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Pianist Kirby Lee Hammel and drummer Jake Alexander perform as Clangin' & Bangin' at an Oakland farmers market. (KQED)

A Honky-Tonk Duo Takes The Piano Outdoors

by NPR Staff
Aug 11, 2012 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Alexander says performing outdoors with a real piano attracts "a lot of pity tips."

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Weekend Edition continues its series on the sounds of music al fresco with a musical act founded on a very inconvenient choice. You'd think a street musician would want to travel light when selecting an instrument — say, a ukulele, a violin, maybe a guitar. But a piano?

"It's about 300 pounds," says Kirby Lee Hammel. "Only one pulled muscle in the last year and a half, I think."

Hammel is one half of Clangin' & Bangin', a dynamic and muscular duo that works the streets of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Hammel's counterpart in the band is drummer Jake Alexander.

"It kind of started as a joke in a way, dragging out a huge piano, and I think the first time we did it we made, like $200 in two hours," Alexander says. "We thought, 'Man, we should keep doing this.' We got a lot of pity tips."

"You've got to have a real piano; it just gets that authentic sound," Hammel says. "We want it to ring out, so we take all the top off, we take the bottom front board off, and we also put it up on a 2-by-4 so it kind of bounces off that concrete below us." He adds, "It actually helps us get gigs because we don't need any amps."

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