New Piano Man focuses on pleasing crowd

If there’s one thing to say about The Canopy Club’s newest Piano Man, it’s that he’s a crowd pleaser. Ben Montalbano, junior in FAA, is taking Canopy’s infamous night by storm as he lives up to the expectations of longtime Piano Man fans.

Montalbano auditioned for the position after the retirement of the previous Piano Man, Shay Thiele. Montalbano has only been performing since the beginning of this semester. He explained that he wants to improve the idea of Piano Man because of his own experience at The Canopy Club.

“I went once for 30 minutes and was really dissatisfied,” Montalbano said. “I remember making the comment to all my buddies like ‘I could totally do this better.’ So it’s kind of ironic.”

Montalbano began piano lessons when he was only four years old. His parents decided to encourage his talent when he showed interest in a keyboard at a young age. Since then, he’s pursued his love of music by studying music composition at the University. On top of his studies, he also recently started a band called The Great Divide, which plays at bars such as The Highdive in Champaign.

Fortunately, Piano Man regulars have adapted well to the change and are open to the new traditions that Montalbano has introduced. For example, at midnight, Montalbano first plays Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” with the words switched to “Last Tuesday Night.” He follows this up by taking three tequila shots while performing the song “Tequila” and tops off the trio with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” — which really gets the crowd going. Annie Valocchi and Miranda McCarthy, who are both local residents and students at Parkland College, explained that even though they miss the old Piano Man, they’re willing to give Montalbano a shot. Valocchi and McCarthy have both attended Piano Man since they turned 18.

“It’s a really fun thing to do because a lot of times going out can be awkward if you don’t like dancing,” Valocchi said. “But here you can just come and sing songs and have a great time.”

Montalbano’s set list typically includes mainstream songs that are meant to get the crowd excited. He plays anything from “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears to “Africa” by Toto.

“I feel like it’s a different kind of music than what you get at different bars, so it’s a way to mix it up,” said Maggie Kearns, sophomore in Education. “It’s relaxing and you can just talk to friends.”

Even though there have been around 500 people attending the Piano Man in the past weeks, Montalbano makes a point to reach out to his audience.

“I usually try to make friends with new groups of people,” he said. “When I see them, I try to make that personal connection and then hopefully they’ll come back.”

During his performances, people typically request songs. However, if it’s a song that Montalbano doesn’t know, he makes sure that he learns it for next time. There are also plans to create a Facebook page that allows fans to request songs online.

For those who are looking for a good time with some mainstream music, Ben Montalbano’s performance at The Canopy Club is sure to satisfy.