Baltimore rolls out the red carpet Friday night for Long Island’s finest, as Billy Joel comes to town for the first-ever rock concert inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Some 37,000 fans are expected for the sold-out show, and while many will doubtless know what to expect — Joel’s been playing Baltimore for more than 40 years, going back at least as far as his mid-'70s shows at Loyola University Maryland (then Loyola College) ― there may be some neophyte fans in the crowd. With that in mind, and in hopes that even longtime fans will learn something they didn’t know, we’ve put together this A-Z guide to Billy Joel, to seeing him in concert and to seeing him at the famed baseball stadium.
A is for 'An Innocent Man’
In 1983, Joel released this album as a tribute to the sounds of American music from his youth in the 1950s and early-1960s. It spawned six Top 40 singles: “Tell Her About It” (an ode to Motown), “Uptown Girl” (an ode to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons), “The Longest Time” (an ode to doo-wop), “Keeping the Faith,” “Leave a Tender Moment Alone” and the title track. If we’re lucky, he’ll do a few of them.
B is for Band
While Joel will be handling lead vocals and the piano (and, boy, does he handle the piano!), he doesn’t do all this alone. Backing him up for the Baltimore show (and most of these folks have been playing alongside him for years) will be Dave Rosenthal (keyboards, piano, organ), Mark Rivera (saxophone, flute, harmonica, percussion, vocals), Crystal Taliefero (percussion, saxophone, harmonica, vocals), Tommy Byrnes (guitars, vocals), Andy Cichon (bass, vocals), Chuck Burgi (drums), Carl Fischer (trumpet, trombone, saxophone) and Mike DelGuidice (vocals, guitar). DelGuidice, by the way, was plucked from a Billy Joel tribute band, which kinda sounds like every fan’s dream, right?
C is for Columbia
Joel signed with Columbia in 1972, and 12 of his 13 albums of new material have been released while signed to the label (his debut, 1971′s “Cold Spring Harbor,” is the only exception). It was at Columbia where he linked up with legendary producer Phil Ramone; their collaboration generated an amazing run of successful albums, from 1977′s “The Stranger” through 1986′s “The Bridge.” Not a bad run.
D is for ‘Don’t take any s--t from anybody’
For years, Joel ended his concerts with this helpful piece of advice. Not so much anymore, but maybe if we’re lucky? Still seems like a good idea ...
E is for Elton John
Joel’s erstwhile musical partner. Beginning in 1994, the pair appeared together in a series of “Face to Face” tours that brought in huge crowds, made lots of money ($46 million for 24 dates in 2003 alone) and doubtless left a lot of pianos begging for mercy. The pair last appeared together onstage in 2010, and some low-intensity bickering went on for a few years, but all seems OK nowadays. “We made up a long time ago,” Joel told Entertainment Weekly in 2015. “We sat down and I was like, ‘Don’t throw your friends under the bus.’ ”
F is for Fine Arts
For a guy who dropped out of high school to pursue a music career (he got his diploma from Long Island’s Hicksville High School in 1992, 25 years after missing an English exam his senior year), Joel’s done all right for himself in the world of academia. He’s received more than a half-dozen honorary doctorates, including a Doctor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University in 2006. “If there’s any advice I can give to you,” he told the graduating class, “it’s do what you love. Don’t do it for security, or status, prestige, money, or — for crying out loud — don’t do it for somebody else. Do it for love.”
G is for Getting There
The recent sinkhole near Howard and Pratt streets will make parking complicated. Our advice: Give yourself plenty of time to get there.
H is for The Hassles
Before finding success as a solo act, Joel spent some trying years with several bands. These included The Echoes (later known as The Emeralds and The Lost Souls), who specialized in covers of British bands, and The Hassles, who released a pair of albums that never went anywhere. Joel and drummer Jon Small left The Hassles in 1969 to form Attila, a duo that released one head-banging album before breaking up (in no small part because Joel was having an affair with Small’s wife, Elizabeth, who would later become the first Mrs. Billy Joel). Yes, the album cover is Joel and Small in Medieval garb, in a meat-packing facility. Joel, thankfully, changed his tune, musically and sartorially.
