Mac and Keys !: Michael McAssey Tickles the Ivories, and Funny Bones, at the Pilgrim House

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by Steve Desroches

Walking down the pathway toward the Pilgrim House, tucked just off the busy thoroughfare that is Commercial Street, there’s a gravitational pull that tugs under the warm glow of the white lights that crisscross the alleyway, followed by the sounds of music and laughter. The tinkling of piano keys and the clink of glasses as ice swirls reveal the hallmark sounds of a piano bar, a staple of Provincetown for decades, and while appealing to all, a particular favorite in LGBTQ culture. Sitting around a piano, sharing a drink with friends and new acquaintances, belting out show tunes or a torch song has been an entertainment phenomenon for generations, especially in New York City and Provincetown. And as Michael “Mac” McAssey explains, it’s really quite simple, it’s all about “community.” It’s like if Cheers was a gay bar with a piano, everyone knows your name and what key you like to sing “The Trolley Song” in as you down a Manhattan in honor of Judy Garland.

Ever since he made his cabaret debut at Greenwich Village’s famed Duplex in 1982, McAssey has enchanted piano bar patrons like a siren, but instead of crashing onto the rocks, the rocks are in your drink.

“I love singing, and I’ll be serious if you need me to be,” says McAssey sitting in the outdoor dining area at the Pilgrim House. “But I can change the temperature of the room, too. I love a drunk and rowdy audience. That’s when I get gay, funny, and blue. Sometimes people walk in and get quiet, thinking it’s a show. But you’re part of it. It’s a party. I always want people to feel like they’re in a party in my living room.”

As a piano man as well as an actor and comedian, McAssey is 100 percent an entertainer. Bright and engaging, with an infectious smile and good-time demeanor, McAssey has years of piano bar work on his resume, including long residencies at storied New York City venues like Freddy’s Supper Club, Eighty-Eight’s, and Don’t Tell Mama, as well as at The Gardenia in Los Angeles, Davenport’s in Chicago, The Caribou Club in Aspen, Colorado, and Incanto in Puerto Vallarta. He also played on RSVP cruises for over 10 years and toured the Lavender Circuit hitting places like Palm Springs and Ogunquit.

With those rainbow credentials it’s surprising that he’s a relatively-new arrival to Provincetown, having played CabaretFest, Bear Week, and Spooky Bear Weekend over Halloween. And now he’s in the midst of his first full season in town presenting Open Mac: Showtunes & Shenanigans at the Pilgrim House, becoming an integral part of the multi-option entertainment venue as it hosts a piano bar for the first time. Describing it as Provincetown’s best kept secret, McAssey is thrilled to become part of the fabric of the town and Provincetown’s piano bar community, as each player in town is so unique. It’s not a competition, he explains, but rather a complementary scene where folks like Bobby Wetherbee, Todd Alsup, Jon Richardson, and more elevate live music throughout the town while at the same time continuing an important legacy that dates back in Provincetown to the 1920s.

“We’re all so completely different,” says McAssey. “We send people to go see each other. I know when I have a night off or finish up here, I can go down and see one of my friends play. It’s part of the fun, the camaraderie.”

McAssey also enjoys how every night is different, as each crowd changes and brings their own energy. He revels in show tunes and uptempo music, as well as a few parodies. And he takes requests, but notes that if he knows it, he’ll play it, if he kind of knows it, he’ll fake it, and if he doesn’t know it, then he’ll share a drink and he’ll talk about it. But just as he’ll not dismiss any genre of music, all are welcome to Mac’s shindigs.

“Whether you’re gay or straight, older or young, there’s a place for you here,” says McAssey. “You’re welcomed. You’re instantly invited to the party.”

Michael McAssey presents Open Mac: Showtunes & Shenanigans at the Pilgrim House piano bar, 336 Commercial St., Provincetown, Thursday – Saturday through September 17, 8:30 p.m. There is no cover. For more information call 508.487.6424 or visit pilgrimhouseptown.com.