After almost 50 years of playing in Fresno, Elton John makes one final return

A glance at Elton John through the years as his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour blazes on

Elton John stops Jan. 15, 2019 at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, CA, on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. The piano-playing musician has been coming to Fresno since 1971, when he played Selland Arena.
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Elton John stops Jan. 15, 2019 at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, CA, on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. The piano-playing musician has been coming to Fresno since 1971, when he played Selland Arena.

To put Elton John’s career longevity in perspective, think on this:

If you were born the year the singer first played Fresno, you’d be almost 50 now — just in time to see his farewell tour Jan. 15 at the Save Mart Center.

Sir Elton played Selland Arena on May 12, 1971, before he was officially a knight. Tickets were $3-$5, according to an advertisement in The Fresno Bee on the day of the show.

There was festival-style seating on the arena floor.

The show did not sell out.

That’s how Robyn Marootian remembers it, anyway. She was 13 years old and found out about the show because it was posted up on the Convention Center’s marquee. Marootian would have her mother drive her past the convention center any time they were in Fresno visiting her father’s office after school.

It wasn’t her first concert and it certainly wasn’t her last. As she got older, and especially when she turned 16 and could drive, she would see concerts at Selland at least once a month. She still has the ticket stubs for most of the shows — the J. Geils Band and Deep Purple, Aerosmith.

Emerson Lake and Palmer was a particularly great show, she says.

As for Elton John, he was early in his career in 1971. He had a hit with “Your Song,” but it would be a year at least before he really took off with songs “Rocket Man,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and ”Bennie and the Jets.”

Those songs never impressed Marootian the way his earlier work did. She was more into Keith Emerson.

“I was really snobby back then, I guess,” she says.

Singer and composer Elton John announced on Wednesday that he will retire from the road after his upcoming three-year global tour, dubbed "Farewell Yellow Brick Road. The tour starts on 8 September in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It will consist of 30

It was close to three decades before John returned to Fresno.

By 1999, he’d become the Elton John; he of feathery glam-rock outfits and rock ‘n’ roll theatrics. But that’s not exactly what he brought to Selland Arena. He staged a three-hour solo performance, just John at the piano, running through the classics along the newer hits like “Circle of Life.”

That show was a sellout. More than 10,000 packed into Selland.

Elton John belts out a tune during his stop at Selland Arena in Fresno in May 1999. CRAIG KOHLRUSS Fresno Bee file

It was the same story two years later, when the singer returned to the arena, this time with his full band. Tickets sold out within hours of going on sale. This was back when people cued up to buy tickets at the venue. Numbered wristbands were given out the weekend before tickets went on sale, just to keep things orderly.

John returned again in 2003, this time to help christen the newly opened Save Mart Center. He was the second of four top-tier acts that played the arena’s first week.

He followed Andrea Bocelli.

It was a two-hour show with two encores and a 12-minute version of “Rocket Man,” according to a review in The Fresno Bee.

Marootian was also at that show, and remembers John’s utter showmanship throughout the night. “He had the crowd in the palm of his hand,” she says. When he finally played “Your Song,” (it was the second encore), it held the same emotional resonance as the first time Marootian saw him perform it.

Which brings us to the Farewell Yellow Brick tour, which runs through 2021 and includes some 300 shows, including Tuesday’s performance.

Pop musician Elton John enters the stage at the Save Mart Center for his concert on Saturday night November 8, 2003. Darrell Wong Fresno Bee file

Lisa Boyles will be seeing the concert with her 15-year old daughter.

It will be the second time she’s seen John live. The first was at the Oakland Coliseum in 1986 on his Ice on Fire tour.

It was the third rock show she’d seen. The first was Katrina and the Wave, who had one hit, “Walking on Sunshine.”

The second was Bruce Springsteen.

Neither prepared her for John’s show, with all the flamboyance and costume changes.

“There was nothing like that at the Springsteen show,” she says.

Boyles was a bit too young to see John in his ’70s heyday, but she got into his music in high school and it meant something to be able to share that with her daughter.

“He was like Ed Sheeran for me,” Boyles says.

Sheeran is her daughter’s favorite.

Elton John Farewell Yellow Brick road tour

8 p.m. Jan. 15

Save Mart Center


800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com

Meanwhile ...

Here are six other noteworthy events for the week.

“Burning” 5:30 and 8:45 p.m. Friday. Tower Theatre, 815 E. Olive Ave. 559-485-9050, fresnofilmworks.org

Reel Big Fish 7 p.m. Saturday. Strummer’s, 833 E. Fern Ave. $25. All ages. 559-485-5356, www.tickeyweb.com

Nappy Roots 7 p.m. Saturday. Full Circle Brewing Co., 620 F St. $16-$20, all ages. 559-264-6323, www.eventbrite.com

Tim Allen 8 p.m. Saturday. Saroyan Theatre, 730 M St. $70-$100. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com

“The King and I” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15-16. Saroyan Theatre, 730 M St. $34-$99. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com

The Four Tops 7 p.m. Jan. 15. Table Mountain Casino, 8184 Table Mountain Road, Friant. $25-$50. 559-822-7777, 800-541-3637, www.tmcasino.com

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Joshua Tehee covers breaking news, with a focus on entertainment and a heavy emphasis on the Central Valley music scene. You can see him share the area’s top entertainment options Friday mornings on KMPH’s “Great Day.”