BILLY JOEL gave Buffalo's sagging concert scene a major boost this week.
With two sold-out Aud concerts in six days, the Piano Man became the first act to post consecutive sellouts since Bruce Springsteen did it nearly five years ago.
"It's great to be back in Buffalo," Joel said Saturday at his concert in Memorial Auditorium.
Judging by ticket sales, the feeling is mutual. More than 32,000 people will catch Joel's two performances, according to a spokesman for the Aud.
"Buffalo's gotten a bad rap, it's not as bad a town to play as everybody likes to believe," said Stuart Green, president of Magic City Productions in Binghamton.
The biggest acts -- the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, for example -- have bypassed Buffalo in recent years.
Green said the problems of previous local promoters who are no longer in the business have hurt Buffalo's reputation among major acts.
"They had some problems," he said, "but things are changing."
Magic City is promoting Joel's concerts and they have filled Memorial Auditorium twice, even with a $24 ticket charge for all seats.
Thursday night's show is sold out, as was Joel's Saturday performance.
Memorial Auditorium -- which experienced a slump in concert business during the 1980s -- has been attracting bigger name talent in recent months and hopes to add more in the future, said Aud director George Gould.
Recent Aud acts included Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, who drew about 12,000 fans, and MC Hammer,who also drew close to 12,000. Coming acts include ZZ Top on Feb 1. Negotiations are underway for Neil Young, Sting, INXS and David Lee Roth.
"We're doing better, but these things run in cycles," said Gould.
"The big acts are interested in coming here because we have a big house," he said, noting that last year Neil Diamond drew more than 17,000 fans to one concert.
He also said the Aud will be more competitive in attracting acts in the summer, because of the newly installed air-conditioning system.
Right now, though, his biggest concern is getting superstars to play Buffalo this time of year.
"A lot of the big names don't want to come to the Northeast during the winter because of the weather," Gould said. He added that one of the major problems in recent years has been finding a local promoter to bring the major acts in on a consistent basis.
Irwin and Monique Pate of Prime Seats, a ticket agency, are trying to fill that bill. Last month they brought two major acts to the Aud with lukewarm results. The rock group Heart, appearing with Cheap Trick, drew about 7,400 fans and country star Randy Travis attracted about 6,000, Irwin Pate said.
"There are a lot of variables," he said. "We brought Randy Travis right after Kenny and Dolly and then Heart was here just before Billy Joel. I think the acts were too similar, and it hurt our attendance."
Pate likes the Aud. "They did a nice job with the renovation and it's a good venue," he said. "Now, with air conditioning we're going to try and bring acts in here all year 'round. It's got to help."
The audience is out there, Pate believes. "You see what Billy Joel has done and you know the people will come. The big stars always do well. With the others, it's a matter of promotion and publicity."
Pate said he is aggressively pursuing rock and contemporary music acts. "I think we've finally reached the point where we can bring the big acts in here," he said. "Then it's up to the people to support them, and I think they will."
That was the case this week with Billy Joel. He had no cold-weather trouble here. Last week he and his band were snowed in after a concert in Des Moines, Iowa.
Weather isn't the only obstacle Joel has battled recently. His life has become a People magazine soap opera but that hasn't hurt his music or personal appearances.
His current album, "Storm Front," is already triple-platinum and is still burning up the charts.
Joel is in the middle of a 16-month tour to support the album. Why does he work so hard?
In a word: money.
Joel claimed in a lawsuit that his former manager, Frank Weber, his former brother-in-law, misspent or stole $30 million.
But don't feel sorry for Joel. Last year he not only earned a reported $32 million but he can add to that the income of his wife, Christie Brinkley, a successful model.
"Billy Joel is a terrific entertainer and he doesn't tour that much," Green said. "It's a special event and people want to see him. His music attracts a wide audience, from kids to middle agers."