I is for ‘It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me’
You’re pretty much guaranteed to hear this hit, from 1980′s “Glass Houses.” The tune went to No. 1 and stayed there for two weeks. A rant against the so-called “new wave” sounds of the time, the song is a crowd-pleasing, fun, nostalgic romp. Look for it in Joel’s encore. (Pro tip: In the last verse, look for Joel and the band to sing, “If you are, then you DRINK too much,” instead of “think too much,” just for kicks.)
J is for ‘Just the Way You Are’
A staple of every wedding since the late 1970s, this love song was written for Joel’s first wife, Elizabeth Weber. The ballad earned Joel his first and second Grammys, for Song of the Year and Record of the Year, in 1979. Caution: Joel is not likely to perform this song. But, hey, you never know. It has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Isaac Hayes. Don’t go changin’, Joel. We couldn’t love you any better.
K is for ‘Kohuept’
In 1987, Joel, then-wife Christie Brinkley, daughter Alexa Ray and his band ventured to the then-Soviet Union in support of his album “The Bridge.” The landmark concerts — six in total, with three in Moscow and three in Leningrad — amounted to the first full-scale rock concerts in that region. So it was a pretty big deal. Portions of the concerts were released as this live album (“Kohuept” is Russian for “concert”). Saxophonist Mark Rivera is the only current band member who was there.
L is for Long Island
Joel was born in The Bronx in 1949, but moved with his family to Long Island when he was just a year old and regards himself as a proud native son of the town of Hicksville, N.Y. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held a 25th-anniversary concert in 2009, a jovial Bruce Springsteen told a meandering story about how North Jersey and Long Island were once connected as an intro to bringing Joel onstage; the geology was dubious, but the fans loved it.
M is for Madison Square Garden
Joel seems to sell out this venerated New York City concert space every couple of days; in July 2018, he played his 100th show there, and has scheduled seven shows for this year. Nice of him to travel down I-95 to Baltimore for us non-New Yorkers.
N is for ‘New York State of Mind’
A favorite when he’s on his home turf, this bluesy number from 1976′s “Turnstiles” album will surely make it to Baltimore, too. It was written by Joel just after returning to New York from four years spent in Los Angeles playing piano bars, laying low and taking a break from the music scene. The song really is a love song to New York, and while never released as a single, it’s a fan favorite and has been covered by about a zillion artists. Just do your best to overlook how much we loathe New York’s bat-wielding Yankees and you’ll be fine. For a lump-in-your-throat version of the tune, catch his performance at “America: A Tribute to Heroes” in September 2001 on YouTube.
O is for Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Playing OPACY, home of our beloved Orioles since 1992, is a win-win for everybody. The Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority get a sellout show during a season when the Birds’ fortunes haven’t exactly been stellar (on Sunday, they won just their 15th home game of the season) and attendance has been down, Joel’s fans get a show by a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who, even at 70, shows little sign of slowing down, and Joel gets to knock another entry off his mission to play every baseball stadium in the U.S. (he’ll be playing Coors Field in Denver on Aug. 8 and the Texas Rangers’ home field in Arlington on Oct. 12).
P is for ‘Piano Man’
The song for which Joel will forever be remembered, and the song he knows he must do at every show, like it or not. You’ll know it’s coming when he puts that harmonica holder around his neck. Written, uniquely, in waltz time (3/4), it was his first big hit, released in 1973, off his album of the same name. John at the bar, real-estate novelist Paul, Navy-man Davy, the politics-practicing waitress and the knowing, smiling manager. Yep, Joel, it’s still you that we’re coming to see, after all these years.
