Tony Bohnenkamp has played with the Nadas and released an album of original material a couple years ago. He is generally regarded as one of the most talented performers and instrumentalists around, but odds are that you know him for playing covers.
It is exactly that high degree of talent and ability that has helped make Bohnenkamp the most sought after name in party entertainment at corporate gatherings, weddings, holiday parties or basically any place where people will need background music that is familiar and well performed. It is not the path that Bohnenkamp originally saw for himself as a professional musician, but it is one that has served him extremely well.
“I used to have to fight it a little mentally,” he admitted. “You know, ‘Is this really what I want to do with my life and my musical career?’ That sort of thing. But playing those gigs allows me to own a recording studio and to sit on my ass and play Mario Kart at 2 on a Wednesday if I want to.”
Best described as a multi-instrumentalist, most of Bohnenkamp’s fans know him for his work on the piano, which is how he performs in most of his corporate gigs, and is featured heavily through his “dueling pianos” shows at the Blue Moon bar in West Des Moines. But when he is performing with other people, Bohnenkamp prefers a much different position on stage.
“In a band, I like to be the drummer,” he said. “I’m sure if I wasn’t the guy singing “Piano Man” four nights a week for the past 17 years, it would be different. But as it is, I have the spotlight on me so much that I want to be invisible in a band. Put me in the back, don’t even put lights on me if you don’t want.”
Bohnenkamp is a first-rate showman. Whether he is at Blue Moon performing cover songs all night or one of the rare evenings when he gets to perform original songs, he throws his heart into all of it. It has allowed him to carve out a good life for himself. He sets his own schedule and runs his own recording studio — Sonic Factory — which has produced music from Bonne Finken, Dick Prall and Imagine Dragons, among others.
And ultimately it is all in service of the same thing.
“I like playing my music, but I also like doing my job and getting the crowd excited to be there,” he explained. “If I have to get on the piano and throw in some songs that people recognize, I’ll do it. I just love my job.”
Tony Bohnenkamp plays at Wooly’s on Wednesday, Dec. 31.