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First Concert Memories: Billy Joel

Billy Joel Concert Courtesy of Getty Images

A friend recently had a chance to see Billy Joel in concert at Madison Square Garden, and after talking about the experience, it got me itching to go see The Piano Man perform live once again.

Billy Joel holds a special place in my heart. My first-ever concert was seeing him live, back in the late 1990s, at the world’s most famous arena. I still remember taking the bus from central New Jersey into NYC with my friends and then taking the subway to MSG. It was exciting and exhilarating. Joel did not disappoint, but it wasn’t (and isn’t) about showmanship with him. All he needs is a piano and a microphone and he can dazzle.

Though it may not be the way everyone likes concerts to play out, I love when I can sing along to every song. Billy Joel plays hit after hit at his performances and it keeps the audience energized and engaged. My personal favorites include “Allentown,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Movin’ Out,” and “New York State of Mind” (especially with a New York crowd). The best of all may be “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” though “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man” never fail to bring down the house. Singing together with thousands of other fans was like nothing I had ever experienced before. All of us there enjoying the same music together, feeling the same beats, sharing the words – it started a love of concerts that hasn’t quit.

I’ve seen Billy Joel live a number of times, but there are two other concerts that really stick out in my mind, in addition to my first concert. In October of 2002, at the then-Continental Airlines Arena in NJ, it was Joel on stage with Elton John in one of their popular Face to Face performances. My parents and I actually had tickets for March of that year, but the concert was postponed because of Billy Joel’s ill health. He and John more than made up for it, playing for 3+ hours. It was really cool to see the two brilliant (and quite different) artists performing together (though Elton John’s solo concerts are also fun).

I was also lucky enough to be at his July 2008 concert billed “The Last Play at Shea” (which then became a documentary). It was a double treat for me, being a big Mets fan as well. My mom and I sat in the upper deck, and the old stadium was literally shaking as people danced and jumped around to the music. And talk about a home run – Billy Joel had lots of special guests that night, including Steven Tyler, Roger Daltrey and Paul McCartney. Of course, the Beatles famously played at Shea in 1965, and 43 years later, a very memorable rendition of “Let It Be” rang out into the starry night in Queens.

Billy Joel is still in residency at Madison Square Garden, holding a concert once a month. Depending on how long he remains there, I may be able to take my daughter to see him for her first concert. In the meantime, I’ll settle for listening to Joel’s Greatest Hits albums and take a peek at any available tickets this year.

Andrea White

Photo Credit: Billy Joel by Brad Barket/Getty Images

PS.  While we’re on the topic of folks who put on great live shows, check out our posts on Bruce Springsteen, Gary Clark Jr, Snarky Puppy and Lake Street Dive.

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