On Thursday night Billy Joel will appear in the Madison Square Garden spotlight for a 70th birthday celebration show — a high point in a Garden residency that stretches back to January 2014. In all, it will be his 110th Garden show since his first, in 1978. He is the rare superstar who still connects to his audience in a personal way. For his most loyal fans, he remains a touchstone, his music something they can return to time and again.
Their recollections — shared here in the first of two parts with The Official MSG Blog — form a kind of timeline over decades, suggesting their bond with Billy remains as strong as ever.
License Plate Guy
Eric Fellen has been listening to Billy Joel since he was 8. Now 47, from Scotch Plains, N.J., he is a main cog in a group of likeminded Billy fanatics who have united through the shared ritual of seeing him perform at The Garden.
You might say that my mania for Billy Joel began when I was 12 and saw him live at The Garden for the first time. Listening to him on vinyl couldn’t match the bolt of energy he generated on stage. By the time I was 17, I was tooling around in my first car — a used 1980 silver Toyota Celica — with the license plate, “JOEL FN.” The license plate has stayed with me through the years. Billy has signed it, along with all the band members, and it hangs on my neck every time I go see him. Everyone knows me as License Plate Guy.
Thursday night will be my 103rd Billy Joel show, including about 65 at The Garden, and I’ll be there with my gang. There’s about 20 of us. We all met the first year of Billy’s residency, and we became fast friends. Now it’s a tradition. Dinner and drinks at 5:30 and then over to the show. Our spouses understand that we have our “concert wives and husbands.” It’s just fun, and we’ve become a family.
Each time I enter The Garden, I’m jolted back in time. I was just 8 years old when I discovered Billy Joel. That year, I gave my sister, Lisa, the Glass Houses album for her 13th birthday. Then when I was 12, in 1984, we saw him live for the first time. I remember looking up to the spider web ceiling, the sensation of the floor of The Garden bouncing. It was like a religious experience, and all these years later, it’s still that way.
People ask me, how can you see the same show over and over again, but it’s not the same. Each show has unpredictable touches, and singing along and high-fiving with people who feel the same way about the words and music is like nothing else.
“Is That You, Noreen?”
Noreen Mormando, 46, grew up in Sea Cliff, Long Island, not far from Billy’s hometown of Hicksville. Her “obsession” with him took full flight, she says, when he began his residency. Like her friend, Eric Fellen, she rarely misses a show.
My feelings for Billy run deep. My father, who passed away three years ago, was wounded in Vietnam and was awarded the Purple Heart. Every time I hear Billy sing “Goodnight Saigon” I cry. And I can’t tell you how much it means to me when Billy, during Fleet Week in New York, brings veterans up to the stage at The Garden.
Billy’s lyrics are a part of me. His music plays constantly at my house, and I miss no more than maybe one show a year. The Garden is like a home to all of us. The security staff knows us and greets us, and the band members, too. I brought my daughter, Victoria, to see a show two years ago when she was 8, and Crystal Taliefero in the band took her behind the stage. In 2016 I went to see Billy in London. Carl Fischer, the trumpet player, noticed me as he was getting onto the stage and looked at me in wonder. He mouthed, “Is that you, Noreen?”
It’s funny, the things that come to mind when I think about Billy. Growing up on Long Island, his name was magical. I remember when I was a kid, a neighbor said she had seen him coming out of a dentist’s office. Here he was, just having had root canal, and she’s asking him to sing. One time I was walking around at a festival on Long Island, and suddenly Billy was behind me on a motorcycle. He asked me if I would move a sawhorse barricade for him. Maybe it’s silly, but these are special memories.
At The Garden, I like the seats in section C on the floor. But different angles reveal new things. I’ve sat high up behind the stage and that’s great, too. I could see the band members interacting in ways I’d never noticed. And I love the way Billy interacts with the band and with all of us. Now he’s turning 70, and the more he performs, the more I don’t want to miss a moment.
To learn more about tonight’s big event, click here.
About The Madison Square Garden Company
The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) is a world leader in live sports and entertainment experiences. The company presents or hosts a broad array of premier events in its diverse collection of iconic venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, CA; and The Chicago Theatre. Other MSG properties include legendary sports franchises: the New York Knicks (NBA) and the New York Rangers (NHL); two development league teams – the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL); and esports teams through Counter Logic Gaming, a leading North American esports organization, and Knicks Gaming, MSG’s NBA 2K League franchise. In addition, the Company features the popular original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces New England’s preeminent Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG umbrella is TAO Group, a world-class hospitality group with globally-recognized entertainment dining and nightlife brands: Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, Beauty & Essex and Vandal. More information is available at www.themadisonsquaregardencompany.com