Best Bets: Billy Joel band members bring Big Shot to Freeman Stage

Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot will play the music of Billy Joel and more at The Freeman Stage in Selbyville Saturday night. Three of the members, including Mr. DelGuidice, third from left, are in Mr. Joel’s touring band. (Submitted photo)

Tonight, Billy Joel and his band play Camden Yards in Baltimore. If you can’t make it (or can’t afford it), The Freeman Stage features the next best thing on Saturday.

Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot perform the music of The Piano Man and more in Selbyville. But this isn’t any run-of-the-mill tribute band. Three of the members, including Mr. DelGuidice himself, are actually in Mr. Joel’s band.

Mr. DelGuidice, who is lead singer and pianist for Big Shot, has been rhythm guitarist and vocalist for Mr. Joel since 2013 while Tommy Byrnes has been guitarist and musical director for Mr. Joel for three decades and drummer Chuck Burgi has been in the band since 2005.

It was through Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Burgi that Mr. DelGuidice got the gig of his dreams with Mr. Joel.

But let’s back up.

Born and raised in Long Island, New York, just like Mr. Joel, Mr. DelGuidice was a huge fan of The Piano Man.

“I grew up listening to all sorts of music. My father was an avid music lover — everything from country to Elton John and classic rock,” he said this week via email.

“I was actually an Elton fan much earlier on in life, because that’s what my father played a lot. Then when I hit middle school I started to really listen to Billy and by high school, that was it. I was hooked.

“I had always loved his songs on the radio and had all his albums. But I watched the video “Live from Long Island,” and that was it. I was obsessed with learning every one of the songs at that point even though I could barely play to save my life. I’ve always considered myself a hack on the piano.”

A musical career did happen for him as he played bars all over Long Island with his original songs and covers. But seeing that the covers got more reactions than his own songs, he got the idea to start a Billy Joel tribute band in 2000.

“I wanted to start a band and get out of playing piano bars. I had spent over a year playing with local band Kid Gloves and the tribute band thing was just starting to happen. So I figured, what the hell, let me try it. I’ve already been singing Billy Joel for my whole life,” he said.

“Why not make it an actual thing? And it really took off. It was a good decade of upward climb.”

After 10 years of heavy touring, a few members of Big Shot wanted to take it a bit easier.

That same year, Mr. Joel took a leave of absence to have hip-replacement surgery. So Mr. DelGuidice took it upon himself to call Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Burgi to see about joining Big Shot. They agreed and took the band to another high.

“When Chuck and Tommy joined the band, it definitely added a boost. It was just a different feel amongst the group and amongst the audiences,” Mr. DelGuidice said.

“The shows were more charged with energy. And it seemed like the band was moving upward again to another level. But I think it was more of a vibe thing than anything. It was something new — different guys and some positive energy. And of course the grace of God, which led to me getting hired by Billy.”

In 2013, Mr. Joel decided he was ready to get back on the road for a European tour. But he didn’t attend the early sessions and Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Burgi asked Mr. DelGuidice to sit in at the piano.

When Mr. Joel did finally show up, he had already heard that Mr. DelGuidice knew the songs on guitar and watched him play with the band for about an hour. Afterward, Mr. Joel asked him to come to Europe and play with them.

Since then, he’s been a permanent part of the Billy Joel band, having played all around the world. Six years later, he said he doesn’t take the job for granted.

“There’s not a night that doesn’t go by when we are gigging at a stadium or an arena, where I don’t videotape the walk on, up the stairs onto the stage when the lights go down. I will pinch myself forever. I’m still in disbelief. I just want to make my boss happy and proud,” he said.

A highlight of any Billy Joel concert in recent years has been Mr. DelGuidice’s rendition of the sweeping operatic aria “Nessun Dorma,” which is a perennial show stopper.

“I did a version of it at my house and recorded a video and put it online. Billy Zampino, a longtime friend of Billy Joel‘s, heard it and played it for Billy without me knowing. At the next show, which was a stadium show, I heard him messing around with the chords in the beginning of sound check but that was it. And then all of a sudden in the middle of the show, he throws the ending of ‘Nessun Dorma’ at me, I was pretty unnerved to say the least,” he said.

“I thought to myself ‘Well, here we go. I’m either going to go for it and crack in front of 50,000 people and it’s gonna be all over YouTube or I’ll hit it and then have a heart attack. It ended up going over OK thanks to God. Billy got up and hugged me. The band came over and saluted me, all the while I was having a diaphragm spasm from hitting the high notes at the end, no joke. Horrible pain. The next time I showed up at Madison Square Garden to play with him, it was written in the set list. And it’s been there ever since.”

