Since 1973, when Billy Joel released his hit single “Piano Man,” sitting behind a baby grand in a bar playing for tips has become the cliché that most every piano player has tried to shake.
But if, in the same bar, you add a second piano player; ask the crowd to pick the set list; throw in some audience-driven, Gong Show–like rules (including an actual gong and allowing a player to be “tipped out” of his current song selection); and add a dash of open mic and improv; then you have what has become known as the dueling piano bar phenomenon.
Though dueling piano performance has been around since the late 1800s, the modern format—where, in addition to the aforementioned “Piano Man,” tracks like “Don’t Stop Believin,’” “Brown Eyed Girl,” and “Sweet Caroline” are set list stand-bys—the audience actually becomes part of the show rather than just watching the performance in a space falling somewhere between a concert and karaoke. Dueling piano bars have taken hold in just about every major American town including here in Park City, home to just shy of 8,000 year-round residents, where we have two.
On Wednesdays starting at 10 p.m. at The Cabin (825 Main St, 435.565.2337), home of the “Elkupine,” it’s piano vs. piano where not only do fabulous piano men tickle the ivories, but also, without notice, the bartenders tend to get in the act, too, breaking into song like angels who just found their wings.
Across town, Molly Blooms (1680 Ute Blvd, 435.645.0844) hosts a more family-friendly dueling piano show where the audience can use a real gong to express themselves when necessary. Molly Blooms also regularly features two well-known local piano men for their shows: recording artist Rich Wyman and Mike Rogers, a teacher, composer, performer, and all-round talent.
So, the next time you’re looking for a way to celebrate a birthday or bachelorette party, hosting out-of-town guests, or simply looking for something to do other than dinner and a movie, take a spin at one of Park City’s piano bars, places where, by the end of the evening, you’ll be in the mood for a melody and feelin’ alright.