Q is for Quips
He sings, he plays piano, he even tells some funny jokes. Look for Joel to deliver lots of dry, clever comments throughout the show. Also, look out for his spot-on impressions. He can mimic everyone from Springsteen to Jagger, Sting to Ray Charles. You never know who he’s going to pull out of his hat. Listen closely; it’s worth it. (A favorite from a few years back was after an opening video montage of Joel through the years, sporting lots of hair. Then the real Joel came onstage to thundering applause, sat down at the piano and said into his mic, “Hi. I’m Billy’s dad. Billy’s at home, brushing his hair.”)
R is for Rock concerts
Oriole Park at Camden Yards and live music haven’t been exactly strangers — Maryland native Joan Jett played a postgame concert outside the stadium in 2003, and this season’s Women of Country Music series will be bringing Natalie Stovall (Aug. 2), Carter Faith (Aug. 9) and Ruthie Collins (Aug. 23) to the ballpark for postgame performances. But Joel’s show will be the first big-time rock concert to play OPACY since it opened; it seems owner Peter Angelos was no fan of rock and roll, and in 1994 vetoed plans for a concert featuring Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones. Six years later, he was just as determined, assuring The Sun he was “not going to have [Oriole Park] become some kind of honky tonk for various and sundry rock 'n' roll bands.” The next generation of Angeloses, sons John and Lou, who are now running the team, seems a bit more accepting. Which raises an important question: Is it too late to book that Floyd/Stones show?
S is for Souvenirs
This tour of ballparks has some ultra-cool themed items for each city. Look for a Joel concert T-shirt and poster, in Orioles orange and black, and with an Oriole Park mention. There will also be an array of other men’s, women’s, kids’ and unisex concert and song tees, as well as hats, accessories, CDs, DVDs, posters and other collectibles. It is futile to resist; you know you want this stuff.
T is for Tickets
Hope you got yours, because what is left is not cheap. All but the most expensive tickets (VIP seats at $350-$575) were bought up long ago. But resale tickets beginning at about $150 are available through sites including ticketmaster.com, stubhub.com, vividseats.com and ebay.com.
U is for ‘Until the Night’
We can wish and hope and beg, but chances are Joel won’t pull this stellar tune out for the concert (though never say never). From 1978′s “52nd Street" and featuring Righteous Brothers-style building verses and soaring chorus, the song, about a man waiting for the nighttime when he’ll again be with his lover, includes some of Joel’s most distinctive vocals, with tenor and baritone lines layered and multi-tracked. And if you’re a Joel fan, chances are there’s a favorite of yours he won’t get around to playing either. Still, there’s always that chance ...
V is for Virginia
The heroine of Joel’s 1977 single “Only the Good Die Young.” The song raised the ire of some Catholics (and made playing it on college radio stations at Catholic universities a sometimes dicey proposition) with its opening line of “Come out, Virginia, don’t let me wait/You Catholic girls start much too late.” But as Joel once told a magazine writer, “the point of the song wasn’t so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust.”
W is for ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’
Wherein Joel offers a frenetic, tongue-twisting take on 20th century U.S. history, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan, with stops along the way for Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Malcolm X, Woodstock, punk rock, “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” Joel says it’s the only song he ever wrote where the words came first, and refers to it as a “dentist’s drill of a song," because of its determined lack of melody. He still sings it, though, and the fans love it.
X is for Joel’s eX-wife, Christie Brinkley
She probably won’t be at the show, so all you guys with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers you were hoping to get signed can leave them at home.
Y is for ‘You May Be Right’
You’re sure to hear this rocker from 1980′s “Glass Houses.” Look for it in the encore, complete with broken-glass intro and a playful Joel, enjoying some madness for a while. We wouldn’t want him any other way.
Z is for ‘Zanzibar’
How could Joel resist performing this jazzy 1978 number, complete with its sports metaphors and mentions of Muhammad Ali, Pete Rose and the Yankees grabbing the headlines every time (don’t we know it), trying to steal second base with Zanzibar’s waitress, “if she’d only give the sign"? The trumpet on this record is divine, and it’s a sure winner in concert.