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Observations from Billy Joel’s historic performance at Camden Yards in Baltimore

Camden Yards looked a little different this Friday night.

For one thing, it was filled to the brim with people, a rare sight for a season like this one, in which the Orioles record is second only to that of the Detroit Tigers for worst in the major leagues.

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And for another, a massive stage rose from the outfield grass, beneath which hundreds of chairs were lined up on temporary white flooring to see Billy Joel — who put on the ballpark’s first-ever concert of this size.

In most other ways, though, the Yard looked exactly the same. Billy Joel concert T-shirts were sold among the usual ballpark fare, and plenty of people sported O’s jerseys — one of Joel’s bandmates included.

For many, the night was trouble-free, including Tiffany Wandy, 36, of Abingdon, who said she feared traffic headed into the city would be “horrendous.”

Officials had been warning of heavy traffic, due in part to road closures caused by the sinkhole that opened up near the ballpark earlier this month, but the city reopened lanes on Howard and Pratt streets for the weekend ahead of a slew of big events, including Joel’s concert and an open Ravens practice.

“Everything was smooth,” Wandy said. “Parking was easy.”

The tickets were a belated birthday present for her mother, Chris Dunbar, who recalled seeing one of Joel’s early shows for just $10.

Meanwhile, any tickets for Friday's concert cost $100 or more.

The evening certainly wasn’t without its hiccups.

After the concert, hundreds waited in line to retrieve bags they’d checked at a small tent outside the stadium, as a result of a strict bag policy outside the norm for Camden Yards.

In messages before the show, officials warned that only women’s clutch-size purses would be permitted, in addition to medical devices, but specific dimensions weren’t always provided to fans.

It was a hectic scene outside the ballpark as midnight drew nearer and security personnel worked to locate purses using numbered tickets.

“I’ve never seen such a mess,” said Judy Peters, 68, as she waited in line. She drove 4½ hours from West Virginia to see the show, she said.

Ed Castronova and his wife, Sharon, of Bel Air waited in line to retrieve their clear plastic bag, which they figured would work well, as they’d brought it to sporting events in the past, and even to a recent Rolling Stones concert.

Crowds were also packed tight in the stands during the half-hour leading up to the show, as attendees were funneled onto the field from just beyond both dugouts.

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“Even though we were there 45 minutes before the show, we got to our seats two minutes into the first song,” said Todd Lurie, 51, who traveled from New Jersey to see Joel.

Lurie said he’d seen Joel perform at Madison Square Garden, but couldn’t miss out on seeing him play the first big concert at Camden Yards.

For Mike D’Amelio, Friday’s show was comparable to a Billy Joel concert he saw at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. — except for the fact that some of the stadium’s bright lights were left on during the show.

“We had ... lights kind of staring you back in the face the whole time,” said the 41-year-old, who drove in from D.C. “The lights really killed it for me.”

Otherwise, he said, the show was great.

Five takeaways

+ For years, Billy Joel has used the stirring end theme song from “The Natural,” the 1984 Robert Redford baseball movie (directed, by the way, by Baltimore’s own Barry Levinson) as his stage-entrance music. And while the orchestral piece (written by Randy Newman) is used in most every venue that Joel plays, it seemed all the more poignant at this juncture, the first large-scale rock concert at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

And in a concert that touted itself as a first, Billy Joel, the Piano Man, greeted the thundering Camden Yards crowd with an electric guitar strapped around his neck before breaking into “A Matter of Trust.” While it wasn’t the first time Joel has opened with the guitar-based rock song from 1986′s “The Bridge,” it did offer a hint that something different just might be afoot. For Joel, who’s famously opened many a concert with blistering piano songs, like “Prelude/Angry Young Man” and “Miami 2017,” it’s not often that a guitar tune is the night’s first. But he had us captivated, from the opening words, “A-one, two, a-one, two, three, four” of “A Matter of Trust” to the song’s end, and then as he rolled right into the frenetic “Pressure" with rotating piano, so all could see him. After the song ended, he recognized the historic night: “Good evening to you, Baltimore, Maryland. Welcome to the first concert ever at Camden Yards.” And he further acknowledged playing Baltimore in the 1970s, opening for Hall & Oates, which led to him breaking into an impromptu, ultra-fun cover of “Rich Girl.”

+ Joel’s humor was on display throughout the evening, as he joked about various songs, and delivered some spot-on impressions. He spontaneously broke into a cover of Elton John’s “Your Song” with full Elton delivery and enunciation. And after he sung the line, “I don’t have much money,” Joel stopped singing, and said, “Wait, back up. You’ve got s---loads of money," to much laughter and applause.

+Joel brought out his “Fielder’s Choice” song options. For several years, he has offered two song selections to the audience, and then let the applause determine the winner. He offered two songs from “The Stranger” album: “Just the Way You Are” and “Vienna." The audience selected the album track “Vienna” over the Grammy-winning “Just the Way You Are,” and Joel delivered a delightfully satisfying version of the piano tune.

+ Some classy nods to Baltimore included drummer Chuck Burgi being clad in a white Orioles jersey, with his last name prominently on the back with the number “19," presumably for the year. Also, trumpet player Carl Fischer sported a black Orioles jersey during the encore. And during “River of Dreams,” a song with an intentional break about three-quarters of the way through, and which lends itself, when performed live, to Joel and the band breaking out a cover of some tune they enjoy playing, this evening found the band performing “Dancing in the Street,” with saxophonist/percussionist/backup singer extraordinaire Crystal Taliefero leading the charge. The song was likely chosen for its line: “Baltimore and D.C. now.” The crowd, naturally, erupted in cheers at the line.

+ By the final song of the night, “You May Be Right,” those in the Baltimore crowd were exuberant. They were literally dancing in the aisles. Jovial and perhaps a little inebriated, some of them, they were desperate to inch closer to the stage, to capture a bit more of the high. And during this final song, even the ushers on the field were mouthing the words, dancing, even, as they retreated for the show’s end.

SET LIST:

A Matter of Trust

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Pressure

Snippet of Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen cover)

Snippet of Rich Girl (Hall & Oates cover)

The Entertainer

Snippet of Your Song (Elton John cover)

Vienna

Big Man on Mulberry Street

Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)

Snippet of Layla (Derek and the Dominoes cover, the “Piano Exit," performed by Billy Joel)

A Room of Our Own

Allentown

Say Goodbye to Hollywood

New York State of Mind

Don’t Ask Me Why

Sometimes a Fantasy

She’s Always a Woman

My Life

Snippet of classical music

Only the Good Die Young

River of Dreams (with snippet of Dancing in the Street, Martha and the Vandellas cover, sung by Crystal Taliefero, in break)

Nessun Dorma (by Puccini, sung by Michael DelGuidice)

Scenes From an Italian Restaurant

Piano Man

ENCORE:

We Didn’t Start the Fire

Uptown Girl

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me

Big Shot

You May Be Right (with snippet of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll, sung by Michael DelGuidice)

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