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Elton John will give his final performance at the Glastonbury Festival


Today is one for the history books - Sir Elton John is giving his final U.K. performance when he headlines the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England, this evening. The 76-year-old is about to give up touring for good next month, much to the chagrin of his British super fans. In another era, you might have called them groupies. Reporter Rebecca Rosman has this tribute from London.

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: Paul Smith remembers that first moment like it was yesterday.

PAUL SMITH: I was 8 years old. This was November 1972. And Elton John happened to be on that Royal Variety show that evening. And I was just totally taken by everything.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Good evening to you from the Palladium Theatre in London. We welcome now a young English singer who has traveled all the way from the West Coast of America to be here tonight.

SMITH: He was wearing a very shiny kind of green suit.


SMITH: No, sorry, it wasn't a green suit. It was a stripey kind of silver, red and blue suit with a top hat on.


ELTON JOHN: (Singing) I remember when rock was young. Me and Suzie had so much fun.

SMITH: And he had all these sort of like - he had this tap dancer man come on. And it was just incredible, the whole sort of thing.

ROSMAN: Maybe it was the stripy, glittery suit paired with platform boots. Maybe it was the falsetto hook in the la-la-las (ph) singalong bit of the "Crocodile Rock" or the upbeat piano chords. Whatever it was, Paul wasn't just hooked. The direction of his life changed.


JOHN: (Singing) I never knew me a better time, and I guess I never will.

ROSMAN: He started collecting records, thousands of pieces of memorabilia. He even opened his own record shop in Salisbury, England, that he still runs today. Then there were the live shows - oh, so many live shows - that have taken him all over the world.

SMITH: I've been to 78 shows, and then when I go to Stockholm in July to see the final show of the farewell tour, it will be my 79th show.

ROSMAN: Next month's Stockholm gig may be the last act of Elton John's epic five-year farewell tour. But for British fans like Smith, the final leg of U.K. performances over this past month have carried a special weight, even if the U.S. is where the "Rocket Man" got his first big break.

ADRIAN EVANS: This was where it all started at the very beginning.

ROSMAN: This being London's Soho district. I'm at a park with 34-year-old Adrian Evans. He's only been to a handful of live shows, but he is a super fan nonetheless, with an encyclopedic knowledge of Elton John history. He tells me Soho is where John started working as a tea boy at a local record company, then met his writing partner Bernie Taupin, ultimately recording their first big hit at a studio not too far away from where we are sitting.


ROSMAN: Evans says it was his mom who introduced him to Elton John and his music when he was just a kid. And that discovery, he says, has helped him get through so much in his life.

EVANS: I remember growing up at school being an awkward autistic teenager who could - at 14 or 15, could name pretty much every Elton John song, every Elton John B-side, and no one else knew them.

ROSMAN: That is, until he discovered Elton John chat forums on the internet in the early 2000s.

EVANS: And I remember thinking, wow, I'm not the only one who knows that song.

JANE BEHRMAN: It just escalated once social, you know, media started - social media. I've met very close friends that I've known for 20 years, 30 years.

ROSMAN: That's super fan Jane Behrman, who has been to live shows everywhere from Tokyo to New York. Her last Elton John concert was in Birmingham earlier this month.


JOHN: (Singing) And I think it's going to be a long, long time till touchdown brings me around again to find I'm not the man they think I am at home.

BEHRMAN: I looked at the band, and I felt a bit sad. I looked at them all and thought, God, I'm never going to see you all together again. You know, it's hard.

ROSMAN: Plus, the live shows haven't been just about the music itself, Behrman says. It's about the community of friends she's made over the years and trips all over the world. Super fan Paul Smith agrees.

SMITH: But having said that, we've got all the videos, we've got all the back catalogue of his music, and I don't think it will be the end.

ROSMAN: Maybe there will be the occasional live gig here and there, but it's undeniably the end of this era for these Elton John super fans.


JOHN: (Singing) So goodbye yellow brick road where the dogs of society howl...

ROSMAN: For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in London.


JOHN: (Singing) ...Penthouse. I'm going back to my plough. Back to the howling old owl in the woods... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Rosman