Casino Gambling

How dueling piano bars at 2 Biloxi casinos plan to be the hot summer trend on the Coast

Tim Buie fires up the crowd when he plays, and he'll be leading the dueling pianos this summer at a new piano bar at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino.
Tim Buie fires up the crowd when he plays, and he'll be leading the dueling pianos this summer at a new piano bar at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. Special to the Sun Herald

They make Pat O'Briens a place every visitor "must experience” in New Orleans and are a hit on the strip in Las Vegas.

Now, dueling pianos are about to open a summer run at two Biloxi casinos.

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino announced last week that Coast nightclub would be switched out for the summer with Ivory's Dueling Piano Bar at 9 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night this summer, starting Memorial Day Weekend.

Palace Casino Resort performances will be at 8 p.m. on Saturdays from May 12 through June 23.

That sets up a case of dueling, dueling piano bars.

What are dueling pianos?

”It's probably the most interactive form of entertainment you can find these days,” said Tim Buie, who achieved two Guinness World Records for piano marathons. He's a true showman and will lead the dueling pianos shows at the Beau Rivage.

Admission is free. Pianists sit at electronic pianos facing each other, typically on a stage, sometimes taking turns playing and singing, sometimes playing together and at all times playing the crowd.

Dueling pianos are music lovers of every genre, breaking the mold of a traditional piano bar. And that's a big reason why dueling pianos have become so successful.

Yes, people in the audience still write their song requests on a piece of paper or a cocktail napkin and add a tip. But today's dueling piano shows are high-energy, Buie said, and the dance floor is often packed.

The last 15 minutes of every hour will give members of the crowd a chance to step onto the Beau Rivage stage and into the spotlight.

At Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, where the crowd requests lots of classic country songs, Buie said a Memphis woman who was on "America's Got Talent" got up and wowed the audience.

What they play

Every night it's a different show. Sometimes they play mostly rock 'n' roll, Buie said, and other times a Broadway crowd may request show tunes.

Most every audience requests dueling piano standards, he said.

“Piano Man," "Sweet Caroline," "Don't Stop Believing," "American Pie" — “Those are your big ones,” he said. You might hear them more than once if a new crowd shows up and requests one again.

Young and old can sing and clap along when they hear their favorite music played, he said. When millennials are in the audience, musicians are known to surprise them by breaking into hip-hop, rap and Backstreet Boys, he said.

“They're asking for Pink — and I'm playing it,” Buie said.

Mixing it up

Eugene Eash has played at the Palace Casino and other Coast venues and is known to bring something new to the stage. Last weekend he performed the first Filipino American show in South Mississippi at the Palace. This weekend he'll start the dueling pianos there, along with fellow pianists Ken Leonard and Zac Feldman.

"It's new and exciting for summer," said Bill Truesdell, Eash's manager, and will bring a different kind of energy to Contact Lounge & Sports Bar.

Part of the fun, and what makes dueling pianos so popular during summer, are the frosty drinks and umbrella cocktails that just seem to blend with the music. The Hurricane at Pat O'Briens in the French Quarter, for example, is as popular as the show.

The Beau Rivage is taking inspiration from the music and will serve specialty drinks like the Sweet Caroline, I Will Survive, Take it Easy, Family Tradition and Friends in Low Places. Ivory's also will have more than 30 craft beers, wines and a raw bar.

Back again

Piano bars aren't quite new to the Coast. Xtreme Pianos had a very short run in 2009 at the Beau Rivage, and in 2010 New Orleans-area pianist Ronny Kole played for a limited time.

This is the first time the Beau Rivage will give over the summer to dueling pianos. And while customers typically reward casinos when they try something new, it remains to be seen if this is something customers will like.

Videos of dueling piano bars on the internet show them to be the place for bachelorette parties and for groups of friends. They are popular in Nashville and in college towns such as Gainesville, Florida, and at casinos where locals mix with people from out of town.

“It's in-your-face piano,” Buie said. "People leaving there saying, 'Holy smokes those guys are great.' ”