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Karaoke Is King - Sno-White Draws Crowds To Open Mic
It's hardly the karaoke capital of the world but it does have a certain down home charm and a relaxing atmosphere. The brave souls who take the microphone and belt out some soulful numbers can rest assured they won't be howled off the stage. Their audience is forgiving and uncritical. The fans are not expecting an expert ... only somebody willing to try.

At Riverbank's Sno-White Drive In as the shadows lengthen on a summer evening, the regulars start to line up their plastic chairs against an outside wall and owner and "impresario" Daryl Daniel, usually in a red shirt, begins to muster his culinary offerings besides musical attractions.

Staged Wednesdays and Fridays it's often the only party in town. You can hear the music several blocks away. It's difficult to resist the draw of free and outdoor entertainment. It's a place to socialize, show off your new baby or yapping dogs, meet old friends and make new ones.

The show is built around some professional singers from the Modesto area. They include Bob Hopper, the Music Man who brings the sound equipment, Manny E who sings Hawaiian style (and whose real name is Lombard Manuel), and on Fridays the Elvis impressionist Tony Knight.

It also makes a stab at being a car show some nights. Patrons are encouraged to bring and park their hot rods and antiques and even muscle cars. But it doesn't have the space for a large display and the focus is more on the music.

Karaoke is the real attraction. Hopper calls the performers up and introduces them and lets them do their thing. All sorts march up to the microphone.

Sharron Sanbourne, grey haired but wearing a white flower coquettishly over one ear, said she's won trophies at several karaoke contests and sings regularly in Modesto (at the Yosemite Avenue Bowling Alley) and Oakdale (at The Almond Tree) beside Riverbank.

"I've always sung," she said. "I started singing in the late 1990s when the Ellis restaurant (now Hwy. 108 Bar) had karaoke. I sing in my church choir in Oakdale. I always wanted to be a singer although I finished up a housewife."

Her favorite tunes include 'Teen Angel,' 'Harper Valley PTA' and 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.'

Her friend Gil Salazar gave a spirited rendition of Willie Nelson's 'You Were Always On My Mind.' Salazar said he started singing only within the last three or four months at Sanbourne's persuasion and practices at home to the music of CDs.

"With this crowd, there are no critics," he said. "But sometimes you don't know if you're any good or they are just going easy on you."

Deanna Avey said she's been hooked on singing karaoke for four or five years.

"I started singing when I was eight or nine. I used to be really nervous. Afraid I was making a fool of myself. But now I have more confidence. I sing it all, often country western, all those goodies and plenty of Patsy Cline. My mom was piano player for a church. She also sang and I did the backup. Singing has become part of my life. I enjoy the people, the audience. It's not so much for myself as to make other people happy."

Charlie Bumgarner of Escalon did not do any karaoke but was pleased to show off his antique car, a restored 1930 Ford Roadster.

"It has an all steel body. That's unusual," he said. "And I painted the original black an electric blue. I drive it about three or four times a week. My wife and I like to go out to enjoy music and good fellowship."