Billy Joel show prompts mixed reviews of SunTrust Park as concert venue

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Fans wait to get inside SunTrust Park Friday night for Billy Joel, the first concert held at the baseball stadium. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene

(Click here to read a review of Billy Joel’s concert at SunTrust Park.)

(Update May 1, 2017: Braves brass responds to fans’ complaints)

This post was originally filed on April 29, 2017

Much like the Atlanta Braves’ opening day at SunTrust Park earlier this month, the first concert held at the venue prompted mixed reactions.

Those who arrived hours early on Friday were greeted by impossible lines at all of the restaurants in The Battery. While most Billy Joel concertgoers busied themselves on their phones and bobbed their heads to the innocuous B-52s and Wham! songs being spun by DJs under the Georgia Power Pavilion as they waited, others sighed impatiently, somewhat incredulous at the packed eateries.

Fans who ditched the idea of a restaurant meal headed inside the stadium to…more lines — regardless of the concourse, the food selection or the fact that it was still 90 minutes before Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness would open the night of music.

By the time Joel took the stage shortly after 9 p.m., two commodities, hot dogs and bottled water, were absent from the 100 level and field seats, respectively, according to several fans.

Fans on the field level of SunTrust Park sing along to Billy Joel. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video

But some in the sold-out crowd of more than 37,000 gave a thumbs-up to the ballpark.

John Levinson, 53, of Brookhaven, said he enjoyed the “intimate setting” of SunTrust Park. “The staging and lighting were a home run, and while Billy looked aged, he had great stamina and had a lot of fun engaging with the crowd during his ‘fielder’s choices’ of songs…I felt he just hit it out of the park.”

Despite some notes getting lost in the air – the norm at any stadium concert – the sound was strikingly clean from various vantage points, including the 300 and 400 levels. A few fans disagreed on social media, with one complaining that the sound “stunk” on the 200 level and another saying there was too much reverb at his section on the 100 level.

In addition to the (mostly/depending upon where you sat) crisp sound, live video monitors near the concession stands were a welcome accoutrement for those having to bide their time to buy a soda.

“As far as stadiums go, it’s a good venue,” said Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, which promoted the concert. “It’s built in a way that’s more show-friendly than most (stadiums).

Conlon, who noted that Joel spent much of Friday afternoon hanging with his crew at the ballpark, credits the “crescent shape” of the seating area to create a cozier vibe.

“Billy is about as hot as you can get right now,” Conlon said, mentioning Joel’s string of ballpark sellouts around the country and his residency at Madison Square Garden. “This is a great show to open with.”

Smyrna resident Gerry Maurice, who has seen Joel perform at that MSG residency, enjoyed the excitement of the larger venue, but felt the stadium staff was “not organized,” though she praised the quick golf cart service that aided her trek from parking lot Braves 11.

Navigating the signage and gates proved challenging for the 75-year-old, and an hour-plus wait to exit the parking lot with her two daughters after the show had her saying “never again.”

At least the staff has a few months to knead out the kinks until the Metallica concert at SunTrust Park in July.

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