Audience Member Doubles As Back-Up Vocalist

The singing career of Jim Berkolter has spanned three decades, countless bands, and seems to know no genre.

Berkolter, 29, Starbucks manager, has attended numerous performances over the course of his 15 years as a concert-goer, at which he often fills in for missing third-part harmony, baritone, or lead.

And though he has garnered mixed reviews throughout his career, there is no sign of Berkolter's star fading as he plans to sing with Van Halen from the $125-seats this Saturday night at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL.

"I've been right there with Jagger, James Taylor, Bono -- all those guys, whenever they come into town," stated Berkolter as he looked for his For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge Tour '91 t-shirt. "I think I've got a great ear for where another singer could go, and I've also got a pretty good voice, so I just try to help the band out, you know."

Berkolter's career began in grand fashion in 1989 when he sang with Michael Jackson from the back of the upper deck stage right.

"The 1989 Bad Tour was the first show my Dad took me to, and, man, that just spoke to me," he recalled. "As I sang with Michael on the chorus of 'Man in the Mirror' as loud as I could, I knew exactly what my calling in life was, or at least what I'd be doing every time I came to a show."

Since the mid 90's, Berkolter's career has seen its ups and downs. Maintaining a presence in big venues with the likes of R.E.M., U2 and Peter Gabriel throughout the rest of his high school years, Berkolter soon found himself limited mostly to small clubs, singing with unknown bands around the campus of the University of Illinois where he went to college.

"Let's seeā€¦ we saw Big Head Todd and the Monsters before they were big, and Slightly Stoopid this other time," said former roommate Greg Morgan. "The shows were awesome, and it's not that singing along with a band at a show shouldn't be encouraged, but it's really pathetic when you're blatantly trying to outdo the backing vocals, or even the frontman."

Morgan shook his hand and then shook some more ice into his Tom Collins. "I mean, he's got the untrained vibrato and everything. This is what they invented karaoke for, man."

Fortunately, since his college years, Berkolter has managed to maintain a presence in larger venues. Most recently, he joined Eric Clapton in the Allstate Arena for a moving rendition of 'Tears In Heaven', inspiring fans around him to throw cups of beer in his direction -- some empty, but others even near full.

"It's like when George Harrison admitted that he liked jelly beans and the fans pelted the Beatles with those things at their shows," said Berkolter. "I guess people know that I like beer."

Berkolter added that he would be happy if fans would just stick to bras and panties, but that he would "do anything for the chance to add my own little flair to Clapton's timeless classics."

After the Van Halen gig, Berkolter plans on returning to his roots by attending shows by lesser-known but important artists at smaller venues. He can be heard next Friday with Morrisey in at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago Section 4, Row J.

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