Fun Times Doubled at Electric Piano
Author: Michael Paskevich | Photographer: Photography by Anne
The Electric Piano bar already sports a well-earned reputation as a Hilton Head hideaway where a blend of evening libations and live music often leads to spirited audience sing-along celebrations. However, owners Adam and Kelly Nemetz are upping the ante with dueling pianos, a double-your-fun format featuring a pair of keyboardists entertaining crowds in a ragtime-era tradition that dates back to New Orleans circa 1930.
“It’s a more formalized concept, and we’ve been trying to do these shows since we opened (in 2007), but we just weren’t able to find the right talent for something this specific,” said Kelly Nemetz. “It requires a special sort of performer—not just a good piano player, but someone who is engaging and gives people a great entertainment value. It’s all about getting everyone involved, and these guys really want to get you singing along and maybe even up on stage dancing.”
Sterlin Colvin, well-known locally for his shows with his spouse Shuvette at the EP Lounge and elsewhere, is joined by fellow singer-pianists Dallas Reese and Charlie Dennison in rotating two-man duels from 9:30 p.m. every Friday night at the cozy night spot tucked away in Park Plaza shopping center at 33 Office Park Road. (Saturday shows will soon be added as island visitor counts increase; a $5 cover charge is waived for loyal locals with identification).
“The EP is small and intimate (1,000 square-feet) which is great, and it give us the chance to connect up-close with everybody,” said Colvin, who brings a classic Motown and rhythm and blues background to his roster of selections. “They want to have a good time, and it’s up to us to make sure they’re involved and always having fun.”
The “dueling” term is a misnomer these days, unlike those bygone nights in New Orleans dives where competitions would sometimes grow heated and fists would fly.
The genre has matured in more amiable fashion as pianists now play off each other in an effort to maximize audience excitement by trading familiar tunes and impromptu banter to foster a festive mood.
“It’s not about going out there and trying to top each other,” said Reese, a Charlotte-based performer and country DJ who, like fellow dueler Dennison, offers a musical counter to Colvin’s funkier vibe. “Sterlin will play some Earth Wind & Fire, while I’m at my best singing Billy Joel, Elton John and classic rockers,” Reese added. “We cover a lot of ground, from drinking songs to some modern dance music like Maroon 5 and Lady Gaga…and sometimes we just make things up as we go along.”
EP audiences anticipate familiar tunes from the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Van Morrison and Elton John—what dueling pianos session would be complete without a sing-along to “Bennie and the Jets”?—and tunes at the dimly lighted venue are geared at rekindling fond memories among an older audience that’s surely heard most of them before. “We’re one of the few bars on Hilton Head that doesn’t market itself to a crowd that’s in their 20s,” said Kelly Nemetz. “We cater to a group that’s 35- to 60-years-old and up, and they don’t want to hear originals or stuff that’s way out there. In a lot of cases, especially during the summer when there are more tourists here with children, our customers have to hire a babysitter, and this is their one ‘date night’ out alone. So they expect a certain level of entertainment.”
Patron requests are obviously encouraged—there’s a tip jar for added incentive—and the interaction between artists and participants is what makes things special and indeed ever-changing on a given evening. “We encourage people to request anything they can think of,” Reese said, “so we never know what we’re going to get. We play things by ear and try to keep them in the groove.”
The “dueling” piano players started working out their sets in February, performing for gatherings of dedicated EP locals in preparation for the busy summer season. “They did a great job, and we’re excited about the summer,” noted Adam Nemetz, who married spouse Kelly in 2009 after the pair of food and beverage specialists settled firmly into their roles as hands-on business owners. The personable couple has enlisted added servers and doormen to prepare for the upcoming rush of visitors.
Dueling pianos sessions on Fridays and Saturdays will be offset by ongoing appearances by the Simpson Brothers and other cover-oriented ensembles at the night spot, which caters to a friendly mix of tourists and locals every Wednesday through Saturday. “Our year-round customers are crucial, because they’re the ones who keep us going and tell visitors about us,” said Kelly Nemetz. “That’s really our best form of advertisement.”
So cue the lights and sound system and prepare for a pair of pianists to rock the house at a venue where letting loose is the order of the evening. “I think it’s going to be a great summer,” Reese said. “This is a great place to play, and if people aren’t singing along, we aren’t doing our job.”
The Electric Piano bar is located at 33 Office Park Road, Hilton Head Island and is open Wednesday-Saturday from 8 p.m. with music starting at 9:30 p.m. For more information, call (843) 785-5397 or visit electricpianohhi.com.