As the heat began to lift in the late afternoon, July 15 sized up as a great night for some rock and roll piano music, and the Hollister Concerts at Guerra Cellars delivered in full. Featuring two tribute bands, Elton John, The Early Years, and Billy Nation: A Billy Joel Tribute, it was a nonstop night of hits and crowd favorites that had people dancing, singing along and calling out for more.
“We are lucky to have great weather, and it is great to see all of our regulars,” said Danielle Nino, daughter of Guerra Cellars co-owner Al Guerra. “We just love the bands, they love being here, and they always put on a great show.”
A few changes to the venue greeted longtime attendees. Concert regulars Blazin’ Bayou BBQ, located at the entrance, have been joined this year by Joseph Elmhorst’s Steak Stop Food Truck, offering food at stage level for the first time. A new permanent beer and wine bar has also been added near the stage.
“The setting here is beautiful,” said Elmhorst. “I don’t think there is a better place to hear music anywhere in the county. The fact that they are letting us be involved is something special for us.”
As the sun set, the concertgoers set up their chairs and spread out the contents of their picnic baskets in the natural amphitheater. As always, the prime seats closest to the stage were taken by Guerra wine club members and the corporate sponsors who make the shows possible.
“I am excited to see the changes and the bands this year,” said Jennifer Porteur of concert sponsor Advantage Truss. “This little town needs a venue like this, something that people can do where they are getting out and off their phones, enjoying each other and socializing.”
Billy Nation took the stage first, tearing into their rendition of “My Life” and working their way through a 12-song set with favorites like “Only the Good Die Young,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” and, of course, “Piano Man,” before ending with a crowd singalong to Joel’s 1980 hit “You May Be Right.”
Adam Shapiro, the band’s lead singer and pianist, said his father was a professional musician who started him on piano lessons when he was nine years old. Shapiro got his first paid work as a musician when he was in high school and made music his life’s work.
“I was always kind of a hired gun in other bands until I had a midlife crisis,” he said. “I decided to challenge myself and wondered who I could pull off as a tribute. Every time I sang a Billy Joel song, people would tell me I sounded like him, so I took a leap of faith.”
For Shapiro, the point is not to try to look exactly like Joel or to sing exactly like him but to capture his essence and convey his spirit to the crowd.
“People really know his music,” he said. “For a lot of this stuff, I could just turn it over to the audience. But I study his concerts and how he has been doing things for 50 years, and we give them the best show we can.”
The evening’s headliner was Kenny Metcalf as Elton John, doing nearly note-perfect renditions of the rock legend’s work. Starting his set with a triumphant “I’m Still Standing,” he performed a 16-song set list that included a stream of early smash hits including “Levon,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man,” “Bennie and the Jets,” and “Crocodile Rock.” Acknowledging the enthusiasm of the audience, he performed “Goodbye, Norma Jean” as a bonus before finishing the show with his version of John’s first hit single, “Your Song.”
The choice of “I’m Still Standing” was particularly apt, with Metcalf explaining to the audience that he began performing his tribute after recovering from a serious viral infection that lasted 11 years and brought him frequently to the edge of death.
“I was covered with sores all over my body,” he told BenitoLink. “I prayed to God three times to kill me. But a friend told me they had a vision of me performing onstage in front of thousands of people and now I have been onstage for 13 years, fully healed. Miracles still happen.”
He started with his current band when someone pointed out his vocal resemblance to John. With prior musical experience, including touring with a heavy metal band, forming the tribute band was almost a fulfillment of prophecy.
“I just know that when I walk on stage, God is with me,” he said. “With all the stuff that I went through, I just want to bring smiles to people’s faces and make them happy. And I hope that as I tell my story and play my music, something wonderful will happen in people’s lives.”
Tickets are available online for the three remaining concerts in this year’s series:
- August 5 – Red Not Chili Peppers and Green Today: Tributes to Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day
- August 26 – Garth Guy and Tennessee River: Tributes to Garth Brooks and Alabama
- Sept 16 – Wanted and Ragdolls: Tributes to Bon Jovi and Aerosmith
Gates open at 5:00 p.m. and shows start at 6:30 p.m.
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