While it may not have been 9 o’clock on a Saturday, a crowd of over 100 had shuffled into downtown Oyster Bay to honor one of the most famous residents of the hamlet, Billy Joel. The legendary musician, who is planning to move to Florida, was met by politicians, local fans and band members from the James H. Vernon School to celebrate the renaming of part of Audrey Avenue to Billy Joel Way.
A large stage was set up outside Joel’s motorcycle shop, 20th Century Cycles, where Joel, elected leaders and members of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District administration were gathered for the ceremony. Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino thanked Joel for touching the lives of millions of people around the world with his musical storytelling, and presented the “Piano Man” with a citation and the key to the town.
“We are gathered here to honor William Martin Joel, who has woven into the fabric of this great community, the fabric of Long Island, the state and, quite frankly, the nation and the world, and that is no exaggeration,” Saladino said. “We celebrate these ties by forever naming this stretch of roadway in front of Billy’s 20th Century Cycles in his honor.”
Joel first thanked the members of the Vernon School’s Sixth Grade Advanced Band, who performed the song “Top Secret” and sang the chorus of “Piano Man.” Joel acknowledged that he had played the French horn in his middle school’s marching band growing up in Hicksville, although he stopped after chipping his front teeth while trying to march and play, and jovially warned the next generation of musicians to “watch out for your teeth.”
Joel recalled that when he was growing up, his mother would take him to the hamlet to play in the Long Island Sound, because, when he was a boy, he always complained that “I lived on an island, and I always said, ‘Mom, where’s the water?’” He added that he was always amazed by the beauty of Oyster Bay, with its old houses and abundance of nature, although he never believed he’d be able to live there.
“This is where I aspired to be when I was young,” Joel said. “It was kind of like ‘The Great Gatsby.’ “I always appreciate being here, and I think about it all the time. This is where I want to be, mostly.”
He said he had been approached in the past by members of the state legislature about having a street named after him, and had asked at the time, “Don’t you have to die first?” When they answered in the affirmative, he politely declined, explaining, “Honestly, I’d rather still be alive and not have the street.”
Now, however, he said he has "the best of both worlds. I’m alive and they’re naming a street after me.” After he spoke, he was presented with a town citation, the highest honor the town can bestow, along with a key to the town, so that no matter where he goes, he will know he’s always welcome back in Oyster Bay.
With a flourish, the guest of honor and members of the Town Board unveiled the new Billy Joel Way sign, which included several musical notes and the words “From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island,” from his iconic song “The Ballad of Billy the Kid.”
Joel then posed for photos with elected leaders. While they were being taken, several of his songs were played on loudspeakers, and as hundred of fans cheered, they could see Joel moving his fingers to the music, as if he were playing it himself.