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A couple months ago, I noticed Billy Joel announce a concert nearby in Tampa at Amalie Arena. He’s one of the first artists I can remember from childhood. My parents had his An Innocent Man album, and my dad would walk around the house whistling the melody to “For The Longest Time” with my sister and I snapping and singing along.
Needless to say, Billy Joel has been on my bucket list to see live for many years. Although I would’ve loved to photograph the show, I haven’t had much success covering events at Amalie Arena. So honestly, I didn’t even try to apply to cover it. With ShipRocked 2018 coming up soon, it also wasn’t very feasible for the pocket.
Sometimes though, life has a funny way of pleasantly surprising you at just the right time.
On Thursday evening, one of my photo pit companions contacted me. He said he was approved for the Billy Joel show but had a scheduling conflict, and wanted to know if I was available to cover it for The DreadMusicReview. My response was (naturally), “Hell yes!”
As far as concert photography goes, this show had some odd shooting conditions. We were positioned off to the left of the stage on a slightly raised platform where you could barely see Billy Joel’s head over his piano. While a couple people complained, I just shrugged. Part of the reason concerts are considered one of the more challenging fields of photography is due to the often harsh constraints (be it lights, shooting area or time limits) we have to work within. Most of the time, I’m just grateful for being allowed the privilege.
In this case, we got to shoot the first two songs, “Miami 2017” and “Pressure”. After that, I checked my cameras and headed to the review seat – a very generous 15th row seat on the floor. I got settled in right as one of my personal favorites, “The Downeaster Alexa” started.
It didn’t take long before I realized that Billy Joel really isn’t just “The Piano Man” but also “The Entertainer.” He had a bottle of “Throat Spray” sitting on top of his piano that he picked up at one point and said, “I’m not sick, I guess it’s supposed to help keep the throat wet. I don’t really know what it does.” After considering the bottle for a minute, he spritzed it in his mouth and elaborated, “I saw Madonna use it once. If it’s good enough for Madonna, it’s good enough for me!”
A couple songs later, he was offering multiple choice song options for the crowd – playing whichever song received the most cheers. He gave a few choices from the River of Dreams album that fell flat (everyone was waiting to hear the title track, obviously). Billy Joel joked, “Well, what else was on that f–n’ album?!” I couldn’t help but laugh.
After pulling out his harmonica for “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” most people predicted what was coming next. I got goosebumps just from hearing the opening chord of “The Piano Man.” Even though it wasn’t a song I recall my mom playing, the beauty and emotion of it reminded me of waking up to her playing piano every morning when I was a kid. Between that and the sold out crowd of 20,000+ people singing along, I had to choke back a couple tears. Billy Joel let the audience solo the last chorus and it was so resounding and heartfelt that it looked like even he had a tear in his eye.
With nearly a two hour and 20+ song long set, I was surprised that he came back for another half an hour (6 song) encore. It was nice to end on a more upbeat note. I especially enjoyed, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” – a song I listened to on repeat trying to learn all the words to when I was little but still haven’t succeeded.
This was one of the shows I’ve enjoyed the most in quite a while, and though my family is supportive of my concert endeavors, it always feels more rewarding when they recognize the artist and get excited to see my photos from the show.
So this one’s for you, Mom and Dad. The only thing that would’ve made it better would’ve been you being there to share the moment!
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