Piano Man Billy Joel Plays The Paramount
Joel and the band rock The Paramount stage. He opened with “Everybody Loves You Now” from his 1971 debut LP, “Cold Spring Harbor.”
In April, Billy Joel said he was putting his toe back into the water to see how performing feels.
That water is in Huntington.
The 64-year-old Joel appeared before a wild crowd on Wednesday at The Paramount in downtown Huntington for a surprise show. Tickets at the 1,550-seat venue were practically impossible to come by for the exclusive event, which was a benefit for Long Island Cares.
“They do a lot of good stuff for Long Island, and we want to support them,” Joel said.
The Piano Man opened, appropriately enough, with “Everybody Loves You Now,” a cut from his 1971 debut LP, “ColdSpringHarbor,” before moving on to “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).”
The Oct. 16 affair was very hush-hush; the announcement was made at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, and tickets went on sale two hours later.
Given the Hicksville native’s Long Island fan base and history of selling out arenas – he sold out 12 straight in a 2006 run at Madison Square Garden, and had two sell-out nights at Shea Stadium in 2008 – it comes as no surprise that tickets to see the music legend at the Huntington theater sold out in minutes, possibly seconds, depending on whom you ask.
Joel has been rehearsing at The Paramount to prepare for a short tour at the end of the month in Europe.
“This is a great place,” Joel said. “It was starting to sound pretty good, so we said, ‘let’s do a gig.’”
Paramount co-owner Stephen Ubertini said Joel likes the venue and decided to do a surprise show, something The Paramount – if not the entire town of Huntington – has been waiting and hoping for since the venue opened in September 2011.
“He’s happy with the sound,” Ubertini said. “That he chose us is an absolute honor. It’s a proud moment for us.”
Joel is familiar with the venue, which was recently named one of the top 25 music clubs in the world, according to an industry publication. He has never performed a show there, but has been to several concerts and even played a few tunes on the piano in its Founder’s Room.
The Oct. 16 Huntington concert comes after a three-year hiatus from touring, aside from a handful of guest performances. Prior to the five songs he played at last year’s 12-12-12 benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy relief at Madison Square Garden, the last time Joel commanded a major stage for a full show was in March 2010 during his tour with Elton John.
The Paramount show, too, has a charitable component to it, with a portion of its proceeds going to Long Island Cares, the anti-hunger charity founded by Huntington resident and music icon Harry Chapin. Long Island Cares is on track to distribute more than 7 million pounds of food to needy Long Islanders this year.
Joel has advocated on behalf of Long Island Cares before. His motorcycle store in Oyster Bay, 20th Century Cycles, was a sponsor of rocker Dee Snider’s Ride to Fight Hunger, which benefited the nonprofit.
“It was totally his idea,” Long Island Cares Executive Director Paule Pachter said. “We received a call from his manager who said, ‘Billy is rehearsing on Long Island for upcoming performances in the U.K. and Ireland, and said he would like to do a benefit concert.’”
Pachter said he is grateful not only for the donations that will come in, but also for the exposure.
“We are absolutely, incredibly excited. It’s something every Long Island charity has wanted,” he said.
Although Joel hasn’t released a pop album since 1993’s “River of Dreams,” he has stayed relevant, largely due to the timelessness of hits such as “Piano Man,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” and “New York State of Mind.”
Hip-replacement surgery in 2010 sidelined him for a bit, but he has slowly reappeared, spending 2013 testing the waters of performing again by playing private shows and festivals. When he returns from Europe, Joel, along with Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock, will receive this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, one of America’s most highly regarded cultural and artistic honors, in December.
Joel has deep Huntington roots – he is a former resident (a park in ColdSpringHarbor is named after him) his mother, Rosalind, is a current resident; and his first solo album, released in 1971, was titled “ColdSpringHarbor.” Hard-core fans know that a production error resulted in the songs being sped up – and Joel’s voice sounding too high-pitched. The album has since been re-mastered and re-released.