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Holly Bowling in Columbus

Playing a full-sized grand piano that took up two-thirds of Woodlands’ postage-stamp stage, Holly Bowling appeared before an exuberant crowd on February 10 in Columbus, OH at Woodlands Tavern. The classically trained pianist, Deadhead and legendary Phish fan segued between her interpretations of Grateful Dead and Phish songs across two sets.

Alternatively staring intently at the iPad that contained her sheet music and losing herself in the music that emanated from her supple hands, Bowling played the part of quintessential classical pianist for the most part. But she occasionally went rogue and employed a mallet or tuning fork to coax unorthodox sounds from the piano’s strings.

The joy that Bowling gets from playing shows on her face as expressions of surprise, ecstasy, giddiness and good humor passed by one after the other.

Bowling also brings a lot of joy to her audiences.

“You (bleeping) rock!” someone yelled toward the end of one particularly energetic moment.

Bowling, dressed like a rock ‘n’ roller in jeans, tennis shoes, a dark top and a cap, does a lot of things.

And even though she does not play Rachmaninoff or Chopin, she most certainly does not (bleeping) rock.

Bowling plays piano recitals that happen to feature rock songs.

And like the bands she emulates, she says virtually nothing from the stage.

She spent the bulk of her 70- and 60- minute sets playing expansive – 15 minutes and longer – versions of songs like “Estimated Prophet,” “China Cat Sunflower” and “Tweezer” and tossing in snippets of tracks such as “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” on which she mimicked Bob Marley’s vocal lines by plucking the piano’s strings with one hand while playing the keyboard with the other.

At the end of each set, she stood briefly in front of her piano, beaming and soaking in the adulation flowing her way. And you couldn’t help but love the fact that this classically trained pianist has found a way to make a living playing the music that moves her the most to an audience of like-minded, fun-loving freaks.

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