Billy Joel mixes lots of music into his Q&A


Billy Joel speaks at the Phillips Center for Performing Arts on Thursday in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 10:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 11:25 p.m.

The event was billed as questions and answers and just a little bit of music, but the “Piano Man” lived up to the nickname during his show at the University of Florida on Thursday night.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Billy Joel spoke Thursday before a capacity crowd of 1,751 at the UF's Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Using a laser pointer to pick audience members to ask questions, Joel talked about his life, songs and the music business.

“I have made every mistake you can make in the music business and I have lived to tell the tale,” he said.

Joel started the show by warning the crowd that it wasn't a concert, but within 15 minutes he was behind one of the two pianos on stage. He played parts of several songs during the more than two-hour show, including “And So It Goes,” “New York State of Mind,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “She's Always a Woman,” and “Vienna,” sharing stories about their inspiration.

He said he wrote the music first nearly all the time. Calling himself a “literal lyricist,” he said that he doesn't write in similes and metaphors.

“I just write what's going on,” he said.

The show was heavy on audience interaction, with Joel even allowing a member of the crowd to come on stage and play a blues number with him. In response to an audience member who asked what he'd perform if he did karaoke incognito, he played Otis Redding's “(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay.”

Inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall in 1999, Joel has largely stopped recording new material in recent years. He toured with Elton John from 1994 until 2010, but said that it “got to be a little confining” because John insisted that they keep playing the same sets.

“I don't think we'll do it anymore,” he said.

The ACCENT student-run speaker's bureau, which is funded through student fees, paid $25,000 for the show. Students claimed every one of the free tickets in the first hour they were available last week. A crowd started gathering outside the Phillips Center nearly five hours before the show for a place in line to claim the best seats.

Joel recounted taking piano lessons for a dozen years as a boy, espousing the value of music education in schools. He gave advice to aspiring musicians in the crowd, saying that they should write for themselves and people they know, rather than to impress people in the music business.

“I write for me, I write for my friends. I write for girls a lot,” he said.

He said that he last performed in concert in March 2010 and had no plans to return to that kind of touring.

“Right now, I'm doing this,” he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.

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