Monday, June 19, 2017

The "Piano Man" Sings to Us... Again

Hi Everybody!  

Here it is, Monday morning, and I can’t wait to blather on and tell you all about where Todd and I went this weekend! As you know, we’re just a coupla middle-aged folk who tend to spend our off-time working on home-improvement projects, errand running, and going to movie matinees. (Who doesn’t like to save $3 bucks, am I right?!?!?) Anyway... Given all of that, I think you’ll be happy to know that this past Saturday was spent in a completely different fashion.  

First, I must provide a bit of background information… On Valentine’s Day, Todd and I always exchange cards, and maybe a little gift of some kind - flowers, a DVD, some music, or even candy. This year he handed me a card, and inside was a computer print-out of a seating chart of Lambeau Field. For those of you who don’t know, Lambeau is where our beloved Green Bay Packers play their home games, and it’s often joked about as being some of football’s most “Hallowed Ground.” I know… silly… but fun too!  Anywho… on the chart was a seating diagram for the upcoming June 17th Billy Joel concert. Right about where the 50-yard line would normally be, two tiny seats were marked. That’s right! Todd had found a way to nab us two coveted seats to see Billy Joel... LIVE.  

To say I was surprised or excited is such an understatement. I think that somewhere down deep inside of myself, I figured we might be done attending events such as this. I mean, I don’t think we've been to a great big concert since 2003 when we saw Fleetwood Mac (minus Christine McVie) at Milwaukee’s Marcus Amphitheatre. And this concert would be about 3 times larger than that. I’ve always loved music, and enjoyed attending concerts, but… well… I don’t know. That lifestyle took a backseat for quite a while, and then all of a sudden, it was back! It had re-surfaced!

The other very large piece of this concert excitement for me was the fact that I have always really loved Billy Joel. Back in 1978, when I was a senior in high school, Billy came to Milwaukee, and I went to see him with a couple of my girlfriends. Other than seeing small bands at local fairs and festivals, his was the first major concert I ever attended. I think the tickets were $15.00, which was a lot of money to me back then! Sure, I’d heard some of his music on the radio here and there, but when his album, The Stranger came out, I listened to it over and over (and over). On Sunday night, October 15, 1978, Billy Joel took the stage. He opened the show by softly whistling the opening bars of The Stranger into a totally dark auditorium. After that, I heard the best 2 ½ hours of music I could have ever imagined. He finished the night with Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. From that time on, all other concerts were compared (and some failed miserably) to that first (very special) one.   

1979/1980  52nd Street
Through the years, Todd and I have seen Billy Joel several times. We went in 1980 when we were dating. We saw him at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago in 1984. We saw him in the mid ‘90’s from “a luxury box” at the Bradley Center. In 2004, when we were in New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Todd and I saw the Broadway production of Movin’ Out, which was a musical with the storyline based solely through Billy Joel's music. There was no talking - just singing and dancing. And now we got to see him, possibly for the last time (who ever knows, you know?) at Lambeau Field. As you can see, we’ve got some history here. In fact, I had thought it would be neat to name our first-born son “William Joel Memmel…” But as you can plainly see, Todd won that battle, since we named said child, “Anthony Joseph,” - Tony, for short. (wink) 


On Saturday afternoon, Todd and I drove the two-plus hours to Green Bay. It’s always such a thrill to come upon that huge stadium. It’s kind of funny because it’s basically located right in a residential-type neighborhood. People offer parking (for a fee) right in their yards. Crazy but true! We parked and as we walked into the stadium, we took a selfie to text to our kids. After all, it isn’t every day that their 50-something parents attend a rock concert. Once we entered, we scouted our seats, then decided to look around for a while. I must confess that the crowd was different from any that I’d ever encountered at a concert before. Of course, as I admitted earlier, I hadn’t been to an event like this in years. All of Billy Joel’s fans had aged as much as we had. Imagine that! As Todd observed, “There weren’t a lot of people with walkers, but there were a whole lot wearing glasses.”  Cute!  

