The Day the Music Died

A karaoke bar eighty-sixes a customer for photographing women. One month later, he's still there.

Like a dejected lover, Michael Wedel-Durrow stands outside the Alibi Restaurant and Lounge in North Portland, alternately hoping to hurt his beloved bar or win it back. He misses the dim tiki lounge where he sang Beatles songs or Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" amid eerie statues frozen mid-hula.

Earlier this summer, Wedel-Durrow was banned from the Alibi for taking photos of female customers and "making them uncomfortable," according to owner Larry White.

Now he stands outside the karaoke bar for four hours nearly every day to picket the business with a sign urging customers to stay away: "BOYCOTT the ALIBI!!! Help FIGHT discrimination in public accommodations and harassment!"

Wedel-Durrow, a 41-year-old African-American man who's 4 feet 9 inches tall, says he was simply taking pictures for friends' birthdays and coming-home parties. "I believe I was 86'd because I am a gregarious single black male who took the whole [karaoke] thing really seriously," he says.

After the Alibi, on North Interstate Avenue and Shaver Street, banned Wedel-Durrow the night of July 27, he returned 20 minutes later with a handwritten sign. He remained until the bar closed at 2 am.

The expulsion came as Wedel-Durrow was recovering from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a condition that blisters skin and organ coverings. Treatment for the disease scarred Wedel-Durrow's vocal cords, but doctors gave him hope when they told him singing could heal his damaged pipes (His doctor wasn't available to discuss this therapy). For Wedel-Durrow, the healing process took place three to four nights a week at the Alibi. There, he would order onion rings and sing as many as 12 songs a night.

Then the ritual came to an abrupt halt. Lindsey Grant, a friend of Wedel-Durrow, witnessed his banishment when he tried to return on July 30. "Mike was 86'd because he doesn't fit in; because he's a man of color and he's small," says Grant. Wedel-Durrow believes the Alibi has violated his civil rights, but no lawyer has agreed to take his case.

Alibi staff says it has moved on.

"His sign increases the number of people that come in," says bartender Amy Hand. "They are curious."

Wedel-Durrow, however, insists that his sign has turned off potential Alibi revelers. But he's not satisfied with that. "I'm going to stay here until I get an apology," he says. "I'm not walking away with my tail between my legs."

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Experience the sights and sounds of Michael Wedel-Durrow's forbidden karaoke:

[Video by Ryan White]

WWeek 2015

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