Female phenom

Former Miss Kansas rocks stage at Ernie Biggs Dueling Piano Bar

Written by Kristin Baker | Photography by Visual Fusion Photographics

What makes a trip to Ernie Biggs Dueling Piano Bar special are the entertainers, and Emily Strom's entire life prepared her for her role playing there.

Ernie Biggs, a new-style dueling piano bar located at 550 N. Rock Rd., attracts a wide array of guests due to its musically talented piano players who can play and sing music by request.

Strom, one of the few women players in the country, stumbled onto the opportunity to play at Ernie Biggs when a drummer for the bar heard her playing piano at a business opening in Wichita.

"Everything happens for a reason, and I am a player at Ernie Biggs for a reason," Strom said. "It's a really fun time."

Strom's life has revolved around music. She first started playing the piano when she was three or four years old, and she went on to study jazz piano at Wichita State University. She also has a long history of singing, beginning with singing in her church choir as a child.

Her musical ability helped Strom then Emily Deaver win the title of Miss Kansas in 2008. She sang and played piano during her year off of school making appearances.

"I was on stage at least five times a week minimum, and it taught me to be very comfortable on stage," Strom said. "This is very important in dueling pianos."

After college, Strom played in the popular local band Annie Up. Then she worked on-air for a local television station, which she said was a positive experience.

"But I wasn't happy because I wasn't playing music," she said. Strom played the local music scene for a couple of years, writing her own music and leading her own bands.

Now Strom plays four nights a week, Wednesday through Saturday, at Ernie Biggs, a job she said is challenging and "a party every night." The bar staffs three players each night, and they rotate to give one another breaks.

To train for the job, Strom learned new songs, and she continues to add more to her list to be able to fill patrons requests. Playing the piano for the piano bar is a bit different than playing it classically, she said, because she needs to know all the different instruments parts so people recognize the songs.

"I've been trying to fill the hole that's been missing the female power stuff," Strom said.

Strom, with red hair and an easy smile, has a large enough personality to fill the bar. "You look like a fool several points in the night just because you want people to laugh and have fun," she said.

But that part has been easy for Strom. "The hard thing for me when you're doing dueling pianos, you're thinking all the time," she said.

"When I am on stage, I'm thinking, what key is my partner in? Do I need to put something on the board? Am I bringing someone on stage? And smile on top of all of that."

The smiling isn't too difficult either, she said, because her job is a blast. "I can see myself doing this for quite awhile," she said.

Ernie Biggs information

To see Emily Strom and the other Ernie Biggs players and enjoy daily drink specials, visit Ernie Biggs, 550 N. Rock Rd., Wednesday - Saturday evenings. For reservations call 316.978.9103 or visit erniebiggs.com.

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