On Oct. 16, after enjoying a meal at Martini’s in Pitman, a kind stranger approached my table. He explained that his son got COVID and could not attend the Danny V and the 52nd Street Band’s Billy Joel Tribute show next door at the Pitman Theater. He told us he had tried to sell the tickets but couldn’t, and asked us if we would like the tickets for free. Moments later, we were in the Upper Level of the theater anxiously awaiting the show lead by Rowan alum Danny Vechesky.
It began with Vechesky’s brother, Mike Vechesky, introducing the show. He gave an energetic introduction detailing the love his brother and his 52nd Street Band had for the iconic rockstar Billy Joel. The lights came up as the band began with “Miami 2017.”
The backdrop of the show was a video showing photos of Billy Joel, concert posters, ticket stubs and lines of fans. It changed to reflect the era of the band’s songs. It started in the ’70s and continued on to the ’90s.
Two songs in, the band played “Goodbye Hollywood.” During this song, horns player Matt O’Connor stole the show with a beautiful sax solo. He played each note so powerfully that it blew me away.
The band continued with “The Ballad of Billy the Kid,” “Movin’ Out,” and “Stranger.” They rounded out the ’70s era with “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” It was a song I had only heard a handful of times before, but the band just made the song so energetic.
Stage crew brought out a small table with a signature checker-board tablecloth, decorated with wine bottles. Then, drummer Jimmy Linear and guitarist Ed Kuri met at the table to take a sip from the wine bottles. It was such a fun tribute to the end of the song’s animated music video.
They headed into the ’80s era with “Still Rock N’ Roll to Me,” “Just a Fantasy,” and “Allentown.” At this point the crowd had loosened up and were waving their hands, singing along and dancing in their seats. Throughout the show Vechesky changed outfits to match Joel’s style, including his iconic black top, white tie and red jacket look from “Still Rock N’ Roll to Me.”
Vechesky followed up with an alluring performance of “Goodnight Saigon.” He dedicated the song not only to the veterans but also to the nurses, firefighters and police officers who risked their lives keeping the peace and health in the midst of the pandemic.
In the theme of togetherness, Vechesky introduced Billy Joel’s A Matter of Trust: A Bridge to Russia shows, which he performed during the height of the Cold War. The band played “USSR” in honor of it and ended their first set with “Pressure,” before letting out to an intermission.
The intermission itself was a beautiful display of togetherness. People were trading off stories of how they saw Billy Joel in concert when they were children. Others reminisced with family members who came to the show together after being apart for months. Even still, others buzzed with the excitement of what songs were to come.
Coming back from intermission, the band kept their energy up with my favorite part of the performance. In reference to Joel’s 2009 Face to Face tour, the band welcomed Doug Delescavage from Philadelphia Freedom to the stage. Delescavage sat down at his piano, lined with boas, as he and Vechesky broke into a few more well-known songs. The first was “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John, followed by “My Life” by Billy Joel, and ending with “Bennie and The Jets” by Elton John.
Despite all being lively, each song had its own vibe making them that much more interesting. The audience, young and old, sang along to each lyric.
Following the Elton John tribute, the show entered into Joel’s ’90s era with hits like “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and “River of Dreams,” which featured powerful vocals from percussionist Mary Harris and a stellar guitar solo from Kuri. Vechesky followed that up with “NY State of Mind,” which he and his band had performed previously as part of a 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York. The song ended in a beautiful back-and-forth between Vechesky’s vocals and O’Connor’s saxophone.
They followed up the ’90s era with a recap of Joel’s biggest hits including “Big Shot,” “Tell Her About It,” and “Only The Good Die Young.” They ended the show on the song that earned Vechesky the nickname “Dan the Piano Man,” Joel’s “Piano Man.” During this song, Vechesky paused for the audience to sing, and it may have been because I was on the upper level, but that may have been the best-sounding audience I’ve ever witnessed.
Being some of the most well-known of Joel’s songs, the audience sang along word for word. A group of teens on the upper level were having a ball — dancing and singing along with smiles on their faces.
Just when the audience thought the show was ending, the band came back onto the stage to sing two more songs. Starting with “You May Be Right” and ending with “Captain Jack,” the songs once again showcased the energy and love this band has for the music and each other.
The show also featured the talented performances of Michael LaBuono on the keys and Troy Rusnack on the bass.
As a Rowan student, I was so proud to see Vechesky, a Rowan alum, being so successful and excited about the work he was doing.
The whole night was a joy of excellent music and talent. It was so clear that every band member, Delescavage, and Vechesky were having the times of their lives. As the show’s introduction mentioned, it was plain to see that they all loved the music they were performing. The energy on the stage prompted much more energy from the audience.
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