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A New Kind of Karaoke

So what about the title, Fatback and Frappuchino? “We wanted to use a name that was obscure — something that would help people not take themselves too seriously,” Garland says. Their promotional strategy seems to be working.

“The more you do it, the more fun it is,” says Jeff Marlow, an accountant who recently moved to Richmond from the Bronx, N.Y. Marlow, who uses the stage name “Nazdak,” is considered a regular, having attended every week since the event opened. “You can sing anything from the Beatles to Jay-Z,” he says, after finishing his signature song, “Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe. “It’s like family here.”

This feeling of camaraderie may be the result of the multidimensional approach the promoters have created at Fatback and Frappuchino. Between karaoke performances, the audience receives information on community projects to encourage involvement and is kept energized by dancing or enjoying the comedy of comedy-man KJ, aka Kevin Johnson. Coloring books and crayons are placed on each table for doodlers trying to work up the nerve to take the stage. Then a challenge is issued to audience members: Leave your tables, meet strangers and “find your dish.” Each table has a card with one ingredient printed on it. This week, the dishes are lamb chops with macaroni and cheese or tacos. The first group who collects all the ingredients earns free admission the following week. The lamb chops win.

It may be a surprise to see Barry Manilow’s face glowing under blue, red and green spotlights among those of Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley and Chaka Khan, but Pinckney cautions people not to make assumptions about the demographics of the crowd.

“There is a white guy who comes in and sings songs by the Beach Boys and the Bee Gees. I get onstage right along with him,” Pinckney says. “He knew the words to “Rapper’s Delight,” she adds, impressed with his knowledge of this old-school rap song by the Sugar Hill Gang. “We don’t want to alienate anyone.”

Garland says the event is about inclusion and making connections through music. “If a group of Martians landed in the parking lot,” he says, “they can come in too.”— Alicia Aroche

Fatback and Frappuchino takes place Thursdays at 8 p.m. at Arthur’s restaurant and nightclub in the Inns of Virginia, 5215 W. Broad St.

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