Billy Joel Tribute Band the Turnstiles "Strike a Nerve" with Audiences
Frank Donnino Tony Monaco, in a Billy Joel state of mind
Billy Joel is just one on a long list that you've always wanted to see live, but can't afford it. That's why we all embrace tribute bands, especially the ones that are actually good. We're not talking cover bands in a bar. We mean guys and gals that put their heart into the artists' catalogs and build an act with the sole purpose of paying homage.
The Lake Worth Rocktober Brewfest is bringing in Eve 6 to town, but we've had enough '90s nostalgia to last another decade. The real perk, besides all the beer, is an almost true-to-life Billy Joel experience at a fraction of the wallet damage. Tony Monaco, a guy with a sales job during the day, morphs into the ultimate Joel replica at night, and he's torn through stages throughout Florida since 2011 as lead singer of the Turnstiles.
Before this Piano Man takes the stage at Brewfest, we chatted with Tony about his musical career, playing for drunk people, and what it really takes to emulate a great.
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New Times: You are in Florida now but are you from here?
Tony Monaco: No, I actually grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. And then I moved to Long Island, NY, and spent about 20 years there. I actually went there interested in a music career. I was fairly successful, got a record contract and some touring. But then I got married and went back to a day job, so to speak, and in and out of the music business, mainly part-time.
Actually, that is why I moved down here. I had a Billy Joel tribute band up there before tribute bands were a thing. I played in a band called Storm Front. We did really well around there. And then my "regular job" transferred me down here to Florida.
Are you playing full time now?
No, I'm not but it is getting bigger. Just to give you an idea, we played our debut show April 8, 2011. For a while I was just fighting to get stage time once a month just so we could play in front of people and get tighter. People get what we do. Now we are at a point were I am booked, not solid, but I have a heck of 2014 already. Stuff is happening now, like I had Royal Caribbean get in touch about doing nine weeks on two different cruise ships. But I am not to the point where I can commit to that much work. It's kind of the chicken and the egg right now. We are certainly reaching a tipping point. We know it is a very marketable product. It is just a matter of when do we jump off.
Since you have played in bands throughout the country, how do you think the local Florida music scene stacks up?
Any music scene that I have ever been involved in, and I spent time in LA, New York, and Pittsburgh, and obviously some traveling, I think it is kind of the same in that if you are in a major metropolitan area or near one, there's work. Different areas are more saturated with musicians. I really wasn't aware of how much talent was here when I first moved here. There is a lot of good talent in South Florida. I don't think that there are enough really good venues, although it is changing. It could always be better, but I think for me, the reason the tribute band thing is doing as well as it is, just in general, is that audiences know what they are going to get.
Turnstiles is the name of a 1970s Billy Joel record. So is that your preferred era or are you just all Joel?
No, we definitely cover it all. I just thought Turnstiles was a good name for a band. And doing some research on it, it's Billy Joel's favorite album. We do a good bit of songs off that album but we do songs from lots of albums. Songs for hardcore Joel fans and things that everyone knows.
Have you ever seen the movie Step Brothers?
No I haven't.
At the end they go to a big event and there is a Billy Joel cover band.
And they are called Uptown Girl and they only play '80s Joel.
It rings a bell now.
Do you ever experience something similar, like people complain about you not playing their favorite song?
I don't really think that I have ever gotten anything like that. I have gotten requests. I mean, I am a huge Billy Joel fan. And I did a lot of research to see "Hey, what does Billy play?"