Tristan Hasseman | Staff Writer
Have you ever wanted to combine Donkey Kong with live drums or Shy Guy with saxophone?
On Sept. 7, a group of gaming fans gathered to play Mario Kart at the Bottlerocket Social Hall in the South Hills of Pittsburgh.
But this was not your average Mario Kart tournament; this was Mario Kart accompanied by a live jazz band playing the classic soundtrack.
Inspired by a similar event held last spring in Melbourne, Australia, Bottlerocket owner Chris Copen organized “Mario Kart with a Live Band” to kick off “Bottlerocket Labs,” a new initiative comprised of self-described “bad idea nights, a series of ridiculous and unconventional events that might just be incredibly fun.”
Players were required to pay a $5 fee to compete, but tickets were free for spectators. While the games were taking place, the bar was filled with gamers and jazz fans alike.
The games started at 8 p.m., but by 7:30 the venue was packed, and everyone was eagerly anticipating both the music and the friendly competition. Thirty two players competed in a bracket-based tournament, with two screens running at the same time.
The winner of the tournament would take home the highly-coveted Banana Trophy, which, as the name might suggest, was nothing more than a humble banana superglued to a trophy base.
Walking through the doors of the Bottlerocket Social Hall is like taking a time machine back to a classic 1970s Pittsburgh bar.
On the outside it is an unassuming red brick building, but once you step inside, you’re greeted by vintage wood paneled walls, vintage decor and a pinball machine in the corner by the jukebox.
In addition to the decor, the intimate bar and cozy environment give Bottlerocket an effortlessly cool atmosphere that is nearly impossible to replicate.
As a jack-of-all-trades venue, Bottlerocket uses its eccentricities to its advantage, creating the perfect space to host anything from comedy shows to movie nights.
In addition to their regular menu, the bartenders created specialty Mario and Luigi cocktails to honor the occasion.
The crowd at Bottlerocket was diverse, but regardless of age or skill level, everyone was there to have fun and enjoy the experience.
“I’m probably going to lose in the first round, but I’m here for it,” said competitor Garret Milnes. Like many others, Milnes couldn’t pass up the unique experience.
Chris Dobstaff, a frequent patron, wasn’t sure how the night would play out.
“It was fun, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was so pleasantly surprised at how incredible that band was,” he said.
The band for the evening was Arcadia, a local group that specializes in playing music from a wide variety of classic video games.
The band is composed of five musicians, with the members playing a variety of instruments.
In order to best capture the distinct Nintendo sound, the lead saxophone player switched back and forth between a traditional alto saxophone and an electric saxophone that could be manipulated to play a variety of unique tones.
Their unique jazz funk sound fused perfectly with the retro games, causing everyone to smile with the nostalgic recognition of the fan-favorite course soundtrack for “Moo Moo Meadows.”
As the night continued and the first round came to an end, it became clear which patrons came to dominate and who were there purely for fun.
The audience crowded around the two screens closely watching the contestants’ every move. When a good move was made or a close game was clinched, everyone in the audience would cheer on the victor and console the loser.
The jazz raged on in the background and people were bouncing their head to the rhythm. It was easy to get immersed in the welcoming environment.
As the night drew to a close it was evident that the first installment of Bottlerocket Labs was a smashing success. “We’re not a bar-cade” said Copen, but after the success of its debut, he hopes to “repeat the event again.”