All kinds of crazy stuff happens at the Red Onion on Mondays from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. It’s the open-mic-night scene.
Some people sound great; others sound horrible. People fall in love; people argue and fight. The place fills up rapidly and empties out just as quickly. The true live-music lovers stick around, swirling to the tunes and lining up the shots. It’s a mercurial environment, no matter what the season.
So it seemed somewhat plausible when, during my semi-regular visit two days ago, the rumor floated around after “Monday Night Football” ended that superstar piano man Billy Joel might be popping in to play. This was confirmed — sort of — by a friend of mine who was running the show. And as the night wore on, he kept asking people to stick around, as a “special guest” might be coming by to entertain.
A man who claimed a connection to Joel, wearing a suit and constantly working his cellphone, told me it was “very possible,” that Joel was in Aspen and might be coming by. And did we have a piano? So my friends got busy, and one of them went and got a huge keyboard, a little dusty but workable, and we proceeded to prepare for the arrival of Christie Brinkley’s ex-squeeze.
After all, if the historic building at 420 E. Cooper Ave. once hosted the likes of John Denver and Billie Holiday, why not the guy who didn’t start the fire?
Everything was in place by 12:30 a.m., and so we waited. And waited. And waited. In fact, we waited “for the longest time,” as one patron remarked with a chuckle.
The dark-suited guy, a regular patron who appreciates the local music scene, continued to work the phones and suggest that Joel was on the way. The anticipation among the 15 or so people in the bar was rising; some remained skeptical but interested. I got my tape recorder and camera ready in hopes of landing a big story. I wondered to myself what he would play — I was hoping for simple honky-tonk piano, while others in the crowd had visions of “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”
Well, you can probably guess the outcome. It was sad, weird, deflating — strange all around. Joel was a no-show, and that’s assuming that the deal was ever in the works. The crowd turned a little surly: Someone got on the microphone and belted out a few quick Billy Joel jokes. Another started singing “The Longest Time.” I felt a little sorry for the man who stepped on stage to play piano. Despite his talent, he could not placate the crowd and contain its barbs.
Was it all a hoax? Is Billy Joel in town? Was he considering dropping by? These are questions that really can’t be answered with any degree of certainty.
All I want to add is this: Billy, if you want to play at open-mic night in Aspen, just drop in and put your name on the list like everybody else, and we’ll accommodate you. There’s no need for games.