Sweet Pie to take the stage again in Wilmington

WILMINGTON — The 1970s called and wants its naked pianist back.

Paul Winer performed as Sweet Pie for 25 years then stopped shortly after his daughter started her schooling. He tried to live off the radar. But customers who visited his shop, Reader's Oasis Books in Quartzsite, Ariz., quickly caught on.

"For 20 years, I was the bookseller," Winer said. "I never changed the way I lived, or didn't get dressed other than put a little pouch on."

Once discovered alive and well six years ago, he was asked to play a gig at Salisbury Beach, Mass. He hadn't done a show in 20 years but couldn't turn down a 1970s beach reunion.

Winer describes some of his boogie woogie and shuffleboard songs as "nasty, dirty or politically questionable." But at the age of 74, he's calmed down a bit. He no longer considers himself a political activist.

Winer's first gig was up in Burlington, where he charged 50 cents a person at the door.

"I had to give half the money collected to the owner to compensate his shutting off the jukebox," Winer said. "So I used to play for 25 cents a head then went to Stowe."

He continued to develop his performance in a playhouse in Stowe. But it was at the Fat City nightclub in Wilmington, where he said the Sweet Pie act "really took off."

He then went all over the country, wearing nothing or next to nothing behind the piano. He bills himself "the Baron of Bare-ass Boogie" in a flyer for the Aug. 12 and 13 shows in Wilmington at Memorial Hall at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased at the Village Pub, the Coffee House, the Old Red Mill Inn, Local Motorcar Services and brownpapertickets.com.

Winer will be performing with The All-Star Sweet Stomp Orchestra, featuring Will Peroni on harp, Buddy Apfel on tuba and trombone, and Steve Hohstadt on guitar.

"They've never heard me with a band in Wilmington or Salisbury Beach," said Winer, who will be going to the latter location again after the local engagement. "So the music they're hearing is much embellished from the music they remember and I can play better piano than I used to. We're pretty excited about the music."

Winer said he had received phone calls from local residents about half a year ago, urging him to bring Sweet Pie back to Vermont. In an edition celebrating the weekly newspaper's 50th anniversary, the Deerfield Valley News had run an article about Sweet Pie's legacy at Fat City.

Winer said he was remembered not only by "snow bunnies" but "the real grunt workforce" of the valley — the bartenders and store clerks. Some of those people now own or manage the establishments they worked for, he added.

"I'm really looking forward to the reunion involved in all this. It brings the early part of my life to touch the new part," he said. "What do I remember from 50 to 60 years ago? I realized my show had value to these people. I now realize the value that it has to me, that these were memorable experiences with an audience. It just compelled me to want to perform again."

Winer said his act was "very controversial" in Wilmington.

"People either loved me or hated me," he added.

Besides the pouch worn in front sometimes, Winer said he has lived "bare ass" for 55 years now and has been involved in 68 court cases regarding public nudity.

The White House Inn in Wilmington was in jeopardy of losing its liquor license after a Sweet Pie show was considered obscene, rude and indecent in the late 1970s. But Winer prevailed when the Supreme Court sided with him.

"I am the federal case cited any time free speech comes up in court," he said.

Wanting to keep the Memorial Hall shows open to all ages, Winer plans to be "almost naked" on the stage. Still, he warns that some of the lyrics may not be suitable for children. He also will be at the Village Pub for a free meet-and-greet on Aug. 11, 12 and 13 at 3 p.m.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.


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