The Year: 1982
The Place: 504 Hudson Hall, Patterson House, Columbia Missouri
“Hey Roy, you ready for the Billy Joel concert in St. Louis next week?”
“You bet, Ron.”
“You know what we should do? We should have a party before the concert where we sit around and listen to Joel albums all night.”
“That’s a great idea. We can call it the Billy Joel Musical Funtime Extravaganza.”
“How about we call it Joelfest?”
“Also a great idea.”
And so it was that On Oct. 14, 1982, a handful of guys gathered in a dorm room on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus to drink beer and eat Doritos and listen to Billy Joel records (This was during that unusual stage in my life when I had no women friends). The party was pretty much like every party a bunch of college sophomores would have in a dorm room, just with Billy Joel music.
As college undergrads we were always looking for an excuse to have a party. We decided to have a number of musical theme parties. The next one was Whofest, followed by Springsteenfest. Someone-who-shall-remain-nameless got so fall-down-stupid, toilet-hugging drunk at Springsteenfest that it was the end of parties for the rest of the semester.
When everyone got back the following year that someone-who-shall-remain-nameless had sobered up enough to decide to bring back Joelfest. But by this time Joel had released “An Innocent Man,” an album that did not sit well with some of the Joelfest founders. The other founders were just there for the beer and Doritos, so we had the party anyway.
Joelfest probably would have died then and there were it not for dinosaurs. Oh dinosaurs, is there nothing you can’t make better? My friend Rob was taking a bunch of women and a couple of guys to Washington D.C. for Spring Break. I wanted to see the dinosaurs at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum as I had never seen dinosaur skeletons in the flesh (so to speak), so I invited myself along.
We’re caravaning down the highway from Missouri to our Nation’s Capitol and at some point during the long drive I wind up crammed into the back seat of Liz Brixey’s car. We get into an argument about who’s the bigger Billy Joel fan. I string her along for a while, let her get her confidence up, then drop the bomb:
“Do you host an annual Billy Joel festival? Because I do.”
She doesn’t believe me, of course, so now I have to deliver. Joelfest ’84 saved the festival from the brink. Having an event three years in a row legally makes it an annual event and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. To accommodate our newfound women friends, we moved the party the hell out of the dorm room and into Ward Scantlin’s apartment.
1984-87 were the glory years of Joelfest. But by ’88 everyone had left Columbia and were scattered throughout the country. The festival moved to Springfield for a year then took up residence in St. Charles. Attendance dwindled year by year. Joelfest ’91 would be the 10th anniversary festival, so I pulled out all the stops to make it The Big One. Five people showed up. I quietly pulled the plug.
In 1999, facing the end of the millennium, I decided to bring Joelfest back for one last blowout. Two people showed up. I brought it back in 2000 because Laura Leigh promised to come up from Florida. This time, people actually showed up — I don’t know if it was out of nostalgia or guilt. Some people I had been begging for years to attend finally showed up. It was so successful I decided never to do it again.
But Joelfest continued to pull at me. In its absence the legend grew. Young people who had never attended a Joelfest wanted their chance. Who was I to deny the young people? I brought it back in 2007 for Joelfest’s 25th anniversary. We had a nice mix of upstarts and regulars.
When I found out the world was scheduled to end in 2012, I figured we needed to go out with one last Joelfest, so here we are. I started working on this thing over a year ago to try to accommodate as many of the old gang as possible. I’m sure many of them won’t make it — missing Joelfest is as big a tradition as attending — but that’s OK.
If only the good die young, then Joelfest isn’t that great anyway.