April 21, 2000: Rock legend Elton John followed the “yellow brick road” to First Union Arena at Casey Plaza, but his journey to the Wilkes-Barre Twp. venue wasn’t a smooth one.
The bumps happened shortly after the February announcement that John would play the arena on Friday, April 21 — which also was Good Friday, a day for Christians to reflect on the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Following the concert announcement, the Most Rev. James C. Timlin, bishop of Scranton, spoke out publicly about the scheduling coincidence, saying that planning the show for that date was “an insulting spectacle to Christian living” and “a further erosion (of religion by) this whole worldly culture.” Timlin also suggested that promoters should not schedule concerts or events on major religious holidays.
“We understand and respect the position of Bishop Timlin and meant no disrespect by hosting this show,” Andy Long, the arena’s executive director, responded. “However, we are a public venue that is no different than all other businesses in the Wyoming Valley, like restaurants and movie theaters.”
The issue grew. People shared their opinions in letters to the editor in The Scranton Times, some agreeing with Timlin. Some of those who disagreed with the bishop brought up the fact how, in the past, Timlin offered dispensation from eating meat on a Friday if the day also happened to be St. Patrick’s Day.
In the end, Good Friday arrived, and the show went on. The arena was filled to capacity with enthusiastic fans ready to rock with the “Rocketman.”
John opened the show by playing “Your Song” and followed with many of his hits, including “Daniel,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” “Crocodile Rock” and “Candle in the Wind.” He also performed songs from the films “The Lion King” (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”) and “The Road to El Dorado” (“Someday, Out of the Blue”). Additionally, John paid tribute to the students and teachers killed in the shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, by performing his 1974 song “Ticking.”
John returned to the area later that year with another performance at the arena in October. This time, the show was a warm-up for an upcoming appearance at Madison Square Garden to record a live album called “Elton John — One Night Only: The Greatest Hits Live.” Long called the return visit “a tribute to the fans of Northeastern Pennsylvania and the reception he received in April.”
After the two performances in 2000, John returned to the arena in October 2008, April 2011 and September 2016. In September 2018, John kicked off his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Global Tour” at the PPL Center in Allentown.
Fans can catch a new biopic about John starting this Friday, May 31, in theaters. “Rocketman” stars Taron Egerton as John, Jaime Bell as Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as John Reid and Bryce Dallas Howard as Sheila.
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