BEMIDJI -- Dave Eichholz got the entertainment bug at an early age. Before he reached his teens, Eichholz was hired by neighbors in his hometown of Coleraine to play and sing at weddings and community events.
“For free,” he said. “I didn’t want to get paid. It was just nice to see people appreciate what I could do. I still would do it for free if I could.”
Instead, he’s making a living as an entertainer in the Deuces Wild Dueling Pianos duo, which will perform Saturday night at the Sanford Center. Eichholz, 49, has been delighting audiences for about 25 years in dueling piano performances, the last 18 with current sidekick Ted Manderfeld, 40.
Eichholz has been master of ceremonies the past two years for the Bemidji Sings competition. Last year’s winner April Aylesworth, who went on to claim top honors at the Minnesota Sings contest, will join Deuces Wild for a portion of their concert on Saturday night.
The main show is part music, part comedy, and all high energy.
“This show is so fun,” Eichholz said. “I like to think that if you brought your 12-year-old kid they would laugh and have fun. And If you’re 86 and can get there you’ll enjoy it, too. It’s all about audience interaction and laughing.”
Eichholz and Manderfeld are more than singers and pianists. Eichholz also plays guitar and saxophone during the shows; Manderfeld also plays harmonica.
Eichholz fell into the dueling piano game quite by accident. He was playing in a band at the Mall of America in the early 1990s when two men from a next-door piano bar recruited him.
“It was one of those bands that if you were traveling across the Midwest and you had to stay in a hotel, and you went down to the hotel lounge and there was a band playing, that was us,” Eichholz said. “It was Monday through Saturday … 52 weeks a year for five years. I paid my dues there.”
At first, he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave the band to play in a piano bar.
“I didn’t want to have anything to do with it,” he said. “It sounded lame. Then they told me what they would pay, and I wouldn’t have to travel anymore, and it was about double what I was making. I would play from 7 to 10:30 four nights a week. That changed everything. This sounded like a way better deal.”
It certainly turned out to be just that. After some time honing his skills at the MOA with various piano partners, Eichholz started playing gigs around the region, and Deuces Wild was off and running. When his original partner decided to leave the act, Eichholz found a new match in Manderfeld, who had just graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead.
Manderfeld had started his first job as a bilingual travel agent in Fargo, but music was his first love. One night when Deuces Wild was performing at a Fargo bar, Ted was in the audience.
“He came up to the stage and asked how he could do something like what I was doing,” Eichholz said. “He wanted to be a piano player and entertainer. He was just tenacious about learning the show and getting better and learning how to entertain. How do you say no to somebody like that? He’s become a world-class entertainer and musician.”
If you go:
What: Deuces Wild Dueling Pianos
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15
Where: Sanford Center
Tickets: $29, available at Sanford Center Box Office or online at ticketmaster.com.