Metal Monday (Haireoke)

Mondays at Cumberland’s

Downtown. 301 King St. 577-9469

Ever harbored illusions of becoming a rock star? Perhaps your dream was deferred by a less-than-stellar singing voice, a lack of time and money, or just the hard fact that you can’t seem to remember lyrics.

Potential Ozzy (or Axl, or Pat), meet Metal Monday at Cumberland’s — the hottest (and only) live band karaoke night in town, where no matter your level of talent or inebriation, you can stand center stage in front of a backing band and bellow out the lyrics (they’re on paper, just in case) to your favorite ’70s and ’80s hair metal hits.

Metal Monday, or Haireoke, arose from a bit of an unexpected place: 3/5 of the players in now-defunct local band Jump.

One night when the group was in Atlanta recording their last album, Between the Dim and the Dark, guitarist Ward Williams, drummer Evan Bivins, and bassist Johnny Gray headed to a bar called the 10 High Club to check out something called Metalsome Mondays, where a live band played a catalog of about 80-90 songs behind karaoke singers from the audience.

“We basically ripped them off,” Williams says, laughing. “Well, we wrote to them and told them we were going to do it, and they gave us their blessing.”

And hence, in the summer of 2004, Metal Monday was born in the dark, dank recesses of Johnny Ola’s Anchor Café’s window stage, with Williams acting as the lead guitarist/emcee, Bivins on drums, Gray on bass, and Kenny Harris, keyboardist from The Films, tickling the ivories and handling any extra instrumental duties.

At first, attendance was sparse but highly electric, with local musicians like Jack Berg, Phil Estes, Bill Carson, and Danny Cassady jumping onstage and exorcising their inner metal demons while supporting their pals in the band.

After the first few months and a whole lot of word-of-mouth, there were plenty of people, both known and unknown, showing up on Monday nights to experience the magic firsthand — or to win the trophy and bar tab given out to whomever the audience deemed the best singers of the night.

“We did a contest at first,” Williams says, “but we stopped, because after the crowds started coming we wanted more people to be able to sing, since the contest took up so much time.”

In 2005, Johnny Ola’s closed (the Avondale space is now home to Voodoo) and the band began their current residency at Cumberland’s, where each Monday night, any schmo can pay $5 to get in the door and tackle a classic from the 60-plus song Metal Monday list.

The band’s lineup has gone through some changes over the years, starting when Harris moved to Brooklyn with The Films and Gray headed out on tour with Howie Day in the summer of 2005, resulting in multi-instrumentalists Josh Kaler and Chris McLernon joining up.

“The first night was like every night,” McLernon says. “It was so seat-of-your-pants. You never know what’s going to happen or who’s going to show up — someone who’s just hammered or someone who will talk through the song — it keeps you on your toes because the people who come up aren’t pros, so you’ve got to be really prepared.”

When Williams moved to New York City last October, McLernon took over as the ringleader of the Metal Monday shenanigans (“I was nervous,” he says. “Those are some kinda big shoes for me to fill.”). McLernon has some favorite examples of the night’s unpredictability, including the time a woman ran all the lyrics in Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” together, mutating a three-and-a-half-minute song into a one-minute whirlwind of words, or a man who signed up for “Welcome to the Jungle,” then proceeded to just yell “Welcome to the jungle!!” over and over again.

“This is where you try to be telepathic with each other, which is the real fun of everything,” McLernon says. “We’re looking at each other like, ‘Where we goin’, where we goin’? Oh, here!’ then you kind of end it. It’s a hoot! Josh Kaler has said many times that it’s the best gig in town.”

“For me it was kind of a dream come true,” Williams says. “I grew up listening to Judas Priest and AC/DC and from the moment I started playing guitar, I wanted to be in a metal band. With Metal Monday, I was finally in a band that was playing metal music! I really miss it, honestly.”