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By Felix Adamo/ The Californian
BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor firstname.lastname@example.org
When Danny Spanks sings karaoke, he likes to catch his audience off guard. So the go-to choice for the 40-something DJ/program director at KRAB Radio -- Bakersfield's edgy, 18-to-34-skewing alternative station -- is "Like a Virgin" by Madonna.
Consider his audience officially off guard.
Media Music Jam
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, 2800 Buck Owens Blvd.
Tickets: $20; available at vallitix.com or 322-5200
"I just get a kick out of doing things nobody would expect me to do," said Spanks during a phone conversation to promote a charity concert by local media professionals Saturday. Spanks has signed on to deliver the booze-under-the-island-sun classic "Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffett.
"I wanted to do 'Like a Virgin,' but the band didn't have that in the repertoire. I like offbeat songs, like 'Candy Man' from Sammy Davis Jr. I'm pretty limited because I definitely can't sing any high notes, unless it's 'Like a Virgin.'"
Spanks joins nearly two dozen professionals who will hit the stage at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace to raise money for the Kern County Cancer Fund, which helps local patients pay for their medical treatment. The roster runs all over the talent and experience spectrum from sometime-karaokers like Spanks to respected musicians like Aaron Pearlman and Tracy Peoples of KBAK-TV, Channel 29; Mike Hart of KERO-TV, Channel 23; Kenn McCloud of 98.5 The Fox; Jeff Lemucchi of KERN Radio; and The Californian's own Matt Munoz.
Other big names in Bakersfield media offering their time and talents include Jim Scott, Maddie Janssen and Kevin Charette of KGET-TV; Erin Briscoe and Elaina Rusk of KERO-TV; and Jose Gaspar of KBAK-TV.
The Media Music Jam is the brainchild of Steve Flores and his band, Thee Majestics, which organized the first event -- a benefit for an ailing disc jockey -- about 10 years ago. The guys have organized similar concerts sporadically since then, allocating the money among several causes and charities. But none of the concerts has attracted as many media professionals as this one.
"It's a blatant attempt to use big names in the media to raise money for a good cause," Flores said. "It energizes the band to see how excited the guest performers are for this event."
The 30 to 35 musical selections are drawn from a variety of genres -- country, Latin, big band, funk, oldies -- and all the performers have been rehearsing with the band for weeks now, both to master the songs and combat stage fright.
"We don't want anyone to embarrass themselves," Flores said. "And we also want to make sure they respect the music. This isn't a throwaway gig. We're playing at the holy grail of musical stages in the valley, at the Crystal Palace."
Spanks isn't above admitting to his own jitters and may hit up his favorite karaoke spot -- the Junction, next door to the Palace -- to get in the groove before the show.
"Singing with a live band is different from singing with karaoke," Spanks said. "Having to remember words without having them on a TV screen in front of you. Rehearsing helped calm my nerves. As long as you don't take yourself too seriously, anybody can do it."
Flores echoed that sentiment with the example of KGET news anchor Jim Scott, who, as a longtime Relay for Life announcer, has introduced Thee Majestics each year before the band's set at the annual American Cancer Society fundraiser.
"Every time we would start 'Beginnings' by Chicago, there was Jim Scott running from his trailer and grabbing a mic and singing with us. So now Jim's going to be singing with us that night. ... He's a little shy about it, but he really is good. In energy, enthusiasm and fun for the song, he's a 10, without a doubt."
After some prodding, Flores -- who diplomatically noted that all the performers are great -- singled out a few, including trumpet player Lemucchi ("he's really, really good"), and Buckley Radio's Tony Lee, who knocks it out of the park with his covers of "Your Man" by Josh Turner and "Corazon Espinado" by Santana.
Another standout is KGET sales rep Angela Barton, who will be performing the Amy Winehouse version of "To Know Him Is to Love Him."
"She came in and she just schooled us on how to arrange a song like that. That one was really different for us."
Flores promised the evening will hold many surprises, mostly for the audience, which rarely has the opportunity to glimpse the playful side of the men and women who bring them news and information every day.
"To see them out of their element, the serious work of the day they do with the news -- to see them in this setting is going to be a cool thing to do. To hear them sing or play an instrument -- these people are just good."
But that doesn't mean they're immune to butterflies. Spanks, for one, will fuel up with a little liquid courage, only appropriate for a man singing about the bliss-inducing affects of tequila (and if Spanks -- born Daniel Litterall -- gets enough liquor in him, have him tell you the story of how he came up with his radio name).
"I'm just looking at it like an opportunity to have a good time," said the radio pro and father of two teens. "And any people who get a chuckle out of me, I'm sure I'll get a chuckle out of them, too."
And though making it to the Crystal Palace stage is a coup for any performer, the show this weekend will not be Spanks' first performance there.
"It was a Christmas party, and it was karaoke and I did 'Like a Virgin.' It was with co-workers and everyone enjoyed it. Maybe next year."