When we – four late thirtysomethings and fans – decided to get tickets to Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden in 2014, we probably didn’t even realize the magnitude of what we were about to experience. Case in point: we almost sold the tickets.
Well, to be more accurate, I was trying desperately to convince my three comrades to sell the tickets. Already with a steep face value, getting closer to the day, the black market was offering three and four times that.
“He’ll be around forever!” I squealed. “Surely we can just go again at a later date.”
“Wouldn’t it be more fun to drink beers in our backyard and listen to Billy Joel albums?” “We can use our sales earnings to go big at a fancy restaurant” I appealed in a last-ditch effort to convince their foodie sides.
Well, since two out of the three of the boys I was set to go with were born and bred Strong Island’s finest, missing Billy Joel at the Garden, in what could be one of his last touring years, amounted to sacrilege.
I begrudgingly secured a babysitter, found 2 minutes to actually brush my hair and apply some chap-stick (life with little kids), and rushed out the door to meet my crew of more-excited Billy Joel fans than me. After a quick meal and some anticipatory tequila shots, we ventured into the newly renovated Madison Square Garden. The site of that alone started to turn my mood to a positive one. Maybe this will be a little fun, I thought, only to myself.
And then I saw our seats. On the floor, close enough to not need a Jumbotron, perfect view of the The Piano Man himself. Beers in hand, we started to feed off the energy of the waiting crowd. And a glorious crowd it was: Bridge and Tunnel, thousands of devout Long Island lifers, in the big city to see their homespun boy do his thing. There were young city kids on the arms of sugar daddies, boomers who raised their kids to the music, and the Generation X and Y offspring who love the music as much as their parents, songs written in some cases before they were even born. Most of all, it felt like the perfect kind of New York crowd: loyal, impassioned, surer than anything else in the world that we all lived in the greatest place on Earth and we had the right guy there to sing about it. When Billy Joel belted out Goodnight Saigon with a stage-filled with NYPD veterans, well… you have to imagine what that would feel like. Spiritual.
The icing on the proverbial cake (and this is no pun intended…), we happened to choose tickets for the night Billy Joel turned 65. The luck! Howard Stern introduced his happy birthday friend and neighbor; Jimmy Fallon serenaded him with his barbershop quartet; and a bevy of other celebrities and hangers-on waited in the wings. Proof that, as ever, celebrities are just like us: they want to be around greatness.
And great Billy Joel was. Singing his hits, setting our beer-hazed happiness to the poetry of nostalgia for a time when life was simpler – less social media, and more cut-off jean shorts. Maybe it’s rose-colored glasses, but in Madison Square Garden Friday night, I wanted to be from Long Island too. Even if just for a moment.
My Life / Movin’ Out / The Entertainer / Ballad of Billy the Kid / Everybody Loves You Now / Zanzibar / Goodnight Saigon / Allentown / The Lion Sleeps Tonight (w/Jimmy Fallon) / Sweat (w/Jimmy Fallon and The Ragtime Gals) / New York State of Mind / Scandinavian Skies / Sometimes a Fantasy / She’s Always a Woman / Don’t Ask Me Why / River of Dreams/Hard Day’s Night / Scenes from an Italian Restaurant / Piano Man // ENCORES: Uptown Girl / It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me / Big Shot / You May Be Right (w/Gavin DeGraw)