The last slot of a major festival is always a hard one to play, with many attendees having already packed up and hit the road after several long days of music and fun. That’s why a lot of festivals save some of the most anticipated acts for last, which is exactly what Bonnaroo did with legendary songwriter Billy Joel.
Taking the What Stage as all of the festival’s other stages had wrapped up, Joel had the festival to himself, with fans lined up as far as the eye could see. The set basically played as a greatest hits collection (although there were a handful of deep cuts that probably could have been left off the set list), not so surprising given that the average age of a Billy Joel fan is probably double the average age of a Bonnaroo attendee.
But that generation gap didn’t seem to matter when Joel played songs like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “Piano Man,” the audience singing along the whole time. He also offered a perspective on the festival that many of the younger performers couldn’t, as he remarked that he had once attended Woodstock (as a fan, not a performer) and that Bonnaroo reminded him of that storied ’60s festival.
A highlight in Joel’s set came when he invited his guitar – “Chainsaw” – on stage with him for a surprisingly kick ass version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” It was a bit of an odd choice for a guy known for his piano ballads, but Chainsaw’s chops kept the song from veering into embarrassing karaoke territory.
All in all, Joel provided a solid ending to what is increasingly becoming one of the most eclectic music festivals around. The latest in a string of old-school legends taking the main stage (like Elton John before him last year), Joel added to Bonnaroo’s growing reputation as a celebrator of great music that doesn’t believe in age discrimination.
Before leaving the stage, Joel offered one final (and important) piece of advice for festival-goers: “Don’t drink and drive. Do what I do. Drink and get a big limousine.”