MSG’s Darren Pfeffer On Billy Joel’s 100th Show and What To Expect (Q&A)

Since April 2017, the Madison Square Garden Company’s Darren Pfeffer, Executive Vice President of MSG Live, has overseen much of the programming for MSG’s slate of venues that includes The Garden, Radio City Music Hall and The Beacon Theater, The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, the Forum, The Chicago Theatre and the Wang Theatre.  Here, on the day of Billy Joel’s historic 100th Garden performance, the programming veteran tells Pollstar how he got into a state of mind for tonight’s show, how large venue residencies could become the norm in our industry and what to expect tonight.

Darren Pfeffer
– Darren Pfeffer

Pollstar: Tell us about your commute to The Garden this morning.
Darren Pfeffer: I was coming in from New Jersey, which is my daily routine. I threw on Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.” It was a beautiful morning out and today is a milestone for the company and of course for Billy Joel with him playing his 100th sold-out show at the Garden. So I had to get into the right state of the mind going into the day.

You’re a New Yorker, too?
Born in Bayside, Queens. And I also grew up going to Madison Square Garden.

You’re the real deal, Bayside is close to the Island.
Yeah. I had a few years in Texas in between, but I’m a New Yorker at heart.

What does Billy’s 100th show mean to you professionally and personally?
Personally, for all of us at the Garden, to be involved with this milestone, and for the entertainment industry and for New Yorkers, this may never happen again in our lifetimes. To see Billy do 100 sold-out shows,  this will be an iconic night, a memorable night to sit in this building. It’s going to be history, music history made once again at the Garden.

And how about just personally as a New Yorker who grew up here? You’re like in the pale of settlement of Billy Joel fanaticism.
As a fan personally, no show is the same. Billy really plays to the audience every time, every night he takes the stage. So no show is the same week after week. But specifically tonight, personally, I’m excited to see what he’s gonna bring to the stage.

As somebody who programs The Garden and other MSG venues, this concept of doing a monthly residency is unheard of, unprecedented. Do you think this is a model for how the business will continue?  Can other places or arenas have monthly residencies?  Is this a new paradigm for the business?
Look, I think is has been for the venues that Madison Square Garden Company owns and operates— look what Jerry Seinfeld did. He just came off of a sold-out residency at the Beacon Theater. And then Dave Chappelle at Radio City Music Hall for 16 sold-out nights. Every night is different. It’s not the same show every night. And Phish coming in and doing 13 sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden. So we’ve made it happen before, but the difference here is Billy Joel is our only music franchise in our company alongside the Knicks, the Rangers, and the Liberty.

How does it work as a monthly residency from a production side? Because Billy is here every month is his set-up on site or does he have to truck it in every time?
Billy’s an end-stage production but he’s sold 360 all the way around. Billy’s team brings production in and out every show. We had the Foo Fighters sold out last night. They were out overnight and Billy loads in two hours after that.

Well, you’re having a hell of a run. You just had Radiohead and then Foo Fighters?

Yes, four sold-out nights of Radiohead, and two sold-out nights of Foo Fighters right into Billy Joel’s 100th. Tomorrow night we have Beck, and the streak continues.

How are you still standing?
I’m still standing, yes. I’m here.

What can we expect tonight, do you think?

You have to be there to see that. I can’t tell you.

Is it going to be a hair-raising kind of spectacular?
It will be.

As many shows as you’ve seen, are there any moments that stand out for you?
Yes. Yeah, our very own Mark Messier from the Rangers came onstage to raise the banner for his 50th show. It was another iconic moment for the company and Billy Joel. To see Paul Simon and Miley Cyrus come out onstage and collaborate with Billy Joel.

And they went into Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” How crazy was that?
No show is ever the same with Billy.