It's early in the evening when Adam Knauss and Jimmy Ross take their seats behind dueling pianos at Howl at the Moon. The crowd is beginning to file in as the first notes to "It's Raining Men" ring out. "This one is for you, Gretchen," Knauss says, as Melia Tucker grabs the microphone and begins to sing. In the audience, 39-year-old Gretchen Talley shrieks and rushes near center stage, where she starts a conga line. "That's my signature song, and everyone in the office knows it," says Talley, who lives in Timonium. Countless moments like these have played out at Howl at the Moon, which opened in Power Plant Live in 2001. It's a familiar concept: Audience requests a song -- any song -- from two piano players, who sit on a raised platform in the center of the room. (A few bucks will help move requests to the front of the line.) Behind the pianos are a guitar, a bass, a keytar and an eight-piece drum set. But Howl at the Moon has staying power. Many bars and clubs have come and gone since Power Plant Live opened a dozen years ago; Howl at the Moon is the only nightclub that's been open since the beginning. The walls are littered with neon signs of beer logos and posters with drink specials, and customers order drinks at two dark-stained oak bars. Five piano players take turns on the instruments. At any given night, at least two share the stage; during peak nights, it's all five. For $20, anyone in the crowd can get up and join the performance. "Can we have Jim come down to the stage," pianist Jeff Staus says on this particular weeknight. Jim Mizell, a 55-year-old who lives in Adamstown, comes jogging from the back of the crowd and takes a seat at the drums. "Just pick up the beat," Staus says, as the group -- Staus on piano, Ben Stahl on guitar, and Knauss on the bass, begins to play "Johnny B. Goode." Mizell's smile fades as he focuses on drumming. He hits the skins so hard that he drops a drum stick, but is unfazed. At the end of the song, he hops off stage and rejoins the rest of his party. "It was exciting," he said. "I'm an old, old drummer and I haven't performed in a while. These guys make it so easy." The cast of five musicians at Howl at the Moon came to play at the club from dramatically different backgrounds. Jimmy Ross graduated Penn State with a degree in telecommunications and broadcast, while Knauss is a student at the Peabody Institute. But their love of music and playing live brought them together. Here's a look at the five musicians of Howl at the Moon, from their favorite songs to their reasons for getting on stage night after night.
Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun photo
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