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Street Side Karoake brings the mics to the sidewalk

“There’s something about karaoke that makes people really vulnerable.”

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You’re walking down a busy street when someone hands you a microphone. With a 20-inch electronic tablet hanging from the side of a car as your lyrics sheet, and a speaker for the music, you belt out your favorite karaoke tune, amplified as people go about their errands.

No, it’s not the latest skit from James Corden. Rather, it’s Street Side Karaoke.

Judd Poeske, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate in opera performance and decision sciences, was inspired to create Street Side Karaoke after seeing CMU students’ success with Bus Stop Opera, a pop-up group that performed original operatic works at bus stops and train stations. Poeske wanted to let others join in song.

“Traditionally, [karaoke is] at a bar,” Poeske says. “It’s less family-friendly. I wanted it to be out in the open. Everybody has favorite songs that they like to sing and know the words to by heart. Why not try to give that to people?”


Enter Awesome Pittsburgh, a local chapter of global philanthropy community The Awesome Foundation. Each chapter’s volunteer trustees provide grants each month for innovative ways to engage city residents. May’s $1,000 grant allowed Poeske to purchase all his equipment and to rent karaoke software.

“This concept really stuck out because it felt like something that was all about fun, but in the most acceptable and inclusive way,” says Awesome Pittsburgh trustee Soraya Alexander. “We thought it would bring people together to spark some spontaneous experiences with other Pittsburghers. There’s something about karaoke that makes people really vulnerable. It’s actually great for fostering community.”

Within one month, about 75 people have lent their voices to random Street Side Karaoke events, including several children.

“Sometimes it starts off really well with little kids,” Poeske says. “I’ve probably heard little girls sing ‘Let It Go’ [from Frozen] a million times.”

Asked about Street Side’s long-term prospects, Poeske is bullish, but admits he’ll have to get creative with partnerships to sustain this outdoor project in winter. He has also talked with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and remains open to private fundraisers.

“I’d like to keep it going,” Poeske said. “Street Side Karaoke is only getting bigger at this point. Part of what’s really cool about the project is it makes Pittsburgh a cooler place to be. We’re going out to different communities and bringing people together through music. That’s exciting.”

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