Fair features music with a funny flair

THE BALTIMORE SUN

John Bressler, a self-proclaimed "Robin Williams of the keyboards," will perform tomorrow at the 98th annual 4-H/FFA Fair at the Ag Center, Smith Avenue, Westminster.

Mr. Bressler, nationally known for his high-energy performances on stage and television, will take the stage at 8 p.m. with his state-of-the-art electronic "orchestra," a compilation of six keyboards and a variety of high-tech, high-powered orchestral devices. The show is expected to last until 9:30 p.m.

The songwriter and showman has performed with Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Miami Sound Machine, Alabama, Ricky Scaggs, Highway 101 and many other stars during his 14-year career.

His original song, "All Night Diner," has aired on MTV and VH-1. He has appeared on TNN's "Nashville Now," performed at the Grand Ole Opry and has just released his fifth album.

Mr. Bressler was discovered by fair organizers during his performance at the Baltimore County Fair.

"I heard about him, so I went down to listen to him three weeks ago and that is how we decided to have him for our fair," said Donna Myers, co-chair of the 4-H/FFA fair.

His performance struck a high note with Ms. Myers. "I thought it was great. It was high energy," she said, noting that Mr. Bressler sings, does comedy and coaxes a myriad of sounds out of his keyboards.

This is the first year that fair organizers have opted for a national talent. In past years, they've used local performers.

"It is something the 4-H fair has never done before," said Ms. Myers. "We got him to try something different and to draw a crowd."

Mr. Bressler, known in the music industry as an electronic keyboard specialist, began taking piano lessons at age 5. He eventually joined rock 'n' roll bands to hone his craft.

He said he cannot read music; he plays strictly by ear. "Put music in front of me and I die," he said Monday from his home in Oley, Pa.

Mr. Bressler describes himself as "sort of a contemporary Victor Borge or a Robin Williams of the keyboards."

"I am a word-of-mouth act. The only people who understand my act are those who attend my shows," said Mr. Bressler, whose raspy voice has been likened to that of Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker.

In his one-man show, Mr. Bressler blends original songs with crowd favorites from many eras, and his performances include audience participation numbers. He said he has done up to 300 shows in a year, but he is scaling back on and has stopped doing nightclub acts.

He built and designed his keyboards and has them placed on a rotating stage. He also emerges from a cocoon during the show.

"My production is done by the same people who have done work for Reba McIntyre and Rod Stewart," he said of his Broadway-style show.

He performs songs from "Chariots of Fire" to "Circle of Life," from Disney's "The Lion King", and pays tribute to such piano players as Elton John, Billy Joel and Floyd Cramer.

He can lull audiences with a ballad or jolt them with his entertaining and rocking rendition of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm."

"My trademark is 'Old MacDonald.' I divide the audience into groups and they end up screaming at each other. It's pretty crazy," he joked.

At times he interjects a serious tone.

"I do stupid, off-the-wall songs as well as serious shows," he said. "I have done many anti-drug shows. I work as many different venues as you can imagine."

Ms. Myers said she looks forward to the reaction of the people who attend tomorrow's show.

"I think he will have something for every age," she said. "He is funny. And he has the laser light show that the kids will like. He does some music from 'The Lion King' and he does piano music that appeals to older people, too."

Mr. Bressler says he customizes his shows to fit his audiences.

"I just have a ball doing it. I go on stage and the switch turns on. I will do anything at all to make sure the audience has a good time," he said.

"I love performing in the [Baltimore] area. A lot of people will be discovering the show for the first time."

Mr. Bressler's new album, "Basic Black and White," will be for sale at the fair. The Pepsi-Cola Co. is helping to sponsor the free performance.

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