Billy Joel’s Life and Long Island Roots Showcased in New Exhibit - 27 East

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Billy Joel’s Life and Long Island Roots Showcased in New Exhibit

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This past fall, Billy Joel visited the new exhibition about his life and career at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. MYRNA SUAREZ/@myrnasuarezphoto

This past fall, Billy Joel visited the new exhibition about his life and career at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. MYRNA SUAREZ/@myrnasuarezphoto

This past fall, Billy Joel visited the new exhibition about his life and career at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. MYRNA SUAREZ @myrnasuarezphoto

This past fall, Billy Joel visited the new exhibition about his life and career at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. MYRNA SUAREZ @myrnasuarezphoto

Billy Joel's piano from a concert he performed with Elton John is among the objects on view in the exhibition about his life and career at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. LEAH CHIAPPINO

Billy Joel's piano from a concert he performed with Elton John is among the objects on view in the exhibition about his life and career at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. LEAH CHIAPPINO

“Billy Joel – My Life, a Piano Man’s Journey” opened recently at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. LEAH CHIAPPINO

“Billy Joel – My Life, a Piano Man’s Journey” opened recently at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. LEAH CHIAPPINO

A view of the exhibition “Billy Joel – My Life, a Piano Man’s Journey” which is on view at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. LEAH CHIAPPINO

A view of the exhibition “Billy Joel – My Life, a Piano Man’s Journey” which is on view at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. LEAH CHIAPPINO

Billy Joel's keyboard is on view in a show at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. LEAH CHIAPPINO

Billy Joel's keyboard is on view in a show at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook. LEAH CHIAPPINO

Leah Chiappino on Feb 15, 2024

During the recent Super Bowl broadcast on February 11, CBS ran a promotional spot announcing that on April 14, the network will air “The 100th: Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden – The Greatest Arena Run of All Time.” The special is slated to be filmed on March 28, during Joel’s 100th residency show at MSG, and without exaggeration, you can say that it’s been one remarkable run for the musician, who first performed in the hallowed arena way back on December 14, 1978.

Joel has, of course, attained international fame and fortune in the course of his nearly 50 years in the music business. But when you get right down to it, he is still a Long Island guy at heart, and for that reason, the legendary singer-songwriter’s life and career are being showcased for his fans both near and far in an exhibition on view now at the Long Island Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in Stony Brook.

For this exhibition, Joel, who has had a home in Sag Harbor for several years, collaborated with the museum to tell the story of his life and career, much of which is intertwined with Long Island. The exhibition, which opened late last year, highlights five decades worth of memories and it aims to be an interactive experience where visitors can learn Joel’s story in an engaging way. The display was created with the full cooperation of Joel, who gave the curators permission to select objects from the contents of his storage unit and include them in the show. Memorabilia was also donated by others.

“Some of the board members met with [Joel] a couple of times, did a presentation to him, built a little model of what this exhibit would look like, and he was impressed,” Barry Fisch, the general manager of the LIMEHOF, explained. “We would not have done it without his approval.”

Kevin O’Callaghan, a LIMEHOF board member and chair of the 3D design program at the School of Visual Arts, curated the show. His work has been featured on newscasts, including on CNN, and his list of clients include MTV, History Channel and NBC, among others. While O’Callaghan’s knowledge of Joel and his career was limited when he began the show’s curation, his admiration for Joel only grew over time.

“His importance became bigger and bigger in my mind,” said O’Callaghan. “You can’t even believe what he’s done.”

The effort to create the exhibition began more than a year ago, and on Valentine’s Day 2023, after LIMEHOF board chair Ernie Canadeo did some networking to get a foot in the door with Billy Joel, O’Callaghan presented the idea to Joel that the display would be a combination of an exhibition about him and one focused on the importance of his musical influences.

“[Joel] looked at me and he said, ‘I guess we’re going to have a party with all my friends,’ which is a nice way of putting it,” said O’Callaghan. “Then, of course, it evolved more into a theme about him, because he is Billy Joel.”

After presenting the model for the show to Joel, O’Callaghan said Joel looked at his team and directed them to give the exhibition whatever the organizers wanted, leading Canadeo and O’Callaghan to the storage facility where Joel keeps his things. They did, indeed, pick what they wanted for the show.

Given that Joel didn’t want the exhibition to be all about him, there are also features highlighting his favorite bands — like the Beatles — who inspired his own music. There are also records, with a record player that people can listen to, filled with the bands and artists that influenced Joel.

Joel’s own storied career is also showcased in depth. It starts off with his first band, The Hassles and Attila, and progresses all the way through each of his albums. Key items on display in the exhibition include a piano that Joel played in concert with Elton John, a ripped-out seat signed by all of his band members from the 1989 tour, and other musical instruments from his band. The exhibition also features several of Joel’s albums — with headphones — so listeners young and old alike can hear his music for themselves and witness its evolution over time. The show also tells the story of Joel’s childhood growing up on Long Island (in Hicksville, to be precise), featuring the earliest pictures of the musician, along with programs from his time performing in school concerts.

O’Callaghan explained that the items that came from Joel’s storage facility ultimately shaped the form the exhibition took in the end.

“We didn’t know what we wanted,” he confessed. “Kind of what we got was there. What we got helped design what would become the show.”

That includes the piano, which rotates at the center of the room.

The Billy Joel exhibition opened Thanksgiving weekend and is tentatively set to run through August on the lower level of the LIMEHOF. The upstairs of the museum space features memorabilia from the Hall of Fame’s 170 inductees. The list of names features famous musicians from Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens, including Mariah Carey, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand, and it will soon be expanded to include actors and comedians from the island as well.

While Billy Joel may be a local hero, Fisch said that Long Islanders are far from the only ones who have traveled to see the show at LIMEHOF. In fact, he’s had visitors coming from all over the country and all around the globe.

“Some people have to travel a little bit to get here, but they do,” he said of the museum, which is nestled in Stony Brook Village on the North Shore in western Suffolk County. “We get people because Billy Joel is doing his monthly MSG showcase. And people come in from other parts of the country or even the world. We’ve had people from Ireland and the U.K So now that they know we’re here, they try to include us in their travel plans for the weekend.”

For this exhibition, Fisch was in charge of not only getting some of the memorabilia on view, but also the logistics of how to fit Joel’s giant piano into the building. But after all was said and done, seeing Joel run through the museum and take it all in was rewarding and humbling, said Fisch.

“He was just totally blown away. He was like, gobsmacked — that’s the proper term,” Fisch said of Joel. “He was like, ‘Where did you get all this stuff?’ And he was kind of like, ‘Why would anyone go to the trouble of collecting all this stuff on me?’ He was just a regular guy, and he didn’t realize his level of adoration was that high.”

O’Callaghan, similarly, recalled Joel’s reaction: “He came to see the exhibition, and he turned to me and he said, ‘Boy, I really had a life, didn’t I?’ I said, ‘You sure did.’”

The Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame is located at 97 Main Street in Stony Brook. LIMEHOF plans to present a tribute event with Billy Joel over the summer at another location. The exhibition is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults ($32.50 for seniors and veterans, $20 for students). For more information, visit limusichalloffame.org.

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