Tony Monaco can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than celebrating the music of Billy Joel.
Monaco originated the seven-piece tribute band called Turnstiles, which will perform at 7 p.m. March 22 at Richland High School Performing Arts Center in Richland Township.
The band is based in West Palm Beach, Fla., but Monaco is no stranger to western Pennsylvania or Johnstown.
In the early 1980s, the musician from Penn Hills, Allegheny County, was a member of Thrills, a cover band doing various artists’ music.
“We played at Ace’s (in Johnstown) back in the day and would love to see some of the folks from back home attend the show,” Monaco said during a telephone interview from Florida.
Thrills had some success, doing some extensive recording and touring during which the band opened for Foreigner, Quarterflash, Nick Lowe, Juice Newton, and Orleans.
The Johnstown concert will be one of only two in western Pennsylvania during Turnstiles’ performance schedule.
“We will be celebrating our third anniversary of being together April 11, and our success can be attributed to having world-class musicians with a common vision in recreating the total Billy Joel experience,” Monaco said.
The seven-piece group is comprised of a piano, guitars, bass, sax, flute, keyboards and drums. They combine to deliver a full orchestral sound with driving rhythms for a powerful result.
Joining Monaco on stage will be another Pittsburgh musician and longtime acquaintance, Dave Fullerton, who plays guitar and does vocals. He too, performed in Johnstown when touring with Thrills.
Thrills eventually relocated to New York, where the band toured and played nonstop for more than 10 years and recorded five albums on the G&P label.
In the following years, Monaco played with many of Long Island’s top bands.
In 1993, he formed what he believes was one of the first tributes to the Piano Man, “Stormfront,” which earned him an audition for the traveling production of the Broadway show “Movin’ Out.”
Following the breakup of Thrills, Monaco and Fullerton continued to work together until both relocated to south Florida in 1995.
Turnstiles has gained popularity. The band usually performs throughout Florida and the Caribbean.
Monaco said the Richland audience will hear Joel’s classics like “Allentown,” “Big Shot,” “Movin’ Out,” “Piano Man,” “Only the Good Die Young” and “Uptown Girl,” to name a few.
“I think having the right people like I do, we pay tribute to the music,” Monaco said. “I sound enough like Billy Joel that these hits are right in my wheelhouse.”
Monaco said was privileged to meet Joel on two occasions, and he approved of the show.
“He told someone he knew who we were and he loved it,” Monaco said.
He admits they are not trying to impersonate Billy Joel.
“We just want to get the details of his music and lyrics across to our audiences,” he said.
Monaco explained that certain Joel songs have a complexity that would challenge any musician.
“Angry Young Man,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” are intricate and sometimes difficult numbers that require a certain touch.
“It all goes back to the balance as a group of musicians to be able to handle these selections,” Monaco said.
Monaco said renditions of Joel’s classic songs will move the casual listener as well as the hard-core fan.
“We love it when the audience sings along with the classics,” he said. “If people are a Billy Joel fan, they already are a Turnstiles fan.”
Sing us a song
What: Turnstiles presents a tribute to Billy Joel.
Where: Richland High School Performing Arts Center, One Academic Ave. in Richland Township.
When: 7 p.m. March 22.
Tickets: $24 for adults, $22 for senior citizen and $10 for students.
Information: 269-0300 or www.richlandpac.com.
Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.