116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Walking around the Iowa State Fair you can hear a cacophony of sounds — carnival music, live bands in the Bud Tent, young singers competing for the top crown in the Bill Riley Talent Search. One performer has garnered a crowd of loyal fans who return to hear him every year: Bandaloni, the one-man band.
Bandaloni, whose real name is Paul David, has been performing as a one-man band for more than 20 years, touring state and county fairs and bringing his unique multi-instrumentalist talent to fans across the U.S. and Canada.
At the Iowa State Fair, David said he’s found his most welcoming crowd, where people return year after year to hear him perform. He’s played at the fair for nearly 15 years.
“There’s something really special about Iowa. It’s probably my biggest fanbase,” he said. “The warmest folks in the country certainly reside here.”
The Bandaloni performance is a full-body workout. While strumming his guitar, David shuffles around the pavement that is his stage, using a pulley system attached to his shoes to hit the bass drum and hi-hat cymbal situated on his back. A flick of his guitar neck will activate the snare drum, and in between verses he plays one of the dozen harmonicas at his disposal.
David said the one-man band is a combination of several of his areas of expertise, namely sculpting and music. He received a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpting in college, and for a time was designing and building large dinosaur replicas for museums.
The sculpting background helped him construct his elaborate system of instruments, and a background in sales gives him the personable charm he brings to his performances.
“I can build it, play it and sell it,” he said. “That’s kind of the idea.”
David's song repertoire is heavy on classic rock, playing favorites like "Brown-Eyed Girl," "Sweet Home Alabama," and country hits like "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and "Wagon Wheel." He pulls from a list of more than 100 songs taped onto his sound system, but he said he usually only plays some of those at a time, rotating songs in and out every year.
In 1999, after performing in bands for years, the 59-year-old from Ontario, Canada, began performing as a one-man band.
His setup has evolved over time to incorporate new technologies and new instruments, he said. All his instruments run through “the Granpod” sound system, a large replica of a 1930s radio that is driven by remote control on a motorized wagon.
When he begins to play, a crowd gathers quickly. A few hundred people usually gather near the Pepsi Clock by the fair’s Administration Building, snapping photos and videos as he works the crowd, singing directly to audience members and fist-bumping kids.
David strives to keep the crowd entertained, telling what he calls “dad jokes” in between songs and inviting kids in the crowd to join him in the center and dance.
His central mission is to bring joy to his audience, he said.
“I think it's really important for me as an entertainer to bring joy to people. That's kind of my job,” he said.
George Gassman, of Marshalltown, said he has been watching Bandaloni at the fair for at least 10 years. A lot of the act has remained the same, Gassman said, but small changes and updated equipment keep it fresh.
“He’s kind of a staple here at the fair,” Gassman said. “So people develop a following for him and come every year and look him up.”
While he attracts repeat fans, he is delighting newcomers this year as well. Kaylee and Adam Johnson, both 28, were first-time fairgoers and said they were impressed with Bandaloni’s performance.
David invited their daughter, Claire, to dance along with him during a song, and gave her a medal, a signed photo and a DVD of his performances.
“I love the way he interacted with the crowd and involved the little kids,” Kaylee Johnson said. “She totally loved that, ate it up.”