’t have bands,” Dale said. “And I met the owner of The Haunt and he had approached me and asked me if I’d like to host karaoke nights there and what it would take.” But the idea concerned Dale.

“I’d never done karaoke at all,” he explained. “Some people shouldn’t sing and some people shouldn’t drink and sing, and that’s what I felt karaoke was.”

His first night turned out differently. Though only six people showed up, they sang expertly and also founded a type of fan club.

“Herman has come to about every show I’ve had since I started, so he has been following me for about seven years,” Dale said of one of his fans. “The other, Jeremy, has been coming to karaoke nights off and on. He hasn’t been to every night. The last couple [shows] at Lot 10, and off and on at The Haunt for the past five years.”

On a Thursday in March, Herman and Jeremy, along with many of Dale’s loyal followers, arrived at Lot 10 to claim their spots in the limelight. As 11 p.m. rolled around, the crowd continued to grow, but Dale managed the swelling numbers well. He has a system: before every karaoke night, which tends to start around 10 p.m., he lays out thick, white, three-ringed binders listing all the songs available, along with some index cards and a pen so participants can request their songs speedily. As more patrons entered, the cards piled up by Dale’s side, but members of his fan club returned to the stage every couple of songs.

“I personally think it’s wonderful,” Dale said about his entourage. “I love for people to sing, and, you know, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have people who are there to help encourage the people who are less likely to hop up and sing. If you have a couple of people who are already there and they’re like, ‘alright, let’s sing,’ the other people are most likely to follow suit.”

And, indeed they did. On the night in question, Lot 10 hosts karaoke on its second floor, with a section partitioned as a stage. Dale brings all his equipment: a flat screen monitor, speakers, wireless mics, and a laptop. Only the nights at The Haunt require a prolonged set-up, and more equipment. Dale explains how he expanded from the Haunt, and acquired his now weekly commitments at Lot 10, the Ale House, and Loco Cantina: “It started, basically, because I felt I couldn’t do karaoke every night of the week at The Haunt; that’d get boring. So, I decided to pursue other venues as part of a way to maintain a full time DJ lifestyle.”

Dale started asking different venues to host karaoke, and suggested the bar owners try something new and see how it worked out. He described how karaoke would entertain their patrons and give them something new to do. And his pitch seemed to work.

“I had already been doing karaoke night at The Haunt for three or four years before I started approaching other venues,” continued Dale. “I’ve done quite a few different places. I’ve been everywhere from Elmira to Cortland doing karaoke on different nights of the week, [since] every Wednesday has always been The Haunt. Mondays have been the Ale House; Tuesdays I used to be doing karaoke nights at a bar called The Den in Elmira; and I was also in Cortland on Tuesday nights doing karaoke at The Stone Lounge.”

Dale has been doing karaoke nights at assorted venues for a long time now, but his present line-up did not start until last year. He started hosting Monday nights at The Ale House in April of last year after Castaways, one of his previous strongholds, closed down. The variety of locations means diverse crowds.

“The Ale House has more passing trade because they are closer to the Commons, so there’s different people every week, not necessarily regulars per se,” started Dale. “Loco is the college-age crowd, so it’s mostly college students when college is in session, but when it’s not, more locals come up. I’ve seen some of my karaoke followers there during the course of the year and, of course, the summer. The Haunt is just a mix of everyone, you know, from 18-year-olds, who obviously can’t go out to bars, to 40-somethings and 60-year-olds, depending on what they’re doing that night.”

As he continues DJ-ing and doing karaoke, Dale’s business embodies two personalities: the entertainer at night, and the wedding emcee by day (or, at least, the weekends). These jobs may seem irreconcilable, but one aided the development of the other—they support one another and they fully support Dale.

According to Dale, the guests are the biggest difference between weddings and karaoke nights. “They are ones getting up there and singing,” Dale said. “I just do all the introductions and announcements to keep things flowing.” At receptions, the guests also provide entertainment, but it’s more incidental—through their dance moves. Regardless of where he is, or how the night is going, DJ Dale will be there, singing along with the brave souls standing on the stage, whether the speakers are blasting No Doubt or Alice Cooper.

At the beginning of the night, Lot 10 wasn’t that full, but Dale wasn’t fazed. Important things were happening: there was some good singing, and everyone was having fun.

“It’s a slow night,” he mentioned. “But you can see the quality of the singers. That’s why I love it.”

This article was originally printed in kitsch, Vol. 11 Issue 2, “Hype”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s