The Piano Man Himself

I was ten years old when I first heard "Piano Man" by Billy Joel. My camp friend and I spent half of our summer coordinating a synchronized swimming routine to that very tune. Who knows why or if we actually chose that song or if it was appropriate for ten year olds to sing about businessmen slowly getting stoned at the top of their lungs, but something clicked in my head and heart and I became a Billy Joel fan that summer.

After performing our routine, we never went back to synchronized swimming again. Perhaps it was due to the fact that we did not look anything like the image below.

Nevertheless, Billy Joel has always inspired me and has always popped up again and again in my life. I had a solo in "And So It Goes" in high school. I tried to memorize (in vain) the lyrics of "We Didn't Start The Fire" in college. "River of Dreams" kept my energy up on many a road trip. So last night when I had a last minute opportunity to attend one of his concerts, the decision was a no-brainer. I was well aware that I would not be seeing this Billy Joel:

Instead, I would be seeing this one:

When an artist has been performing for over 50 years, usually it's understood that the music won't be quite the same as it was in a musician's prime. I saw Bob Dylan a few years ago and was sorely disappointed. Yet Billy Joel showed astounding talent - at sixty-eight years old nonetheless. In fact, if I closed my eyes and didn't look too closely at the big screen, his voice sounded exactly the same as I remembered it from my ten year old days. Moreover, his hands dominated that keyboard, as he played not only his songs but the "Rocky" theme to appease the Philadelphia crowd. He was witty, humble, and genuinely seemed like he was having fun. He saved "Piano Man" for almost the very end and once when he heard someone cry out for that song, he joked that he didn't have to do anything - expect pay taxes.

The crowd, as you might expect, was completely random. It's amazing how ten year olds and sixty year olds could both relate to the music that was rocking out Citizens Bank Park. He played a wide variety of songs, and even though I feel like I know many of them, again and again I found myself exclaiming, "That one's Billy Joel, too?" His range is so wide. He had us swaying, dancing and singing until our voices were completely hoarse. At one point, he brought the Philadelphia born Boyz II Men group onstage and they did an a capella version of "For The Longest Time". Amazing. The best moment of the night, though, was when he completely stopped singing and the musicians stopped playing during "Piano Man". The crowd carried it away, wailing, "Sing us the song, you're the piano man. Sing us the song tonight. Well we're all in the mood for a melody. And you've got us feeling alright."

I wondered how he had such confidence that the crowd would continue to sing, and that there wouldn't just be silence. How could he trust that so many people would know just what to do? Obviously, he's a seasoned performer and this wasn't his first rodeo. Yet it says a lot when a performer trusts that he can lift a crowd up and in return the crowd will do the same. I'm honored to have seen the Piano Man himself perform.