Sing a song with the “Piano Man”

Shae Thiele performs at the Canopy Club on April 22. Thiele performs his popular Piano Man show every Tuesday night at the Canopy Club and has quickly built up a regular following around campus. Erica Magda

Shae Thiele performs at the Canopy Club on April 22. Thiele performs his popular “Piano Man” show every Tuesday night at the Canopy Club and has quickly built up a regular following around campus. Erica Magda

By Meghan O'Kelly

The sign outside the Canopy Club boasts “Piano Man” each Tuesday, and a growing number of students now can say they have experienced the show.

Shay Thiele, 26, is the Canopy Club’s newest phenomenon, as he sits on the stage with his keyboard each Tuesday night in front of an enthusiastic and growing crowd.

“In August, I had 10 people, and now in April, I’ve had up to 600 people,” he said. “I’m surprised it got so big.”

The show is open to those 18 years old and older and is free of charge.

Bar manager Pat Brady said the Canopy Club has no immediate plans to implement a cover charge to see the Piano Man despite his increasing popularity.

“As the school year is still going, you can’t raise something just because it’s getting popular,” he said.

Sarah Duchaj, freshman in LAS, said she frequents the Piano Man and that it is an inexpensive, entertaining event.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “They’re all songs you can sing to, and he’ll play anything from Journey to Britney Spears to The Beatles to Elton John.”

Katie Ward, nursing student at Parkland College brought friends to the Piano Man and attributes the event’s growth to word-of-mouth.

“It’s really fun, and the drinks are cheap,” she said, as she handed her friend $2 for a Long Island Iced Tea. “You don’t have to get on stage and embarrass yourself – you can sing along with everyone.”

The event started out in the front room of the venue in August and has now grown to the small hall setup, said Mike Armintrout, Canopy Club marketing manager.

He attributes the Piano Man’s success to the fact that live music is not prevalent on campus. He said the event is beyond a concert; it is a social event.

“I think the people in Champaign-Urbana are hungry for these types of events, especially on campus,” Armintraut said. “I think the Piano Man is fun and entertaining and affordable for college kids.”

Armintraut said the Canopy Club has done little advertising for their Tuesday night performer.

“The best kind of advertising that you can do is word-of-mouth,” he said. “Word-of-mouth advertising is what works.”

Michelle Erb, freshman in Business, attended the Piano Man’s performance for the first time Tuesday.

“Everybody else wanted to come,” she said. “My friends come every week, and I have never gone.”

The Canopy Club management credits Ian Goldberg, club owner, with discovering the Piano Man at a party.

“Shay has built up his repertoire from when he started,” Armintraut said. “He’s literally a walking jukebox.”

Thiele sporadically interjects “socials” into his shows, when he raises his glass of raspberry Stoli and Sprite to the crowd while they take a drink in unison.

Thiele generally plays until 2 a.m., but he does not guarantee an all-night performance.

“It depends on how drunk he is,” Brady said. “Sometimes until two, sometimes not.”

Thiele works at Guido’s, 2 E. Main St., Champaign, during the day and plays music at night. His priority, he said, is his band, Sangamon.

“This is a side project for me,” Thiele said. “I want to get my band big.”

Thiele won’t admit to rising to local celebrity status, but he said he has been noticed while walking down the street.

“Just having everyone sing along with all the songs is my favorite part,” he said. “It’s very lively – everyone is on the same vibe.”