Boston Piano Kid meets Piano Man: 13-year-old Athol native played with Billy Joel during sold-out show at Fenway Park

  • Submitted photoAthol native Bradley Bartlett-Roche, right, plays with Billy Joel at Fenway Park on Aug. 8. A successful Twitter campaign got Bartlett-Roche, known as the "Boston Piano Kid" due to his weekend performances in Faneuil Hall, on stage with his idol. They performed "Root Beer Rag."

  • Bradley Bartlett-Roche, 13, of Athol, at his studio at his family's home Monday, September 12. Bartlett-Roche, who recently performed at Fenway Park with Billy Joel, performs every weekend outside Faneuil Hall in Boston. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Bradley Bartlett-Roche, 13, of Athol, plays his piano at his family's home Monday, September 12. Bartlett-Roche, who recently performed at Fenway Park with Billy Joel, performs every weekend outside Faneuil Hall in Boston. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Bradley Bartlett-Roche, 13, of Athol, at his studio at his family's home Monday, September 12. Bartlett-Roche, who recently performed at Fenway Park with Billy Joel, performs every weekend outside Faneuil Hall in Boston. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

  • Bradley Bartlett-Roche, 13, of Athol, plays his piano at his family's home Monday, September 12. Bartlett-Roche, who recently performed at Fenway Park with Billy Joel, performs every weekend outside Faneuil Hall in Boston. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt—Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/30/2016 1:31:08 PM

Bradley Bartlett-Roche can now say he has played at Fenway Park. But he wasn’t sporting a Rawlings baseball glove or a Louisville Slugger bat. He had his keyboard. And he wasn’t under the wing of Red Sox manager John Farrell — it was music legend Billy Joel.

Bradley, a 13-year-old Athol native who goes by the stage name Bradley James, took to social media to lobby for a chance to share a stage with his idol. Known as “The Boston Piano Kid” for his weekend performances busking in Faneuil Hall, Bradley realized his dream and performed the seventh song with Joel in a sold-out show at Fenway on Aug. 18.

“It was the best moment of my life,” he said, describing his hero as, “the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.”

Bradley repeatedly reached out to Joel via Twitter for an opportunity to play with him, and eventually David Rosenthal, Joel’s keyboardist and music director, invited Bradley to the show. Bradley was allowed to pick the song he played with Joel and selected his favorite, “Root Beer Rag,” a fast-paced ragtime-style tune.

“There’s something about it you don’t hear much in music. It’s a really incredible song,” he said. “(Joel) puts something in his music that I haven’t heard any other artist really capture. It makes his music so much more personal.”

Bradley hung out backstage with 23-year-old brother, Nick, and manager, Richard Ladroga, before joining Joel. Bradley’s mother, Victoria, said he was received with thunderous applause and a standing ovation from the more than 40,000 people in attendance.

“Billy announced him as ‘this talented guy,’ so the audience had no idea,” she said. “So when Bradley walked out on stage, a 13-year-old kid, the crowd went wild.”

Bradley and his family had about a month’s notice before he took the stage with Joel — and he got to prepare in style during an advanced five-week summer program at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he required special permission to attend due to his age — the program is typically for students 15 to 18. While at Berklee, he studied piano and tenor saxophone and was selected as the solo keyboardist for the Berklee College of Music All-Star Rock Band.

“It went by too fast. It was an incredible experience,” he said at his family home, wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of his dream college. “It’s nice to be around people that are like-minded like you. They like the same things.”

There were more than 1,000 young people in the program, though he had to live in an off-campus apartment instead of the dormitories, due to his age. But age hasn’t been much of a factor for Bradley. Victoria, a music therapist who works from a studio in the family home, said Bradley started learning piano at age 2.

“Bradley was born with a gift,” she said sitting next to her youngest son on the gazebo behind the house. “We just have nurtured it. When he was 4, he performed in his first public concert, which was a wedding.”

A freshman at Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham, Bradley has considered enrolling in some of the school’s music programs, but his own performances make him hesitant to commit. His next benefit concert is scheduled for The Victoria Alviti Music Foundation in Rhode Island on Sunday, Oct. 2. Also, Bradley plans to head to New York next month to be the music protégé of David Rosenthal, Joel’s music director and keyboardist.

The family’s home, off the beaten path, seems like an artist’s ideal refuge. The post-and-beam log house, cedar-sided with burgundy trim, sits on a former 5-acre pine grove nestled gently in south Athol with a picturesque view of White Pond. Bradley has a musical sanctuary inside, in a section of a post and beam home known as a great room, which holds the tools of his trade.

A giant wooden saxophone-wearing bear, carved by local artists, keeps a watchful eye over Bradley’s guitars, keyboard, Jupiter sax and shiny Yamaha piano. He sits at his piano and punches the keys to an elaborate tune, the way a lesser mortal might play “Hot Cross Buns.”

Bradley also sings, plays harmonica and is learning the accordion.

One of the great room’s walls is adorned with photographs of Bradley with admirers of his performances at Faneuil Hall. His Boston journey started a few years ago, when his family traveled to the big city for “Play Me, I’m Yours,” a street pianos event created by British artist Luke Jerram. It is an internationally touring artwork in which pianos are placed throughout a city for passersby to play.

Bradley said a lady saw him play one of the pianos and encouraged him to try out to become a Faneuil Hall Marketplace street performer. Bradley auditioned and became the youngest performer selected in the history of Faneuil Hall.

Victoria and Bradley’s father, Paul, make the three-hour trip with their son every weekend. His schedule is determined on a monthly basis.

It’s not uncommon for dozens of people to swarm around Bradley, who has a tip jar with a sign asking people to help him pay his future Berklee tuition.

“I love being there,” he said. “I get to meet people from all over the world, and everybody’s really supportive. It’s a really amazing experience.”

Bradley said there is no culture shock going from tiny Athol to big Boston. His mother said music helps her son connect to the world around him.

“His thing, since he was very young, has been, ‘I just want my music to make a difference. I just want to make people smile,’” she said. “So, wherever he is, it doesn’t matter what town you’re in, what country you’re in, it’s universal.”

Bradley’s CD, “Bermuda Love,” featuring songs about everything he loves about the island he has visited, can be ordered on his website: bradleybartlettroche.com

The young artist can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

You can reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 258. On Twitter: @DomenicPoli


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