Dueling Duo Hits 1,000 Shows

Chances are you’ve heard of dueling pianos. You may have even taken in a high-energy Las Vegas-style show right here in KELOLAND. One group traveling South Dakota and seven other states to perform at fundraisers, high school reunions, company functions and local bars is reaching a big milestone. Dueling Duo has been hitting the right keys on stage for 1,000 shows in eight years.  

Walk into a Dueling Duo performance like this one at The District in Sioux Falls and you never quite know what will happen next…

“I got the best job in the world,” Ryan Merriam said. “It’s fun. It’s so much fun.” 

The all-request show is musical theatre led by Ryan Merriam and Andy Gibson at the pianos and utility-man Dan Witte. 

“I’ve always wanted to play music and this is the way I get to. So yeah, it’s awesome,” Gibson said. 

Gibson, an SDSU-grad who’s recorded several country music albums on his own, says the Duo began when he met Merriam, a Pierre-native, through mutual friends. 

“And I found out he could do a bunch of requests and I knew a bunch of songs. I decided to make this piano case; it’s actually still the same one. We’ve done some improvements to it. Made the piano case and we’ve been on the road ever since,” Gibson said. 

They certainly seem to have found their groove. Merriam stops just short of saying he and Gibson complete each other on stage. 

“Andrew is a child of the 90s. I can’t stand most of that stuff. I would rather play more traditional country, 80s rock, singer/songwriter stuff. My tastes alone are kind of strange and then his are completely different. So it’s a nice balance. Works out really well,” Merriam said. 

While the name on the pianos says Dueling Duo, the group has been a trio for the past seven years. On top of playing in different bands over time, Dan Witte spent 25 years teaching orchestra at Aberdeen Central High School. 

“I was ready to play a little bit. I didn’t think I’d play this much. This has been nice,” Witte said. 

Witte’s voice adds to the harmonies during shows but his mastery of the fiddle, sax, guitar and violin turns performances up a notch. 

While many dueling piano shows take a few requests, Witte says this group’s ability to take input all night is what makes it special. 

“So what makes it successful is that people have ownership in the show. People sit out there and put up a request and see everybody get into the song and go, ‘That was my idea,'” Witte said. 

Being able to fire up every request takes an encyclopedia-like memory. 

“We don’t know every single Justin Bieber song but we know at least six of them,” Gibson said.

There’s also the popular classics like Devil Went Down To Georgia, Don’t Stop Believin’ or Friends In Low Places. Funny enough, the guys also prepare to handle a ton of songs made famous by female singers. 

“I’m singing Whitney Houston and Ryno’s singing Heart. Sometimes we make Dan sing Adele, which is kind of funny,” Gibson said. 

“We get people up to dance and the more interactive it is, the better the show is, the more fun it is for everybody,” Merriam said. 

Over eight years, not everything is going to go smoothly. 

“One time Andrew was singing with a gal on his piano stool and it gave way. The gal was sitting with him singing and boom it went down,” Witte said. 

The contraption constructed by Gibson to hold the pianos has also seen its fair share of mishaps. 

“We used to strap it on top of the car. It flew off on the interstate and pieces have broke off. We just piece it all together and put some paint on it and call it good,” Gibson said. 

That easy-going attitude along with musical talent has made this venture a career for each of these men. This is a full-time job and they wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“I get to do what I love every night and get paid for it. I get a lot of days off so I can travel and stuff,” Gibson said. 

“I get to go in front of people every week and make them laugh and help them have a good time and forget about the troubles that are going on. A lot of times we’re doing a fundraiser, so we’re able to help people rally around their community. It’s fun to be a part of,” Merriam said. 

Matching up their musical skills with your community and your requests, it’s something the Dueling Duo hopes to continue for years to come.  

“I think that’s the key to it. Working with good musicians sure helps,” Witte said. 

The Dueling Duo performs about 100 shows a year in eight states right now.