Stadium State Of Mind: Billy Joel’s Five-Year Ballpark Residency Is A Home Run

Stadium Arcadium:
Laurel Fox
– Stadium Arcadium:
Billy Joel playing Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on June 23, 2018.

Billy Joel isn’t acting like a senior citizen who will be 70 next May. Rather than pricing condos in Boca or collecting Social Security checks, the Rock Hall of Famer, with two young daughters aged 3 and 1, is finding a second lease on life after his last album of original song-based music, River of Dreams, was released more than 25 years ago. 

“I can’t explain it,” he jokes in typical self-effacing style. “Maybe all that heavy lifting over the last 50 years is paying off?” 

This summer marked the fifth consecutive year Joel did his tour of baseball stadiums, a run which coincided with his celebrated monthly Madison Square Garden residency, which will mark a 60th consecutive sellout with its January 24, 2019, show (and hit its record-setting 100th MSG show last July). Since the summer of 2014, Joel has performed a total of 30 stadium shows – 28 at baseball parks and two at football stadiums (Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and, most recently, Wake Forest’s BB&T Field in Winston-Salem). The 30 combined, sold-out shows have sold a total of 1.18 million tickets with a gross of $132 million averaging 39K tickets and $4.4 million per engagement. 

“This confirms that Billy’s music has resonated to Beatlesque proportions,” says Artist Group International founder Dennis Arfa, who has been booking Joel shows for 40 years. “It’s unprecedented for an artist to become a stadium act this late in life.”

Of course, Billy Joel has played stadiums before, including some of the same venues on the “Face to Face” tour with Elton John, along with solo appearances at both Yankee Stadium and New Jersey’s Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands in 1990. More famously, he performed the last concert at Shea Stadium before it was torn down in 2008, chronicled in a concert film and the documentary, “The Last Play at Shea,” where 
he was joined by, among others, Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, Steven Tyler, John Mayer, Don Henley and Roger Daltrey.
“These are not just concerts,” explains Arfa. “They are events that impact the local community, transcending music to become a cultural milestone, a mainstream news story. Even the TV weather people are reporting on the conditions for the show.” 

Billy Joel
MacKenzie Brockman
– Billy Joel
plays the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago

Since 2014, Joel has played Boston’s Fenway Park, Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park all five summers, with two shows at Washington D.C.’s Nationals Park, and individual shows at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, San Francisco’s AT&T Park, San Diego’s Petco Park, Seattle’s Safeco Field, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, Atlanta’s Sun Trust Stadium, L.A.’s Dodger Stadium, Cleveland’s Progressive Field, Minneapolis’ Target Field, St. Louis’ Busch Stadium and Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. He is scheduled to perform at London’s 70,000-capacity Wembley Stadium June 22, 2019..

President of Live Nation Chicago Jason Wright has booked Billy into Wrigley Field a total of seven times (including two with Elton John), as well as shows at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and Minneapolis’ Target Field.  “Every song he plays is a massive hit that spurs sing-alongs in the multi-generational audience,” he says. “It is a night of pure joy.”

Indeed, at the core of Joel’s success is his classic catalog which over the course of nearly a half-century have become an essential part of the American popular music canon. Multi-generations today know and sing vociferously along to every lyric of  “Just The Way You Are,” “Piano Man,” and “She’s Always a Woman;” much as they do “Movin’ Out,” “Only The Good Die Young,” “New York State of Mind” and “Honesty,” which have stood the test of time.
Carl Rice, Wrigley Field’s VP of Restoration & Expansion, who also oversees concerts at the Chicago Cubs’ legendary home field, reinforces the staying power of Billy’s repertoire. “The first question I get every year at the Cubs Convention, a gathering of fans, is ‘When’s Billy Joel coming back?’” he says. 
Rice also points to his familiarity with Billy’s veteran touring team – booker Arfa, longtime production manager Bobby “Boomer” Thrasher and tour director Max Loubiere – as vital in being able to present a concert at the height of baseball season. “We’ve established a rhythm to put the stage up very quickly,” he says about the 9,500 folding chairs set up on plastic flooring over the field. “We’ve found a way to get them in 
and out that’s economical for the artist and least impactful in terms of damaging the stadium’s baseball operations.”

Kaufman Stadium
Danielle Flannery
– Kaufman Stadium
Billy Joel performs at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., which marked the baseball parks’ first concert in 39 years.

Don Law, Live Nation New England President, has booked Billy into Boston’s fabled Fenway Park for sold-out shows each of the past five years. “You know exactly what you’re getting when you purchase a Billy Joel ticket,” he says. “A rare opportunity to not just witness, but experience, a true master of his craft.”

“Billy Joel is a great value add for our season ticket base,” says Larry Cancro, SVP for Fenway Concerts & Entertainment. “He has such a broad appeal and pleases a wide audience. Ticket buyers are extremely satisfied afterwards.”

Philadelphia long ago adopted Billy Joel as a native son, since local rock station WMMR broke him on the East Coast by playing a 
live version of “Captain Jack,” which they recorded in 1972 at Sigma Sound as part of a station promotion. The resultant exposure helped convinced no less a figure than Clive Davis to sign Billy to Columbia, where he released “Piano Man,” and the rest is history.
Live Nation Philadelphia Regional President Geoff Gordon, who has booked Billy for the past five summers at Citizen’s Bank Park, says, “If you’re going to bet on somebody, betting on Billy Joel is as good as it gets. The age range is from 6 to 60 and above, and they sing just as loud as he does.

“Billy’s team are truly our partners on these events. It starts on the stage and goes out from there. I’ll never stop asking to book him as long as he keeps playing.”

Philadelphia Phillies’ Director Suite Sales and Client Services Kevin Beale, who oversees the concerts at Citizens Bank Park, says, “Every year, his concert is a great gathering, something our fans expect and look forward to,” says Beale. “Our relationship has really grown over the years. A load-in for a major concert usually takes two to three days. Last summer, the only date that really worked was after a Wednesday day game against the Dodgers.  We had never done a 36-hour turnaround, but we’ve all worked so closely, we all know the drill, and we were able to deliver, to pull it off.”

A nearly 20-year veteran of the Phillies organization, Beale adds, “Working with Billy’s team, it’s like an extension of the work we do here. Both camps understand and respect that it’s like family. We know what to expect from one another. It’s going to turn out to be a great evening for the fans.”
Arfa believes one of the reasons behind Billy’s string of sold-out stadium dates can be attributed to the demise of the rock critic press. “The young generation has more fully embraced pop music and Billy,” he says. “He has no barriers. Not anymore.”

More than 1 million people who bought tickets to his stadium shows would no doubt agree, feeling every bit as fortunate to be there to witness a remarkable success story with no let-up in sight. And all it took was a lifelong baseball fan headlining some of the most iconic stadiums in the country.
“I suppose it means I must still have a good fastball,” says Billy, conveniently extending the metaphor. “Because I certainly wouldn’t have been able to last this long if I were just throwing junk.” 
This article was modified to remove a sentence saying Billy Joel has not played the United Kingdom in more than three years.  He in fact played Old Trafford in Manchester in June 2018.