Another great Saturday night for 101 the 80s as we ventured out to the State Theater in Falls Church, Va. To hear, “The Stranger: A Tribute to Billy Joel featuring Mike Santoro.” Prior to the show, 101 the 80s had the opportunity to sit down with the Long Island, NY native Mike Santoro who now makes his home in Charlotte, NC. Santoro and the band traveled to Falls Church from a Friday night sold-out show in Bethlehem, PA. Santoro said the band’s popularity is growing and they are traveling all over the US.
Santoro, a self-taught pianist, has the look and feel of Billy Joel and kept the large crowd rocking throughout the show. The band consists of phenomenally talented musicians In addition to Santoro. Bass guitarist Fred Updegraft is the most recent to join the group and kept things steady throughout the night. Daniel Rodriguez is a powerful drummer and brings great energy to the stage. Steven Daley’s saxophone was a highlight during many numbers – an essential element for many of Joel’s songs. Guitarist Evan Bloom kept it rocking all night! The camaraderie and collaboration among these musicians is clear and it seems they enjoy the show as much as the audience.
Before the show Santoro explained that the play list changes each performance based on the tenor of the crowd and the venue. The State Theater necessitates a high energy performance and the band got in to full swing right from the start with, “Movin-Out” followed by “Allentown.” The energy drove up again with the classic, “Pressure,” and a great drum solo by Rodriguez. Given Joel’s extensive catalogue of music, they were sure to bring some of the favorites: “My Life,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Big Shot,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” along with a Beatles rendition. The band ended the night with Joel’s timeless, “Piano Man.” Santoro graced us with an encore solo of, “Souvenir,” a song Joel plays at the end of concerts and at New Year Eve. The full band came back onstage and finished with a rousing version of “Captain Jack.” Throughout the night Santoro encouraged the audience to sing out and sing along making for a truly interactive experience.
Much like several of his band-mates, Santoro comes from a musical family both his late father along with his sister were singers. Santoro started out playing the drums and the guitar before switching over full-time to the piano. Santoro’s wife encouraged him to give the Billy Joel tribute a try and he has been going strong with it for ten years. Santoro also has a few shows with his good friend Ronnie Smith who sits in as Elton John for a dueling piano show. Santoro grew-up listening to WLIR on Long Island one of the early stations playing alternative 80s music and he lists U2, Rush and Genesis as some of his favorite 80s bands.
Santoro has the drive and energy of Joel, but comes across as a humble guy who is grateful all this worked out so he can continue to share Joel’s music. It warms Santoro’s heart to share in the experience with audiences that span several generations. He enjoys the story telling Joel’s songs portray and he describes the music as story-telling connection to the audience that paints a picture and Santoro brings this all to life. His drive and passion for the music is evident onstage. This great music is safe and in the capable hands of Santoro and we will be able to enjoy Billy Joel’s artistry for years to come.
To hear your favorite Billy Joel songs, and all the great music from the 80s, be sure to listen to 101the80’s!