In my younger days…my twenties and thirties, I did a lot of bicycle riding. Much of it, with some pretty crazy and talented cyclists. I was a rookie compared to most of them. They all raced.- some at a professional level. They trained- thousands of miles a year. They had skills and talent. I was more of a recreational cyclist, almost always struggling to keep up on our group rides. Every once in a while, we would do a “fun” ride through the city of Poughkeepsie- where we would often get yelled at, chased, have bottles thrown at us and just generally have a good time. After our adventures in Po-town, on our way back home, we would always stop at an old parking garage to play a game we called “Missed By An Inch.” I’m not sure who made up the name, but it fit perfectly. The object was to ride your bike in a confined area and come as close to the other cyclists as possible- without hitting them, although running into each other eventually became the standard offensive move. If you had to put your foot on the ground to save yourself, you were out of the game. The last person on his bike, was crowned the winner and the reward was bragging rights all the way home. Long after those crazy nights have become distant memories, I have continued to utter that phrase many times-“missed by an inch,” with a special meaning only known to a handful of guys.
Back to the somewhat unrelated present: for some inexplicable reason, my daughter is completely convinced that whenever I work a concert, I will be hanging out and bonding with the performers. While, yes- there are a ton of musicians that I have been fortunate to meet and a bunch that I’ve gotten to chat with and a handful that I can say are friends, that is most often not the case. When I told her I was going to be working a Billy Joel concert, she immediately bursted out with, “Are you going to meet him??” “No honey” I replied, “It’s Billy Joel. It’s a BIG concert.” Maria, ever the optimist quipped, “I bet you meet him!” This turned into a five minute back and forth until I finally realized who I was arguing with and gave up. “We’ll see.” I muttered. She exclaimed, “I knew it!” as she walked away feeling successful in presenting her case.
I, like millions of others, grew up listening to Billy Joel.
My family’s long drives to my grandparents homes in Brooklyn and even longer drives to Long Island or any of our miscellaneous camping destinations were always filled with music. Oldies and top forty radio would commonly be heard on the AM station of choice- WANC or WNBC, being the family favorites. This of course, was pre-iPod, portable CD players or even Walkman days. Billy Joel’s songs have filled the airwaves since I was in the first grade, so yes, I literally grew up listening to Billy’s 33 top 40 hits as well as many of his other, lesser known songs.
When the opportunity presented itself, to work a music festival with Billy Joel headlining, I could not say no. Oddly enough, I was told about the job at an Iron Maiden’s concert in Norwalk, Connecticut. No, not Iron Maiden. The Iron Maidens. The all female tribute band that until then, my daughter had only seen during their sound checks when I worked their shows at The Chance. On a side note- special thanks to amazing guitarist, Courtney Cox for always being so kind to Maria! Anyway, one of the security guards noticed my usual inability to enjoy a show without keeping a constant eye on the crowd and told me about the job. I contacted the security company and was told: where to go and when to be there.
When the day finally came to work at the Greenwich Town Party, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I woke up much, much too early in the morning and made the drive to Connecticut. I found the security employee parking lot and then made the trek to the park where the event was taking place. The first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of security guards. A lot. 115 to be exact, as I later found out. I was given an assignment and told to wait. I was going to be stationed at the gate to the secondary stage. Not very exciting, but at least I had a great view of the main stage where Billy would be performing…in twelve hours. I was just happy to be working, seeing live music and getting to see Billy Joel perform in a fairly intimate setting of about 9,000 fans.
When we were about four or five bands in, a huge storm was brewing. After some calm and some slightly panicked radio calls, the venue was getting shut down, in fear of the lightning that was expected.
The crowd was sent to their cars in the parking lot, the gates were closed. The security crew was given the shelter of a huge, open VIP tent with very, very tall lightning rod style metal poles supporting it. We waited patiently as the wind picked up and the rain poured down. I was worried that my opportunity to see Billy up close was gone, but after about an hour, the storm blew past us, the venue was reopened and the live music resumed. Soon after, while I was back at my post, two large white SUV’s led by four police motorcycles, pulled in and parked right next to me. Billy’s band members were in one. Billy, his wife and his young daughter were in the other. He was about thirty feet from me. He got out, joked around a bit and then went to his trailer…so close. A short time later, he would come out to chat with the motorcycle cops parked by my gate…so close.
and after that, he came out yet again, to see his daughter off, as he jumped in front of the car she was in so he could say goodbye…so close…. Soon, the last band to play my stage came out. It was a group of seasoned looking musicians. I chatted with the guitar player and bass player on and off for a while before they went on. It didn’t really strike me as odd at first, but Billy’s tour manager came over to me and asked if he could come in and talk to one of the guys in the band. Sure. No problem. A few minutes later, Billy’s drummer asked if he could go say a quick hello to the guys. Shortly after that, Billy’s business manager stopped by and then his saxophone player. So now I’ve met his managers and half of his band and I started to wonder who these guys were. They sounded great- the best band of the day, by far. The guitar player was a quirky looking guy. He was extremely nice and he looked awfully familiar, but I couldn’t place him- until the singer introduced the members of the band. The drummer from the Saturday Night Live band. The bass player has played with a long list of famous artists and that familiar looking guitarist was in fact, jazz/fusion legend, Oz Noy who has played with many amazing musicians and whom I had seen perform at The Iridium in NYC, pre covid. After his set, I walked over to him and apologized. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why, but I didn’t realize that you are Oz f*cking Noy!” To which he calmly replied, “Yes I am.”
Eventually and/or finally, after working for about eleven hours, it was time for Mr. Joel to perform. I’d been keeping an eye on his trailer and once again, he walked out. At this point, I’ve met most of his band and his management. I’ve been within very short walking distance to him and once again, he passes my post…so close. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the end of the story. No. I did not get to meet Billy Joel. Not this time. I hung out with some state troopers as we kept an eye on the governor of Connecticut, and I did get to see an amazing, somewhat intimate performance by a musical legend- who I have yet to meet. Missed him by a little more than an inch, but all in all, it was a pretty cool day.