How Mr. B's Piano Bike Dream was Built into Reality
Ann Arbor, MI - Nationally known bicycle frame builder Mark Nobilette is the man responsible for building the custom piano-bike that is currently traveling on Mr. B's Joybox Express Mississippi River Road Ride, an epic 2,000 mile journey from Lake Itasca, MN to New Orleans, LA. As a custom frame builder he has built it all from professional racing bikes to pedicabs. But jazz and blues musician and amateur athlete Mark Braun put him up to a challenge he had never been given before - to build a bike that could pull a full-upright piano.
Mark "Mr. B" Braun, an internationally recognized jazz and blues pianist, dreamt up a whimsical concept of a piano-on-wheels which results from a personal lifetime passion for arts and athletics. "I am convinced that I am a better musician because I have always been active in sports. A lot of people find art and athletics to be mutually exclusive, but I see clearly how both played a pivotal role as I learned valuable life lessons about endurance, ambition, passion, failure and achievement. I started the Mr. B's Joybox Express as a vehicle to spread the joy of music and movement and help communities raise support for youth arts and athletics programs." said Braun. When he decided to make this dream into a reality he knew just who he needed for the job; his local custom bicycle frame builder Mark Nobilette.
Nobilette was a part of the reemergence of bicycle frame building in the United States in the 1970s. He studied with and learned his craft from the esteemed frame builder Albert Eisentraut who was referred to as the dean of modern USA (post Korean War) custom frame builders. In the early 1990s Nobilette was building frames at Cycle Cellar in Ann Arbor, MI. It was here that he first met Mr. B. "[H]e brought up this subject of a piano on a bike. I kind of thought he was nuts," Nobilette said.
Eventually, Nobilette moved to Longmont, CO to start his own frame building business: Nobilette Cycle. Several years later he and Mr. B reconnected and the idea of the piano bike resurfaced. By this point, Nobilette had done some work for Main Street Pedicabs in Denver, CO building the rickshaw-like structures used as taxis. He realized that an extended version of a pedicab could be a great design for Mr. B's piano bike. This time Nobilette's response to Mr. B was different, "Yeah, let's do it! No reason we can't."
So began the creation of Mr. B's Joybox Express, a custom-made tricycle capable of hauling a 387 lb. piano. Nobilette's major concern in the construction was how to make it safely carry 500-600 lbs. (the weight of the piano plus the platform). Also, the platform needed to be stable so the piano would not be bounced out of tune while traveling. To solve these two obstacles, Nobilette equipped the bike with shock absorbers as well as places in the back for two more riders to attach their bike frames (minus the front wheel) to assist in pushing. After lots of thought and energy the construction was a success. In fact, Nobilette's original model of Mr. B's Joybox Express is traveling down the Blues Highway right now!
The collaboration of the talents of musician Mr. B and bicycle frame builder Mark Nobilette made the dream of a piano bike come to life. Mr. B's Joybox Express is currently traveling along the Blues Highway to parade, educate and share the sounds of blues, jazz and boogie-woogie tunes performed by the Mr. B's Joybox Express Band.
Below are the locations and tentative dates for the remainder of the tour:
Galena, IL, 9/27/14
Muscatine, IA, 09/28-29/14
Burlington, IA, 10/7/14
St. Louis, MO, 10/15/14
Hickman, KY, 10/22/14
Osceola, AR, 10/25/14
Memphis, TN, 10/30/14
Clarksdale, MS, 11/2/14
Yazoo City, MS, 11/5/14
Baton Rouge, LA, 11/12/14
New Orleans, LA, 11/15/14
Communities interested in hosting Mr. B's Joybox Express should contact Artrain at 734.747.8300 or JoyboxExpress@ArtrainUSA.org. Artrain, Inc. is producing Mr. B's Joybox Express Mississippi River Road Ride. For more than 40 years Artrain, headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI, has delivered world class arts and cultural exhibitions and education programs to under-resourced communities throughout the United States. Winner of the National Medal for Museum Service, Artrain's mission is to deliver discovery and - through the galvanizing power of arts and culture - transform lives, organizations and communities. Originally Artrain was a museum-on-a-train that used America's rail system to deliver art exhibitions. Today Artrain produces and delivers cultural outreach programs of all types - art, cultural, history, science, environment, etc. - to people in villages, towns and cities through a variety of methods including mobile touring exhibitions and cultural education and engagement programs. Artrain's current projects include : Mr. B's Joybox Express; CriticCar Detroit, Infinite Mirror: Images of American Identity; and Paths to Peace: A War of 1812 Arts Legacy Project.
Artrain and Mr. B's Joybox Express are supported by hundreds of individuals, businesses and, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and Wells Fargo Foundation.