The Piano Man and The Boss joined forces to celebrate a very special milestone, and PEOPLE was there to see it all.
Nearly 40 years after he made his debut there, Billy Joel took to the stage at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night for his record 100th show — a feat that earned him a spot in the history books as the artist with the most lifetime performances at the famed New York City venue.
It was a magical evening that was made only sweeter by the presence of Joel’s longtime friend Bruce Springsteen, who surprised audiences more than halfway through the 2-hour-plus concert by taking the stage for two spirited performances.
“We go back a long way,” Joel, 69, explained while introducing Springsteen, 68 — listing off the Oscar winner, Grammy winner, and Tony winner’s accomplishments.
Emerging from the back of the stage dressed in a black shirt and tight jeans, Springsteen was met with chants of “Bruce” from the enthusiastic crowd. He hugged Joel and congratulated his friend on his 100th show accomplishment before leading the band in a rendition of his 1975 classic “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”
He even jumped onto Joel’s piano, spinning around on it as it slowly rotated to give the stadium a peek at the action.
Later, Springsteen strapped on his guitar to sing 1975’s “Born to Run,” trading verses with Joel on the piano. He ended his set by hugging Joel and kissing him on the forehead before disappearing into the night.
Springsteen wasn’t the only special guest in the house on Wednesday night. Joel’s daughter Della Rose, who turns 3 on Aug. 12, joined her dad shortly after his opening number.
Dressed in a white dress with a tulle skirt and denim jacket, the tiny tot sat on her dad’s lap as a sea of creatives from Joel’s long career took the stage to be honored. Joel later played her favorite song, “Don’t Ask Me Why,” dedicating the track to her.
Wife Alexis was there too, standing by her husband and daughter’s side as a banner celebrating Joel’s 100th performance at The Garden rose to the ceiling. Earlier in the day, Governor Andrew Cuomo proclaimed July 18, 2018, as “Billy Joel Day” — his piano going on display in the front of the venue.
“Pretty crazy,” Joel told the crowd early on in the show, reflecting on his achievement. “This is beyond my wildest expectations. This is wacked!”
“It’s such a strange concept to me,” he later added before singing 1986’s “This Is the Time,” a special song he chose to mark the occasion. “I’ve done 100 shows at Madison Square Garden. Maybe it’ll hit me later…”
Joel played a 20-song set and a four-song encore, stacked with hits from his prolific and illustrious 20-year career.
The Long Island native’s music runs through the veins of those raised in the TriState area. Songs like “Big Shot,” “Movin’ Out,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Uptown Girl,” “New York State of Mind,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and of course, “Piano Man” had the crowd on their feet all night long — many singing along with Joel to every lyric.
They’re just some of the 33 Top 40 hits Joel had as a recording artist, all of which he wrote and three of which landed at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The 23-time Grammy winner has sold over 150 million records worldwide, including 1985’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2 — which falls behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller and The Eagles Greatest Hits has the best-selling album in history.
Among his many accolades, Joel’s a member of the Rock and Roll hall of Fame, a Kennedy Center honoree, and a winner of The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
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Since 2014, he’s played a sold-out monthly residency at The Garden — the first (and only) arena-sized residency in music history.
His first show at there was on Dec. 14, 1978. “That was a milestone,” Joel remembered in an interview with Newsday. “If someone would have projected that I would do 100 shows there, I would have laughed at them. I’d say, ‘You’re being ridiculous.’ “
“The audiences are great,” he added. “The venue is great. It’s a world-class venue. To have a residency there is a dream already. I never imagined that anyone could have a residency at The Garden. We’re a franchise. We’re like a sports team. The whole thing has just been one crazy, exhilarating night after another.”