Speaking of Madison Square Garden, Mr. Joel has had a monthly residence at the famed New York theater since 2013. Mr. DelGuidice expects that to continue for a while.

“I think the residency will go on for as long as Billy feels like he is in top form. If he feels like he can’t do it anymore, or feels like he’s not delivering the best that he can be, then it might end. But it doesn’t seem to have an end in sight at least not in the immediate future Thank God. Thank Billy,” he joked.

As for Big Shot’s show in Delaware, fans can expect to hear the Billy Joel hits plus some album cuts for the hardcore fans.

One of his favorites is “Easy Money,” the theme to the Rodney Dangerfield comedy, which also appears on Mr. Joel’s “An Innocent Man” album.

“We often try to throw in album cuts of Billy’s. But they often get met with the same response as Billy gets at the Garden when he plays them, usually silence after,” he joked.

“But the songs are great and they need to be played. So we definitely will do some album cuts and deeper stuff.”

Along with Mr. Joel’s material, audiences can also expect to hear some Elton John or Chicago tunes and even some of Mr. DelGuidice’s originals. He has recorded two albums and his song “Ordinary Guy” was the theme song to the Kevin James sitcom “Kevin Can Wait.”

“I had earlier mentioned that I was an Elton fan in my younger years because of my dad, but I was also a huge Chicago fan. Still am, to this day, probably one of my favorite bands of all time. I’m now adding originals into the show as much as possible. I don’t think I would be able to exist if I couldn’t do my original music. I understand that I need to do what I need to do playing cover music to make money and I am proud to do that. But I’ve always been a songwriter since I was a child,” he said.

“So that’s a huge part of me being able to exist and be happy as a musician. It’s almost as if my originals are the soul of my musical career and everything else is an unbelievable job that not many ever get to experience. I love changing things up and playing different music during the Big Shot shows.”

Tickets for Saturday’s 7 p.m. are $25 with children 12 and under admitted free. For more information and tickets, visit FreemanStage.org.

‘Descendants 3’ event

The Dover Mall will hold a “Descendants 3” event Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. near Old Navy and Kay Jewelers.

Children will be able to participate in a variety of activities including a craft project to create their own personalized back-to-school pencil cases, along with a custom photo booth and other exciting games. A face painter and magician will also attend.

‘Kosmos’ on Thursday

The Ballet Theater of Dover presents “Kosmos,” featuring a suite of dances exploring man’s interaction with the elements, from the gentle yet powerful wind, to the comfort of fire, the gifts of ocean (water), and the ever changing shapes and bounties of the Earth.

The production will take place Thursday at 2 and 7 p.m. at Dover High School.

Dances from “Bournonville Divertissements,” set in Scotland, is the story of a magical sprite, “the sylph” who falls in love with a mortal who is already betrothed to a lass. The ballet was choreographed at the height of the Romantic Age in the mid-1800s.

“Requiem” to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, explores man’s spiritual quest for salvation, peace and redemption.

Andrew Matte from the First State Ballet Theatre will dance the role of James in “Bournonville Divertissments”, the Light in “Requiem” and Man in “Kosmos.”

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for students and children 10 and under.

There is a special student and children’s group rate discount for the 2 p.m. show. They are available by calling the Dance Conservatory at (302) 734-9717. Email pasdance@aol.com.

Kids adding color

Downtown Dover merchants will be celebrating children during their Aug. 2 First Friday event.

Children and families will benefit from First Friday Gives Back, a charitable program run by the Downtown Dover Partnership. Participating downtown merchants will donate a portion of their First Friday sales to benefit the Dover office of Nemours duPont Pediatrics.

Children are also invited to take part in a coloring contest honoring National Coloring Book Day.

Kids and youth up to age 18 are invited to creatively color “Three Counties Delaware,” designed by Gary Knox, owner of Forney’s Too. The coloring page depicts ladybugs, horseshoe crabs or blue hens repeated within each of the counties.

The design may be colored in any art medium, including colored pencils, markers, crayon, pastel or other media. The page and contest application must be returned no later than 6 p.m. of the First Friday event on Aug. 2.

To access the coloring page, interested participants are asked to visit Forney’s Too at 101 W. Loockerman St., stop by the Cendel Building at 100 W. Loockerman during normal business hours to pick up a coloring sheet or visit Tinyurl.com/DoverColoring to download a pdf and entry form.

One winner will be chosen in each of four age categories and will receive a $25 gift certificate from a downtown Dover merchant. Winners will be announced at 6:30 p.m. at Loockerman Way Plaza during the Aug. 2 First Friday festivities.

Now Showing

New in theaters this weekend is Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the comedy “Long Shot” with Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron and the animated feature “UglyDolls.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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