Dueling pianos at The Cabin ups musicians’ spontaneity
What: Dueling pianos with Rick Gerber and Mike Rogers
When: 9 p.m. every Wednesday
Where: The Cabin, 825 Main St.
Keyboardist Rick Gerber said his musical spontaneity has skyrocketed since he and pianist Mike Rogers began facing off in their dueling piano shows three years ago.
“The challenge of playing piano on the spot keeps me frosty,” Gerber said. “There are really good piano players who can’t do the dueling piano show. You have to be able to engage the crowd and adapt.”
The dueling pianos format, which Gerber and Rogers play from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. every Wednesday at The Cabin through the early spring, features the two pianists taking audience requests and a little cash from the audience to perform a song. The catch comes if other audience members want to hear something different.
“They come and bang on a gong to stop what we’re playing and then request another song,” Gerber said. “And we do try to play anything the people want.”
On any given night, the pianists find themselves playing songs for the Main Street bar’s patrons by any artist, from Britney Spears to Metallica to The Beatles and Billy Joel.
One time, it was the Wolverines.according to Gerber.
“The most interesting request I’ve had was the University of Michigan fight song,” he said with a laugh.
When requests like playing “Hail to the Victors” come in, Gerber usually slips away to figure out the song while Rogers plays.
“I’ll watch YouTube on my phone and listen to the bars, chorus and verse to see if I can play it,” he said. “I like to think that I can play things pretty close 80 to 90 percent of the time.”
There have been instances where Gerber hasn’t been able to play the song, so he improvises.
“If someone asks for a Led Zeppelin song that I don’t know very well, I’ll play a different Led Zep song that I do know,” he said. “Then again, it’s really fun to mess up sometimes. It’s fun to play things silly, tell jokes and add our own innuendos to the lyrics. The audience usually gets into that.”
Gerber said he and Rogers have their own song-knowledge strengths.
“I find I can do the Doors and the Beatles really well, and Mike knows all the Elton John, Neil Diamond and Ray Charles stuff,” Gerber said. “I enjoy the camaraderie we share.”
Gerber started playing dueling pianos shows with Rogers three years ago at the now defunct Molly Blooms Restaurant and Pub that was located at Kimball Junction.
“I kind of faked it those first few weeks, because playing dueling pianos is different than playing in a band,” said Gerber, who has played in various bands for more than a decade. “Mike will be the first to tell you that he’s more of a performer and a showman rather than a musician, and that’s the secret of a dueling piano show. You have to engage the crowd.”
For convenience’s sake, the pianos the duo utilize are digital.
“It would be awesome if we could play on acoustic pianos, but every time you move a piano, you have to tune it,” Gerber said. “That costs about $100 each time. So Mike built some cases that we add on to our digital pianos to make them look like baby grand pianos. In fact, we’ve had people ask us if we’re playing on real grand pianos.”
Gerber’s love for music started with his family.
“I was into art and liked to draw comic book stuff, and then my dad gave me his Pink Floyd records,” he said. “Soon after that, my uncle gave me the Beatles’ ‘White’ album, and my aunt gave me Van Morrison’s ‘Greatest Hits.’ And all of that made me want to become a musician.”
Playing the dueling pianos show has reformatted Gerber’s approach to his solo concerts.
“I do something called the Rick Gerber Request Line, and I’ll just spend an evening playing requests,” he said.
Gerber is also happy his and Rogers’ dueling pianos show found a home at The Cabin.
“I know Mike could play a dueling piano show anywhere — even in New Orleans, but I can’t,” he said. “So I’m thankful The Cabin is totally invested in local music. That place has helped me develop my career and I would gladly play there anytime.”
Summit County Library Director Dan Compton, in charge since 2010, have become and exciting and safe places for the entire community to gather.