Billy Joel plays FedExForum Friday, March 25. But his music will be heard all over Overton Square Friday on what the entertainment district is calling Billy Joel Day.
Joel’s current concert tour brings him to Memphis for the first time since Lafayette’s Music Room has reopened.
Early in his career, Joel played Lafayette’s in its original 1970s incarnation.
Lafayette’s, 2119 Madison Ave., will feature ticket giveaways to the Friday concert as well as a big screen to show videos of Joel concert footage. Piano players at the Zebra Lounge will take Billy Joel song requests Friday evening and the square’s outdoor sound system will play Joel songs throughout the day.
Joel has been known to take a look around Memphis during his concert stops in the city.
He once followed a concert date at The Pyramid with a jam session on Beale Street.
It's late January 1974, and inside the studios of Memphis' FM 100, a young piano-playing singer-songwriter is being interviewed on the air. He's there to promote a series of concerts he's playing at Lafayette's Music Room in Overton Square, including one that will be broadcast live on the station that night.
The artist — who notes with a chuckle that he hails from Hicksville, Long Island — sounds shy, almost nervous, as the disc jockey, Ron Michaels, asks how he began playing.
"I started taking classical piano when I was about 4," says Billy Joel. "I'm 24 now, so I've been playing about 20 years."
"Aw," says Michaels, "you're just a kid."
"Am I?" replies Joel, already feeling like a world-weary veteran after years of record deals and roadwork that have yielded only minor success. "I'm glad you said that, man."
Forty-plus years, 150 million albums sold, and 23 Grammy nominations later, Billy Joel is no longer a shy, fledgling artist, but a giant of American music. On Friday night, Joel, 66, comes back to Memphis to play FedExForum, his first show in the city in 15 years. It's an unusually long gap for Joel in a place that was once a second home and a launchpad for his career in the 1970s.
In December of 1973, Billy Joel made his Memphis debut, a relative unknown opening an arena show for the Beach Boys. By all accounts, his reception that night was less than welcoming. What a difference 43 years can make.
On Friday night, Joel took the stage of FedExForum — playing his first local gig since 2001 — and the audience could not have been more emphatic or adoring, as the he sang, played and charmed his way through a two-hour-plus, 27-song concert. The show had the added distinction of breaking the Forum's attendance record, previously held by Bon Jovi.
For much of the night, however, Joel seemed to be in a Memphis state of mind, as he honored both his local history and the city's musical legacy. "We started out [here] a long time ago — used to play Lafayette's down at the Square," said Joel of his club days, as someone called out for the epic early favorite "Captain Jack." "Aah, see we got a lot of sickos in here.