If you were ever lucky enough to attend a Billy Joel concert, you know he gives his all in a remarkable two and a half to three hours, leaving the audience in awe of his seemingly superhuman energy combined with enough charisma to fill an arena. He is now in the final phase of his residency at the iconic Madison Square Garden with sold out shows running up until July 25.
Joel, the consummate piano man, singer, song writer, has enjoyed a mega-successful career spanning back to the early 70’s with his first studio album, Cold Spring Harbor (November 1, 1971). He has been recognized with much deserved honors along the way including the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors, 6 Grammy Awards, induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), the prestigious Grammy Legend Award (1990), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999), was inducted in the Long Island Entertainers and Musicians Hall of Fame (2006). and received a Tony Award for “Movin’ Out,” a Broadway musical based on Joel’s music. For his accomplishments as a musician and as a humanitarian, Joel was honored as the 2002 MusiCares Person Of The Year by the MusiCares Foundation and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
But no recognition may be sweeter than an exhibition that pays tribute to his illustrious career entitled, The Ultimate Exhibition, Billy Joel-My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey, opening at The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook Village, NY on Nov. 24.
A media event at LIMEHOF on Nov. 21 introduced Joel and those in attendance with the first glimpse at this comprehensive exploration through over 5 decades of Joel’s life and career. On display are rare memorabilia, videos, awards, recordings, instruments, photos and at the center is a grand piano dramatically displayed on a turntable with a screen above depicting scenes from Joel’s concerts.
The evening was kicked off by Ernie Canadeo, LIMEHOF chairman, who thanked Joel’s team for contributing incredible memorabilia. He went on to thank Gloria Rocchio, President of Ward Melville Heritage Organization, who invited the organization to set up shop as of November 25, 2022 in their impressive cultural center which anchors Stony Brook Village. Then he went on to thank and introduce Kevin O’Callaghan, a world renowned exhibition designer who has become a major asset to the organization having created their exhibition on the Long Island club scene displayed last year when HOF opened its doors at this venue and who is the creative driving force for the Billy Joel exhibit.
“This was a real joy to do,” said Kevin O’Callaghan. “A funny little story happened just this past Sunday. We were working really hard and I decided to go to a local bakery and pick up some cupcakes for the team. I’m sitting there talking to the baker and telling him about the exhibition. A lady came in and she was standing there listening then she asked what are you talking about? I said we’re doing an exhibition on the life of Billy Joel and she choked up and said that’s amazing! You know he’s our guy on the island and we love him! She went on and on about how Billy Joel was the tapestry of all our lives, which is very true. My team and I worked very hard to follow his history, to get every little detail and talk to people. We even got the first document proving that he was 11 years old at his first recital. It’s a piece of paper that somebody actually kept in their collection. So, a lot of people were part of this wonderful journey. When we met him behind the stage at Madison Square Gardens, he greeted us with open arms. He recognized my Long Island accent; he loved it and we were friends from that moment on and I need to thank him because he really supported this. He helped us and he was there for us like he’s been there for 50 years. He’s in our hearts.”
On hand to introduce Billy Joel was legendary DJ, Bob Buckman, who started at WBAB in 1979 when it was a small station and helped grow it into a major Long Island rock station. Now, he is SiriusXM director of music programming. In 2007, Buckman was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. He helped Billy Joel with Charity Begins at Home and together they did 29 years of marathons supporting Joel’s charity.
“There is a huge percentage of people who know Billy’s thirteen albums. Around the world people know that Billy’s got 7 honorary doctorates, that he’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and, of course, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But few people know about his commitment to Long Island. And that’s why when I got the job on WBAB, I joined him with his charity. You know the slogan was put your money where your mouth is, but his was put your money where your house is. That’s the way he thought and continues to think. He’s always there when Long Island needs something. And that’s why we wanted to honor him.”
The moment we waited for happened before our eyes when Billy Joel appeared and took that circular stage housing the grand piano. Joel, who looms up larger than life projected on giant screens at arenas, is diminutive in stature at 5 feet, 5 inches tall and for an entertainer who shmoozes easily with audiences seemed quite humbled by this show of adulation.
“This is really overwhelming. I mean where did they get all this?” Joel said as he looked around. “It’s a little intimidating, I guess I’ve lived. I am thankful for this honor and thank you all for coming.”
“What strikes you most?” asked Canadeo.
“This is a big piano. It’s the one I used with Elton, right?”
In reference to his Madison Square Garden residency about to end, he added, “Even though I’m leaving the Garden, I’m still gonna work, I just won’t be working at the same place. Though my house is for sale on LI, it doesn’t mean I’m leaving LI. This will always be my home and we’ll come visit this place a lot.”
Canadeo asks, “Did you ever think back in those days that you would become the star that you are today?
“No,” he shrugs. “I had a hit record.”
“More than one,” shouted an enamored fan.
“Well, it starts with one. All you need is for the first one to be a hit. I always wondered, did I pick this life or did it pick me? I guess I didn’t have much of a choice. I was gonna do this no matter what because I love music, most people do, and I’m very glad that we all wound up loving the same thing.” With that, this unassuming man was gone, but left behind even more adoration for his modest demeanor.
Tickets are now on sale for The Ultimate Exhibition, Billy Joel-My Life, A Piano Man’s Journey at The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook Village, NY. The exhibit doors open to the public starting November 24th and plans are for it to continue through the summer 2024.
The phone number to call is 631-689-5888.