SAMANTHA CALDERONE, STAFF WRITER
Dec. 10, 1977: The Scranton community celebrated Christmas early with a special performance by Billy Joel at the Catholic Youth Center.
“Many in the audience had seen Joel perform before as Saturday night’s show was his fourth concert performance in Scranton in as many years,” the Scranton Times reported.
This time around, Joel performed in front of a sellout audience of more than 4,500. The stage was set up in the usual Billy Joel fashion, with the center of the stage holding the lead guitar and bass players, the drums set on a platform and “the renowned piano” in the right corner of the stage. The show began with “The Stranger,” the title song from Joel’s 1977 album.
“The concert was typical Billy Joel, fast moving, entertaining and of good quality,” according to the Times.
The Aquinas, the University of Scranton newspaper, noted that Joel performed his famous song “Piano Man” near the beginning of the concert.
“Joel pronounced how happy he was to get the song out of the way, ‘so you won’t have to wait the whole concert to hear it,’” the Aquinas wrote.
According to a Times reporter, Joel was able to make the audience feel as if it were in a small nightclub during “Piano Man” before taking them back to the concert hall with “Billy the Kid.” Joel also performed “Travelling Prayer,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Angry Young Man,” “New York State of Mind” and “The Entertainer.”
The Times noted that two elements of Joel’s performance made it successful.
“First, there is no second-rate warm-up band for the audience to suffer through while it is supposedly getting ready for the major attraction,” the newspaper explained. “Second is the lack of nonsensical chatter on stage in between numbers.”
Near the end of the concert, Joel performed his own shortened rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which the Aquinas described as “a beautiful rendition … in a hoarse, almost Jerry Lewis-type voice.”
Joel ended the show with “Captain Jack” and three encores.
“The audience saw the Piano Man cruise through his 90-minute show with his usual charm and grace,” the Times reported.
Joel had previously performed in the area at the Paramount Theater (now F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts) in Wilkes-Barre in 1974; at Marywood College’s Fine Arts Theater on Feb. 24, 1975; and at the CYC on June 22 and Dec. 4, 1976.
Joel returned to the area twice in 1996 with an event titled “An Evening of Questions, Answers and a Little Bit of Music.” In Scranton, his appearance was sponsored by U of S’s Office of Student Activities and took place at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple on March 12. He returned with the one-man show on Oct. 20 at the Wilkes University’s Marts Center in Wilkes-Barre.
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Brian Fulton has been the librarian at The Times-Tribune for the past 14 years. On his blog, Historically Hip, he writes about the great concerts, plays/musicals and celebrity happenings that have taken place throughout NEPA. He is also the co-host of the local history podcast, Historically Hip. He competed and was crowned grand champion on an episode of NPR quiz show “Ask Me Another.” Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9140; or @TTPagesPast