As I said earlier, our seats were on the field, on about the 50-yard line. As we glanced up and around the inside of the stadium, names of Packer greats are displayed in yellow/gold letters. The first one I saw was “Vince Lombardi.” It had been a cloudy day, with scattered storms predicted, but as we sat there looking around, the sun must have peeked through the clouds before it set, and all of the gold names on the east side of the place began to glow. It was so cool, seriously! (By the way, the rain held off, and it was a perfect evening, weatherwise.) Promptly at 8:00, a band took the stage to open the night. The lead singer’s name was “Andrew McMahon” and he said that about 25 years ago, he had seen his first Billy Joel concert. From that time on, he wanted only to play music for a living. They played for about 30 minutes, and did a good job. Can you imagine how cool that would be, to open for a big name like Billy Joel?  Of course, having a musician son myself, I often think of (dream of?) things like that. #TonyMemmelRocks 

The stage encompassed one of the endzones, probably 1/3 of the stadium in all. It was black and very tall, and had several large video screens. We had no idea, however, how amazing all of that would be. Some may argue that concerts are ‘just not the same as they used to be’ now that they employ so much video technology. But man… I gotta tell ya… I thought it was A-MAY-ZING!!! Billy Joel opened with Movin’ Out, and true to his NY and east coast roots, used the video screens to depict the cities, towns, apartments, streets, everything about that song. From where we were sitting/standing, he obviously looked very small, sitting up on stage behind his big grand piano. So can you imagine how awesome it was for the cameras to focus on and project his face, or just his hands, as ‘the piano man’ played riffs from The Entertainer and Scenes from an Italian Restaurant? Yes, please!!!  

At one point during the concert, Billy humbly said it was such a thrill to be playing for us. He remembered back to when he and his friends sang their music on street corners, and people would yell out of their windows, “Ahh Shut up! Go home!” and then they’d ask, “Do your mothers know where you are right now?” He laughed and shook his head, sitting on a stage in front of this huge crowd. I guess that a career of 40-plus years kind of took care of people who felt that way, huh? 

I mentioned the fact that I saw Billy Joel the first time when I was 17, and whether I thought it about myself or not, I guess I once was young and quite beautiful. I would say the same for him. He was quite something back then – a full head of black hair, those dark and drowsy eyes, slim build, jumping off of his piano, running around on stage… and now his looks have changed a great deal too. He’s completely bald, has gained a few pounds, and did no jumping off of his piano (or anywhere else). BUT MAN! He’s still got ‘it’ – that thing – whatever ‘it’ is. He’s funny, he’s cute, he’s aged and he knows it, but couldn’t seem to care less. He put on a great show, and his fans still absolutely love him! That was obvious.

Towards the end of two hours, he got out his harmonica, sat down at the piano, and started those first familiar strains of Piano Man. Wow! There was even a point when he stopped and swiveled toward the audience, just letting them sing the song to him. I doubt there was one person in the stadium of close to 50,000 who wasn’t singing along to that one. When it was over, he left the stage, and as all good concert-goers do, we begged for him to return for an encore. Of course he obliged. In fact, he came back to play four or five more songs! My Life, Big Shot, Only the Good Die Young, Still Rock’n Roll to Me, and You May be Right I May be Crazy. That’s right, after almost 40 years, he’s still doing a 2 ½ hour show.  

Though the tickets cost us waaaaay more than $15/seat, we definitely felt that we got what we paid for. His whole show, from the opener to the very end, was like one huge sing-along. So many die-hard fans (mostly middle-aged, but other ages too) all singing every word to every song… such fun!  

We hadn’t been to a concert in a long time, but I’m so glad that we were able to go to this concert. None of us are getting any younger, and it felt… (this may sound kind of silly, but maybe some of you will understand)… it felt like seeing an ‘old friend’ again. When you consider how large a role music has played in our lives, it’s as though some of these entertainers have provided a soundtrack for our lives. For me, that goes all the way from high school to today.  

Thank you, Todd, for the great Valentine’s Day gift, which was beautifully delivered on a warm June evening. And thank you, Billy Joel, for decades of good songs – words, beats, and rhythms - that have withstood the test of so much time. 

Katie Kolberg Memmel is the author of two books: “Five Fingers, Ten Toes – A Mother’s Story of Raising a Child Born with a Limb Difference,” and “Silly Stories and Sentimental Stuff.” Both are available through Amazon in either an electronic version or in paperback. For more information, visit Katie’s website at 

#BillyJoel   #BillyJoelatLambeau   #ThePianoMan   #Singusasongyourethepianoman  #LambeauLovesBillyJoel