When it was announced that Billy Joel would be doing a live Q&A with writer Nick Paumgarten as part of the New Yorker Festival, in front of a 500-person audience, I knew immediately that I had to be there. With a name nearly synonymous with New York City, this guy is a freaking legend and it was a very rare opportunity to hear him talk about his career in person. As I walked into SIR Stage37 prior to the interview, I was pretty stoked to see that there was a piano onstage next to the interview area. Oh, he’s going to talk AND play a little too? Excellent. Still, there’s no way I could prepared myself for what I was about to witness.
Joel was as candid and comedic as they come in this gem of an event (seriously, this guy is an absolute riot). When introduced as part of the New Yorker Festival, he joked, “This is a Festival, where’s the sausage and peppers? Not exactly San Gennaro.” He spoke of his family’s history and their journey to America, his early beginnings as a musician, becoming a father again at 66, his Madison Square Garden residency, and much, much more in the nearly 2-hour session. There wasn’t a topic he shied away from, even his spat with Elton John, which he said was the result of him “canceling” a tour that had never been formalized to begin with. And then there was the question I’m sure we’ve all wondered – after performing for 40 years, is he sick of playing “Piano Man?” “If you would have told me at that time that a song that was almost six minutes long in three-quarter time about bummed out losers in this alkie bar in Los Angeles would be a hit, I would say, ‘Yeah sure,’” Joel cracked, but went on to explain that he loves hearing the audience chime in on his signature song.
As Paumgarten wrapped up his portion of the Q&A, the audience had the chance to ask Joel a few questions of their own. Most of the audience questions came in the form of requests to hear him play deep cuts from his catalog, such as “Falling Of the Rain,” “Roberta,” and “You’re My Home.” And much to our delight, he played every single one. The theme of “ask and you shall receive” continued as he fulfilled one fan’s request for a hug and closed the program by granting another fan’s wish to play “Honesty” on piano, while Joel accompanied him at the mic.
Joel was captivating from start to finish in an intimate event that had the vibe of a living room conversation with a musician friend (except this was the Piano Man). It’s not every day you get the opportunity to have that sort of in-depth look at Billy Joel’s music and it will surely be a lifelong memory for those lucky enough to attend.
Article: Nicole Shyti
Photos: Marianne P. Stone Photography