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Why this driver turned his cab into the ultimate club on wheels

Something about having a taxi driver play the drums and keyboard while driving around town with a fog machine running inside the car doesn't seem all that safe.

And yet concerns haven't stopped thousands of customers and a handful of celebrities from jumping into Jon Barnes' "Ultimate Taxi" over the 25 years he's been in business.

"Basically, I didn't ever really see myself as a taxi driver," he tells CNBC. "I've always seen myself as an entertainer and the taxi was just a venue that I could mold into something to show off."

Jon Barnes stands in front of the 1981 Checker cab he poured thousands of dollars into to create his Ultimate Taxi.
Mary Stevens | CNBC
Jon Barnes stands in front of the 1981 Checker cab he poured thousands of dollars into to create his Ultimate Taxi.

The idea hit Barnes after hours spent waiting for clients at the Aspen, Colorado, airport taxi stand where he would spend his time fiddling with a synthesizer plugged into the sound system of his 1978 Checker cab purchased from an outgoing driver. Dissatisfied with the acoustics, he added a microphone and mounted delay and reverb effect pedals he punched on the dashboard.

"I figured I spent twelve hours a day driving that I might as well enjoy myself and put some toys in the car," Barnes says.

Next came the thousands of dollars worth of lighting, wiring, sound equipment and fog machines, followed by the decision to cut ties with the taxi company.

"some nights I make a lot more than all the other cabs in town and some nights I make nothing. But I still have more fun at work than everybody else." -Jon Barnes, Ultimate Taxi driver

"As I got busier and busier with people that just wanted to see my show, I did less and less taxi [driving] and pretty much turned off the taxi radio," he says. Business accelerated in 1989 when the outfitted taxi was featured on the front page of the Aspen Times. Soon after, celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld, Clint Eastwood, Paul Simon and Peter Frampton were taking rides around the block. When the car wasn't being profiled by Regis Philbin or used as a set for "the Tonight Show," that is.

Regis Philbin and his family have ridden in the Ultimate Taxi.
Source: Jon Barnes
Regis Philbin and his family have ridden in the Ultimate Taxi.

"That's the beauty of driving the Ultimate Taxi. Some days I make a pretty decent living ... and other times I get to sit in with one of the guys that played on Abbey Road," he says.

In the off-season, when Aspen doesn't provide enough tourists to pay $200 for a 45-minute ride with no particular destination, Barnes tools around making modifications and additions to the the taxi to keep the technology and experience up to date. He dedicated one summer to repairing and retrofitting his second iteration of the Ultimate Taxi, an $11,000 1981 Checker cab now complete with lasers, projections, and his latest addition: A 360-degree camera, which allows families and friends to relive their experiences in virtual reality.

Jon Barnes prepares the keyboard, drums, and light panels he operates while driving his Ultimate Taxi around Aspen, Colorado.
Qin Chen | CNBC
Jon Barnes prepares the keyboard, drums, and light panels he operates while driving his Ultimate Taxi around Aspen, Colorado.

"The Ultimate Taxi wasn't something where I one day said, 'Hey I got this great idea.' It's just been an evolution of learning about stuff that made me happy," he says. But based on the reactions of some of the customers riding in Barnes' cab watching as he simultaneously performs karaoke and magic tricks while driving the taxi around town, he's not the only one smiling.

"You know, some nights I make a lot more than all the other cabs in town and some nights I make nothing," he says. "But I still have more fun at work than everybody else."