At a Virginia-Highland dive bar, Metalsome karaoke turns everyone into a headbanger

The 10 iron-clad rules of 10 High’s live-band sing-along sessons
Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

You don’t need to be a professional singer to grab the microphone for hard-rock, live-band karaoke with Metalsome at the 10 High. A lot of the 20- and 30-somethings who pack into this dimly lit dive bar, tucked beneath the Dark Horse Tavern in Virginia-Highland, are defiantly tone-deaf and rhythmically deficient (perhaps thanks to a PBR or three). But there are 10 ironclad rules. As this rough-around-the-edges event—held every Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—hits its 15th anniversary, Jessica Ramsey, founder and owner of Metalsome Inc., lays down the law:

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

1.

Though in its earliest days Metalsome drew only about 20 people a night, it now hits capacity—about 200—pretty quickly after doors open at 9 p.m., particularly on weekend nights. So, get there early if you don’t want to spend time lined up on the sidewalk. There’s no cover.

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

2.

There are more than 200 songs to choose from—up from just 25 in 2003—but you can sing only two songs on any given night. Just two. Don’t bother offering the sign-up folks a $100 bribe. They’ve seen it all, and they still won’t budge. You can, however, move up the list by paying $20.

3.

Your first solo song is free.

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

4.

Men can only choose songs sung by men, because there are fewer female-fronted songs on the list. The band is always adding more, from artists as varied as Pat Benatar and Avril Lavigne. But Metalsome is tired of dudes who think they’re hilarious when they sing No Doubt’s “Just a Girl.”

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

5.

Metalsome does not repeat songs over the course of a night. Ever. Some of the top picks these days are “All the Small Things” from blink-182; “Mr. Brightside” from the Killers; and “Misery Business” from Paramore. If you want to sing those songs, you’ll want to snap them up quickly.

6.

Your second song is $20.

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

7.

Do not bring your entire bachelorette party onto the stage. That is forbidden. The band—which typically features local bassist Curtis Clark, who’s been there since Metalsome’s inception—doesn’t even like duets, since the performing area is small. But if you must sing with a partner, you’ll pay an additional $10 on weekdays and $20 on weekends, even if it’s your first song.

8.

Costumes are welcome, so long as they don’t get in the band’s way. A performer named “KMC” once appeared on stage in a teal, fur-lined cape, face obscured by a hood. As Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” kicked in, she revealed herself to be in full drag. “She gets up and just kills this Metallica song,” Ramsey recalls. “For the past 10 years, she’s been coming to the 10 High on a weekend night and is always fully dressed and has some routine put together for her song. She’s changed personas a couple of times. I think she’s now called ‘Syn.’”

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

9.

Choreography isn’t required, but it’s always appreciated. Ramsey fondly remembers “T-Luv,” a middle school teacher who always sang “Mr. Roboto” by Styx and did the robot along with it. A cameraman from CNN called himself “Merv” and did elaborate dances while singing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard. Metalsome approved.

10.

Sign-ups open at 10:30 p.m. and close after there are enough singers to fill two hours. At 12:30 a.m., sign-ups reopen for some latecomers. You can’t sign up when the list is closed, no matter how much you beg. Typically, about 50 singers take the stage in a given night. The entire event ends at about 1:30 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

Metalsome

Photograph by Matt Miller

This article appears in our May 2018 issue.

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