A rookie croons the oldies with Shaboom

Dispatch reporter Dave Steffenson, center, sings with Shaboom

– I didn’t ask for this. I just showed up for the editorial
meeting, wasn’t that enough?
GILROY – I didn’t ask for this. I just showed up for the editorial meeting, wasn’t that enough?

While The Dispatch editors and writers discussed story ideas for the Garlic Festival, I mentioned the idea of having a first-person account of how bad the drive to the festival is from San Jose. More than anything, I thought it’d be a fun joke to make someone waste their afternoon sitting in traffic. I had no idea what I was about to bring down upon myself.

My boss took the first-person story idea to heart and assigned all of us a first-person festival story. My assignment was to sing with Shaboom.

“Please, can I take the driving story?” I pleaded.

“What? You can sing,” my editor said. “You’re the Karaoke King.”

I tried to tell him the karaoke scene is a little different. After all, it’s in a bar, almost everyone is drunk – including the singer – and the crowd is way, way smaller.

No dice. You’re singing, he said.


So for the next several days, I was left to worry about how I was going to ruin Shaboom’s 20th appearance at the Garlic Festival. Heck, I haven’t even been to the festival before. All I know is I’ve heard countless people talk about how cool Shaboom is, and I was supposed to be a part of that. No thanks.

It’s not that I’m a terrible singer. It’s just that I’m a bad one. I try to restrict all of my singing to the car or to stupid songs I sing at work just to get a few laughs. I also have been playing guitar for a little while, but my songs, like my latest one about a man who is freaked out by an evil rodent, “Larry the Squirrel,” are mainly catered to making people laugh.

As I drove down to the festival grounds Saturday morning, I popped in a mix CD of old-time rock ‘n’ roll so I could practice. To anyone who saw me cruisin’ down Monterey Road from Morgan Hill that morning, I must’ve been quite the spectacle, singing everything from Chuck Berry to the Mamas and the Papas.

Entertainment chairwoman Kirsten Carr, after joining me in a wine cooler from the wine cooler tent, took me to meet the band in person for the first time.

I met with drummer Mike Madden and singer John Dotson, and they said they were excited that I was going to join them on stage.

“You’ll be singing ‘Barbara Ann,’ do you know the words to that?” Madden asked.

“Yeah. … I think so. … Yeah.”

Too bad I didn’t listen to the Beach Boys in the car.

“It’s just ‘Ba-Ba-Ba Ba-Barbara Ann,’ ” he said.

Doesn’t sound too hard. But what if I’m too busy Ba-Ba-Ba Ba-Ba-Barfing behind the stage in pure terror from the more than a thousand people on stage?

I asked Madden how he kept from being nervous on stage with all those people. He gave the worst advice I’d ever heard.

“It’s no problem.”

Huh? I’m busy trying to tell him it’s a problem!

They told me the song wasn’t until the second set, so I told them I’d be back and went looking for a little liquid confidence, which I found at a hospitality tent in the form of a Coors and a wine cooler on the boss.

Bathroom break.

I kept running into people who knew I was singing with the band. More pressure … glug, glug, glug … Ahhhh, less pressure.

By the time I got to the stage, the band was working on its second song. I decided to go on stage and try to get used to the view from up there. Dang, there were a lot of people … glug, glug, glug.

Bathroom break.

I returned to the stage, and then realized that the heat and the booze were making me dehydrated. Just then, several cases of water showed up for the band. Glug, glug, glug. How many songs do I have left before I go on? Eight.

Bathroom break.

How many songs? Five.

Bathroom break.

After four bathroom breaks, it was time. Right after the band finished “California Girls,” I was introduced and took over the microphone where bass player Dale Debruin stands.

Keyboardist Tom Sousa looked over at me and got things started.

“Ba-Ba-Ba Ba-Barbara Ann …” I jumped in on cue, but I couldn’t hear my voice in the microphone. Instantly, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, they didn’t even want to take a chance with me on stage, and they cut my mic off.’ Feeling relieved, I kept on singing, thinking my mic was silent. It turns out I was wrong, but that thought may have been the only thing that kept me from passing out.

I don’t really recall how many times I sang the words to the song over and over, but I can say how excited I was to say it the last time. I gave a high five to Dee Quinet and got a pat on the back from John Dotson and waved to the crowd as I made my way off the stage and, hopefully, back to obscurity. My career in rock ‘n’ roll had lasted one song, and it seemed like more than enough for me.

An hour later, as I trudged my way out to my car to grab a hat to cover my sunburned forehead, exhausted from the heat, sun, alcohol and all the stress about singing with the band, I walked by a small group of people. One of them whispered something to the person next to them, and suddenly they were all looking at me and smiling. My first thought was to make sure my zipper was up (and it was), but then it came me and I smiled.

People knew me. I was a rock star, if only for one day. And I guess that’s not such a bad assignment, after all.