Fairgoers invited to duel of musical proportions

Aug 13 2010 - 11:59am

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MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner
Brittney Comeau of Ogden dances on a piano on her 21st birthday while Troy Baldwin (left) plays piano at the Tavernacle Social Club in Salt Lake City last Friday. Baldwin and his musical partner Kirk Garrett (right) perform as the group “Dueling Pianos Anywhere” and will be playing at Davis County Fair in Farmington.
MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner
Kirk Garrett (right) and Troy Baldwin play piano at the Tavernacle Social Club in Salt Lake City.
MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner
Brittney Comeau of Ogden dances on a piano on her 21st birthday while Troy Baldwin (left) plays piano at the Tavernacle Social Club in Salt Lake City last Friday. Baldwin and his musical partner Kirk Garrett (right) perform as the group “Dueling Pianos Anywhere” and will be playing at Davis County Fair in Farmington.
MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner
Kirk Garrett (right) and Troy Baldwin play piano at the Tavernacle Social Club in Salt Lake City.

Troy Baldwin was singing and playing piano for an appreciative crowd, when he received a request for Garth Brooks' hit "Friends in Low Places." From the first note, members of the audience were singing along. Just before they hit the chorus, a woman jumped up and tipped the pianist $7 to stop.

But the crowd wanted their song, and a man asked Baldwin to start again -- for $8. The woman really hated the song and meant to put a stop to it, so she paid $11. Four $5 bills put an end to the duel of wills, and Baldwin belted out the rest of the number.

The fight wasn't a surprise to Baldwin -- it's all part of the fun at a dueling pianos show.

"Dueling Pianos Anywhere," featuring Baldwin and musical partner Kirk Garrett, starts at 6 p.m. Thursday and 8:30 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Davis County Fair in Farmington.

Dueling pianos

Dueling Pianos Anywhere is an all-request show. Audience members fill out request cards, and the pianists try to play the songs.

"We'll play anything we know, and sometimes we play things we don't know," said Garrett, of Cottonwood Heights.

Garrett and Baldwin, of Salt Lake City, face each other at separate pianos.

"We try to get the audience to ally with us as much as we can," said Garrett. "I'll try to find people in the audience who like what I'm playing, and don't like the stuff he's playing."

Baldwin is more likely to honor requests for newer rock, pop and rap songs. Garrett is a little bit country, and older rock 'n' roll.

Garrett says he tries to get the audience on his side "so we can stop what he's playing and start playing good songs."

And that's what makes the show.

"The dueling aspect of dueling pianos isn't necessarily so much between the players as members of the audience," said Baldwin. "The fun happens when people are stopping other people's songs."

Stop the music

The way to start or stop the music is simple -- make a request.

Without a tip, a piece of paper with a song title on it is just a suggestion, said Baldwin. It's a request when money's added.

"We've tried to come up with other ideas of ways to get songs started and stopped," he said. "We've done everything from a basket of fake fruit people can throw, to yelling out 'stop.' ... It doesn't work as well as the money. If there a little bit of skin in the game, people get behind it more."

When the two play their regular gig at the Tavernacle Social Club in Salt Lake City, they keep the tips. For charity fundraisers or weddings, they donate the tips.

They don't push tips as much at fairs, and may even play suggestions.

"If it gets to the point that it's a dollar per song, or a quarter, that's OK. There's no limit, it's just designed to be fun and interactive," Baldwin said.

All requests

The fact that the show is all-request is Garrett's favorite thing.

Popular songs include "Brown-Eyed Girl," "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," and "American Pie."

Songs likely to get stopped: "The Rose" and "Muskrat Love."

"You never know what's going to happen," said Garrett.

At recent shows, a Lady Gaga song met a swift end, but the pianists were allowed to play the entire theme to "Sesame Street."

Dueling Pianos Anywhere played the Price City International Days Celebration at the end of July, when one of the city council members became involved in a battle over Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."

Piano men

Baldwin and Garrett can play thousands of songs from memory or by ear.

Baldwin started singing as a child, and at age 17 started performing with Music USA at Lagoon. He was a vocal student at the University of Utah, and took up piano in his twenties to accompany his singing.

The former Kaysville resident later played piano at a bar in Clearfield, then switched to the Tavernacle Social Club about seven years ago.

Garrett grew up in California, playing in school and garage bands.

"I majored in music, and I used to be terrific at reading it, but I can't do that much anymore," he said. "It's use it or lose it, like learning a foreign language."

After school, he worked nightclubs, trying his hand at both music and comedy.

"I was really kind of bored with the repetition -- the same thing every night," he said.

He tried out for the dueling piano show at the Tavernacle in 2002, and has been there ever since.

Baldwin and Garrett have taken their act on the road, everywhere from Hawaii to Wisconsin in the past few months. They have a five-star rating on Gigmaster.com, an online booking service.

"Everyone loved it. In fact, they're still raving about it," said Scott Westwood, who hired the entertainment for Price's celebration. "Everyone I've talked to since then, that's the first thing they talk about. It was very well-received."

The dueling pianists say they can't wait to play the Davis County Fair.

"We hope it's a great show, and maybe we can start something where we come up every year," said Garrett.

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