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Audience performs, picks Dueling Pianos playlist

Northwest Guardian

Published: 11:43AM June 20th, 2013
Audience performs, picks Dueling Pianos playlist

Dean Siemon/Northwest Guardian

Jorge Ramirez, left, and Phyllis Tilley share a piano during their cover of “Great Balls of Fire” during the Dueling Pianos show June 14 at the AFC Arena on Lewis Main.

It’s not often a member of an audience gets to join musicians on stage and be a part of a show.

And it’s not often audience members use a “Guitar Hero” controller to solo on Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” or to have a dance-off to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” But they were part of the interactive program at the Dueling Pianos show starring Phyllis Tilley and Jorge Ramirez at Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s AFC Arena June 14.

There was no prepared playlist for the evening.

“Instead of just being a show where everybody sits and watches, we want people to actually get involved, sing along and clap along,” Tilley said. “We like to get people on stage to do silly things.”

Early in the show Rosemary Chambers was sitting with her friends in the audience when Ramirez handed her a tambourine to play during a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” Later on during a cover of “The Joker,” David Lamb, a retired Army sergeant, volunteered to perform a mock guitar solo with a video game controller.

“I knew nobody would get up there and do it,” Lamb said. “It’s all about having fun.”

During the performance the pianists searched for someone to show off their dance moves on stage to the rhythms of “Billie Jean.” It took a few minutes, but Staff Sgt. Brian Monbeck and Maj. Carlos Peña of 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division were both volunteered by their wives; or as Monbeck said, “We were volun-told, pretty much.”

Throughout the night both pianists played popular songs requested by the crowd, including Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Taylor Swift’s “Trouble.” There were current country songs, classic rock tunes and a few hip-hop hits performed by the two pianists.

“We’re talking the 1970s to 2013,” Peña said. “That’s a lot to retain.”

With a mental catalog of songs that spanned genres and decades, Tilley said they were prepared to play any style the crowd desired — even songs by the heavy-metal band, Metallica.

“Surprisingly, we can do them on the piano,” Tilley said.

The crowd demographics change with every show, and the energy modulated with each audience’s interaction with the music.

“It just depends since it’s all request,” Ramirez said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get.”

“You have to feel them out and see what they’re liking,” Tilley said.

More than 120 people attended the first Dueling Pianos show at JBLM. This year the Army’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation scheduled several military bases to host the show. Since January, the Dueling Pianos show has played at about 15 different installations.