MILWAUKEE - My love for Billy Joel began with a cassette, an old radio, my best friend and a basketball court in the driveway.
The story begins in the worst time of a boy's life. A time I like to call eighth grade.
I wasn't all that into music in my first 14 years. I'd grown up with the oldies in the car (my first concert was at the Rockford Metro Center in sixth grade, and fittingly was the Beach Boys) and top 40 in the car.
There were certain songs I gravitated to (I dare you to find an 11-year old who didn't rock to Love Shack in 1989), but I never ventured much beyond the hits until, through one circumstance or another, I was driven to the music of William Martin Joel.
I went out and bought the classic Billy Joel Greatest Hits Volumes One and Two cassette (if you're reading this and under the age of 24, just Google it).
It just so happened that my buddy Mike was into the music as well, and we would put that radio in my driveway, blast Billy Joel and play hoops, our high notes unfortunately just as flat as our jump shots.
Certain songs I gravitated to sonically (I loved 'Allentown' and 'The Longest Time' was one of my first favorite songs) and certain lines drove me to investigate his catalog closer.
'I'd rather laugh with sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners are much more fun.' This seemed like a fantastic way to go through life.
'You shouldn't try to be a straight 'A' student, if you are then you think too much,' Check, Billy.
I grew to own virtually every album he produced and developed my go-to Billy mix-tape, an essential for any kid growing up in the 90's.
I saw Billy in concert when I was in college, and he didn't disappoint. He stopped making original music in 1994, but that didn't bother me. He had 20 years of great stuff.
The opportunity to see Billy came again at Miller Park on April 24. One of my favorite places and one of my favorite artists? What could possibly go wrong?
The answer? Well, nothing, really. It was a nearly perfect night. My press ticket found me in the 11th row, just left of center, the 1,117th reason I love my job.
Within a few songs and with the kindness of a few strangers, I finagled my wife from the cheap seats to prime real estate.
We settled in for a show heavy on nostalgia ("I don't have anything new," Joel said. "Same old...stuff."), showcasing the nearly 70-year old's ability to entertain and carry a two-hour show on his back.
The 23-song setlist included standard favorites like 'Uptown Girl', 'It's Still Rock and Roll to Me' and 'Only the Good Die Young.' The main set closed with Piano Man, as a matter of course, and he mixed in a few covers along the way, including a killer version of 'Take it Easy' by the Eagles.
It was the best of what a concert should be: A communal experience, an opportunity to go back in time and remember where you were and who you are when those songs meant the most to you.
I wouldn't want to relive eighth grade again, but it sure was fun to go back for a four-minute glimpse, back to that blacktop driveway with the three-point line drawn in, back to two kids weighing a combined 240 pounds trying to out-do each other while seamlessly producing the industrial sounds of Allentown.
A good concert leaves your voice hoarse, your cheeks sore from smiling and your booty sore from so much shaking.
Billy Joel checked all those boxes at Miller Park.
It was a good night, indeed.