Adding to a balanced ninth-year program, the Savannah Philharmonic, with some special guests, will present a pops concert featuring the music of Sir Elton John and Billy Joel on Feb. 23.

As the Philharmonic continues its upshot of growth, they have worked to include a variety in the schedule between more traditional orchestral music and popular music.

"We always try to have a healthy mix of the pops and the classics," said Terri O'Neil, executive director of the Savannah Philharmonic. "This town really loves pop."

For this high-energy pops show, the Philharmonic is teaming up with Piano Men.

Joe Boucher and Christopher Eastburn began their musical journey together writing for a children's theater in Portland, Maine, over two decades ago. The two parted ways for different career paths for several years. While working with the Portland Symphony, Boucher had an idea for a traveling show.

"I sort of semi-retired from performing," Boucher said. "Bands split up and I was getting married and starting a family and doing all the grown-up things.

"In my capacity working for the Portland Symphony, I was seeing different kinds of pop shows coming through, integrating symphony music with popular music. The light bulb went off. I thought this could be an interesting way to get back into playing and do something on a scale that I haven't in the past."

He reached out to Eastburn with the idea of putting together an Elton John and Billy Joel show that would work with a symphony. Eastburn studied music composition in graduate school, and so had the educational background to write arrangements suitable for such a show. Piano Men was born.

"Billy and Elton have these giant fan bases and there are a lot of communities that an artist of their caliber don't get to, because they're playing the bigger cities," Boucher said. "It's a thrill for us to be able to bring that music to people who ordinarily wouldn't get to hear it live. As a piano player, playing in rock bands through the teenage years, that's your Mozart and Beethoven. That's the canon. That's what you learn."

Inspired in part by a traveling show called the Classical Mystery Tour, a Beatles tribute that is paired with orchestras, Boucher had the foundation. For the first show - which the duo self-financed - the addition of Joel's touring drummer, Liberty DeVitto, to the live lineup helped shape the show's final arrangements.

"As a performer, when we were first conceptualizing, I ended up being drawn to ballads and things that feel lush and comfortable and elevated," Boucher said. "Having played in rock bands all of my life, people have heard the crunchy stuff; I want to hear this stuff.

"When we ended up booking Liberty DeVitto to play, we went through the setlist and said, well, we've got one of the best rock drummers America has ever seen playing with us. Let's make it a rock show. We started going in. I love the song, 'Vienna,' from 'The Stranger,' but I am pulling it out. We're going to put in 'Pressure' from 'The Nylon Curtain,' because Liberty shined on that.

"Liberty is not playing with us anymore. It was such an exciting thing for us to say, let's bring our attitude to that. It's a really high-energy show. It's not elevator music. It's not light orchestral arrangements. It's a rock show."

This won't be Savannah Philharmonic conductor and artistic director Peter Shannon's first show with Piano Men. A couple of years ago, he worked with them for a concert with the Jackson Symphony, of which Shannon is also the conductor and artistic director.

"Peter performed with this trio and found it to be all the things we want it be," O'Neil said. "Electrifying. Engaging. High-energy."

"Expect a rock show," Boucher added. "We don't do the kind of look-alike costume tribute band thing, which there is a lot of that out there. God love the people who are into that and want to do that. We try to be very faithful to the way people know the songs without doing impressions."


What: "Piano Men: The Music of Billy Joel and Elton John"

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23

Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.

Cost: $15-$80