Music, Madness, and Dueling Pianos
A Night Out at Bobby McKey's Dueling Piano Bar
Live entertainment. Comedy. Great drinks. And music that encompasses just about every genre, completely chosen by the audience. Bobby McKey’s Dueling Piano Bar is the kind of place where anyone can come in and have a great time.
When you walk into the dimly lit bar, your eye is immediately drawn to the stage, where two pianos face each other under the spotlights. That’s where the magic happens. As good as the food and drinks are, the pianists are the real reason to buy a ticket, and you get to be their boss for the night.
“Dueling pianos are a request-driven show,” says Ronnie Smith, the Entertainment Director and one of the four pianists. “It’s kind of a niche thing where the audience is controlling what we do with the requests they give us.” Just write down the song on a napkin, tip what you think it’s worth, and bring it up to the stage. So, whether you’re looking for jazz, rock, country, or even Disney and the Backstreet Boys, if you request it, they’ll play it.
“We do everything. And I mean everything under the sun. That’s the beauty of it. The show is different every night,” says Smith. And if for some reason they don’t know a song, for the right price they’ll learn it. In fact, when I requested the Ink Spots’ 1941 song “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” they realized none of them had ever heard it before, which is unsurprising as it came out before any of them had been born. But instead of ignoring it or asking for a new song, one of the pianists, Dave Haywood, spent his free hour learning it. He did jokingly try to get out of it, though.
“Is the person who requested the song by The Ink Spots still here?” he calls out to the crowd.
“Yes!” I call back, as my friends point at me, cackling.
Haywood curses, but he and his partner for the night, Neil McKillip, gamely start playing, doing a great rendition of a song they’d literally just learned.
“We play off one another’s abilities and skills to complement each other,” Smith says. Sometimes, as the teams are switching over, all four of them will play a few songs, adding in electric guitar and drums to put on an impromptu rock concert.
Along with the music, Smith and his team are a comedy act. Mocking banter, flirting with audience members, self-deprecation, and teasing late-comers, you can tell the duos have fun working together. And the bar is 21-plus for a reason; along with alcoholic drinks, there’s plenty of raunchy humor to go around.
“It’s very diverse, very high-energy, very interactive. Occasionally we’ll have people who are celebrating and we’ll call them up on stage and make them part of the show.” So beware if you’re going with friends; they can pay to get you on stage. One bachelorette party bribed them to call up a Bride-to-Be, where Smith and partner-in-crime Jimmy Porter showered her with congratulations and dirty jokes, then serenaded her with Jimmy Buffett’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” The rest of the audience happily sang along, and by the end, she was red with laughter.
The show goes on for over four hours, with the teams switching off to get some rest. But each duo works hard to keep the energy up, and it has a great atmosphere. Even the waitresses get in on the action, climbing up on stage and dancing to KC & The Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight.” You can reserve a table ahead of time, or you can just show up before the show and watch from the balcony. Either way, you’ll have a blast singing along, laughing, and hearing a ton of different songs.
“Our job is to wind people up into a frenzy. Sometimes it’s easy, some nights it’s hard, but we seem to deliver pretty consistently at Bobby McKey’s,” says Smith.
-By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, ALLISON BENNETT
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