From Piano to Politics to Piano! Hunter Lang – A Rare Talent
By Bob Tagert
From Piano to Politics to Piano!
Hunter Lang – A Rare Talent
This month’s profile is a real treat. Last week we ventured into Georgetown to see Hunter Lang perform at the Georgetown Piano Bar on M Street. This brought back a lot of memories as friends and I would ride our motorcycles to Georgetown in 1967. Our destination back then was the Crazy Horse bar where a few friends worked as waiters. Twelve ounce bottles of beer cost 75 cents back then. Times have certainly changed.
The Georgetown Piano Bar is located at 3287 M Street, where the old Rhino Bar once reigned king and back in my day it was Winston’s. We arrived about 9 pm and the round basement-level bar was packed and most of the tables were taken as others milled around with a cocktail or beer in hand. I know I have gotten older but man, I don’t remember being that young. The two keyboard pianos were two steps down from the bar level. About 9:15 Hunter Lang and his piano partner Joshua Rich, after passing out song sheets, took their seats, and the fun began.
What is sometimes billed as dueling pianos, these two entertainers played and sang back and forth the rest of the night. They play their favorite songs or you can make a request. The request is usually written on a post-it note and then attached to currency. The higher the denomination, the quicker the song is performed. If you can’t think of a song, there are a ton of recommendations on the song sheet they pass out. They can tackle any number and deliver the goods as evidenced by Lang’s version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Somebody to Love. Freddie Mercury would be proud.
Lang discovered his talent at the ripe old age of 5. In kindergarten he heard a song by the group The Toys, and it stuck in his head. He was soon walking around singing this and other songs that he memorized. He has since been practicing his art for over 20 years. Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, Lang attended the Douglas Anderson School for the Performing Arts and their Grammy award winning music program. He later attended the University of Memphis where he played with the acclaimed University of Memphis group Sound Fusion for three years.
Originally playing by ear, Lang studied classically with Lithuanian Virtuoso Broniaslavia Kimel and the brilliant Memphis musician Joan Gilbert. In 2008 Lang performed master classes at the New England Conservatory and the Longy School of Music in Boston, MA. He has studied songwriting and commercial music at Berklee College of Music’s Summer Program in Boston and dedicated the majority of his time to the music industry program at the University of Memphis, in Memphis, TN. Over the past 15 years, Lang has entertained thousands by performing in piano bars and in large venues, for senators, governors and even a presidential family.
Lang’s DC connection started in the spring of 2014. While surfing the White House website he discovered their internship program and thought, “What the heck, why not?” but also thinking, “No way am I going to get this.” “You get to choose five areas you want to work in, and my first choice was in the Office of the Vice President.” This young man is certainly not shy! After a rigorous selection process that lasted several months, Lang became the “luckiest intern of them all,” and landed his number one choice. “Wow, I was working in the Vice President’s ceremonial office right outside the door to his main office,” he tells me. “Some interns don’t even work in the White House: they work down the street.”
Lang’s life began to get real busy that spring and summer. He would go to the White House in the morning and work in Joe Biden’s office from 8 to 5, then to another interns apartment in town to sleep for an hour or two then go to Georgetown and play piano at Mr. Smith’s (then located on M Street but since moved to the old Chadwick’s space on K Street) from 9 pm to 1 am, then drive 35 miles to Stafford Virginia, go to bed and start all over the next morning. “Vice President Biden is one of the most incredible people I have met, heard, speak or worked with. There is never a dull moment. With me, I am always doing real work whereby at the end of the day I think, ‘Wow, I helped make a difference in America today!”
In 2014, Mr. Smith’s was planning to relocate. This is when Lang and three friends decided to open their own place. They secured a lease on M street and opened Georgetown’s second piano bar. Lang and his dad, K.C. Lang, built a two station piano shell that would allow for one performer or two “dueling pianos.” With a big mirror hanging behind them, the audience gets to see the action of the performer’s hands as they glide across the keys.
For someone who wanted to be a rock star since he was a kid, the next Billy Joel or Elton John, he has arrived. “It is a really big high when you have a bunch of people watching just me as my fingers fly over the keyboard,” he says. “I could go through life totally half ass if I wanted to, I could play piano in the bar until I am 45, maybe 90, but I want to do other things than play in a bar…maybe a song in a movie or write songs for other performers.You can’t take everything with you to the grave, if I can wake up in the mornings and make people happy by getting my hands on a piano, that is what I like and that is what I want to get out of life…reach and touch other people with my music.”
This energetic 27-year-old touches people with more than his music. He is flat out a good guy with a ton of talent. Enjoying a cocktail or two with him after Sunday brunch brings out his compassion for not only his music but also for the people around him. When we had brunch he brought his dad with him who was visiting from Jacksonville. After meeting and talking to K.C. you begin to understand why this piano player is so well grounded.
If you get a chance, check out Hunter Lang at his Georgetown Piano Bar. He performs there Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights beginning at 9 pm. Check out the Old Town Crier Facebook page or online version to see and hear a few clips of this talented man.