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Conversations with Joe Laureano

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joe Laureano. 

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I started my dueling pianos career during college in the mid-90s; I was a freshman at Otterbein College in Westerville, OH, a northeastern suburb of Columbus. Went to a “college night” at the local dueling pianos bar on a random Tuesday. My friends wanted me to go up on stage and play a song, so they passed the hat & got the (at that time) $20 stage fee. Went up and played “Hey Jude,” walked away with a career as I was hired on the spot, and have been doing the gig ever since. In 2003, I had started traveling from Columbus to other cities across the country. One of those places was Grand Rapids, so I helped get Mojo’s Dueling Piano Bar started. About a year into its existence, the owner asked me if I would be interested in booking the piano players for the room. I never had any intentions of becoming an entertainment booking agent. It didn’t sound like anything I wanted to do. However, I also didn’t want him to hire someone else who may want to use their own players and miss out on the gig, so I said yes to booking. It didn’t take long for other dueling piano bars across the country to learn. I had started booking players, and the phone started to ring. Bar owners wanted me to help either get their project off the ground or help reset their current situation. In less than a year, I went from booking one club to booking 13 different dueling piano bars across the country. At the time, I was still living in Columbus, so I created my booking agency, Aces Wild Entertainment. The business grew to include not only dueling piano bars but also private clients looking for entertainment for wedding receptions, corporate parties, etc. in 2009 while playing in Grand Rapids, I met my wife and decided to move to West Michigan. Once I got here, I started to move away from booking dueling piano clubs and concentrated more on private events. I created the performing groups Main Street Dueling Pianos and the cover band, Great Scott. These are the two specific groups I perform with today. Since moving to Grand Rapids, I have worked with and booked hundreds of different bands and performers for a multitude of events and venues all across the Midwest. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
The business is a pretty rough one. There’s truly no such thing as a “day off.” When the phone rings, you have to answer it because if you don’t, someone else will. That certainly creates a challenge in balancing a professional and personal life. 

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I have a career performing dueling pianos that’s approaching the 30-year mark, having started when I was just 19 years old. I’ve never had a piano lesson; I’m completely self-taught, yet somehow have managed to build a life around an instrument I don’t know how to properly play. Having started my career so young, I have a tremendous amount of experience that most in my industry don’t attain until they’re much older. So, the ratio of age to experience definitely tilts in my favor. 

Who else deserves credit in your story?
First and foremost is my wife. She’s a graphic designer, the best there is. She’s a graduate of Kendall, and her talent and eye for detail are second to none. Without her, not only would I not have my two amazing sons and this crazy wonderful life we’ve built together, but from a business standpoint, she’s created every bit of my media. The logos, the websites, all of it, it’s all her work. So, neither my agency, the band, nor my dueling pianos group would be where they are today without her. Secondly, the best path to success is surrounding yourself with people who can do the jobs you can’t, better than anyone else. Specifically my fellow performers and bandmates. With Great Scott, I have dead ringers playing and performing with me on drums, bass, and guitar. They’re excellent musicians and a great group of guys. With Main Street Dueling Pianos, the piano players I have the privilege of sitting across from not only have tremendous musical talent but have great sense of humor and a full understanding of what it means to entertain. I’m very fortunate to have been able to surround myself and fill my life with fantastic people. 

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Image Credits

Dana Laureano
CJ Gardineer

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