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He's a pinball wizard

Hamilton, Ohio – The tribute may be to the music, but that’s not to say the man himself won’t make an appearance.

And by the man, of course we mean… Brad Baker.

The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce 2021 Citizen of the year takes the stage with the Just Strange Brothers band during their Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: A Tribute to Elton John show Saturday, May 21, at the Fitton Center.

Oh, and that Sir Elton guy makes an appearance, too.

At least in the form of a vintage Captain Fantastic pinball machine bearing his likeness and honoring the 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.

Good fit, given that Baker owns and operates the Pinball Garage (113 N. 3rd Street, Hamilton, Ohio 45011) and that Just Strange Brothers plan to perform John’s cover of “Pinball Wizard.”

“I can play pinball and that will be fun,” Baker said with a chuckle, “but I’ll leave playing the instruments to the band.”

Baker opened the Pinball Garage June 10, 2020. If starting a new business during a global pandemic wasn’t ideal, at least it gave the company some time to work out the kinks.

“We didn’t have to be great right away,” Baker said. “We knew we weren’t going to be crowded at first. We couldn’t be crowded at first. So we learned what worked and fixed what didn’t without a lot of pressure. And it’s working.

“We’ve had four times growth year over year from last April to this April in terms of pinball play. People are coming out and having a good time.”

Why wouldn’t they? With 40 different pinball machines on the floor at any given time and 40 more available to rotate into action – to say nothing of the food, 24 beers on tap and a full bar - Pinball Garage has endless variations on a fun theme.

Fun is the whole point of the pinball game during the show.

“We’re not doing a concert, we’re doing an experience,” said Fitton Center Executive Director Ian MacKenzie-Thurley. “This is about adding some theatricality to the show, something out of the ordinary.

“It’s also about celebrating Hamilton; we are glad to be part of this community. There are so many opportunities here for the arts, for businesses, for entertainment. Putting our city’s citizen of the year on stage during a show ties all of that together.”

Baker has no nerves about being on stage. He’s a veteran of the hit TV show Shark Tank, where he landed a deal with FUBU CEO Daymond John in 2016. He enjoys the old-school feel of the Captain Fantastic machine he’ll play at the Fitton Center, but said his current favorite at the Pinball Garage is a 1997 model called Medieval Madness.

“It has great game action, but one of the things I like about it, the company that made it was out of Chicago,” Baker said. “They hired a lot of up-and-coming actors out of Second City to do voice work for their machines. This one has Tina Fey as a princess.

“There’s a family setting we use here in the Garage, but there’s also an uncensored setting. It’s pretty tame by today’s standards, but for the late ‘90s it was kind of racy. Hearing Tina Fey coming out of a pinball machine 25 years later is pretty funny.”

The Fitton Center for Creative Arts is located at 101 S. Monument Avenue on the Riverfront in downtown Hamilton, Ohio.

Building Community Excellence through the Arts and Culture

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