Just as Bon Jovi has done for 40 years, musicians came to rock at the Los Angeles Convention Center Friday night (Feb. 2) as the band’s namesake, Jon Bon Jovi, was honored at MusiCares 33rd Person of the Year annual gala.
The honoree himself set the tone for the night, opening the evening with “Legendary,” the propulsive first single from the band’s forthcoming album that sounds like a classic Bon Jovi track. “As I look out here at all you tuxedoed executives, I remind you this is a Bon Jovi concert,” Jon Bon Jovi said. “We don’t sit down.”
And there was certainly no sitting as Bon Jovi then introduced Bruce Springsteen, calling him “my mentor, my hero, my brother, my friend,” as the audience of more than 2,000 began chanting the requisite “BRUUUUUUCE.” Springsteen’s participation had been in doubt after his 98-year old mother, Adele, died on Wednesday (Jan. 31).
As Bon Jovi later explained, when Springsteen — MusiCares Person of the Year in 2013 — first got the news about his mother, he was already on a plane to Los Angeles. “I certainly would have understood if he’d said that he couldn’t make it,” Bon Jovi said, “but he wanted to be here tonight for MusiCares. And he wanted to be here tonight for me. And I’m forever grateful to you.
The two most famous musicians from New Jersey (perhaps other than Frank Sinatra) ripped into spirited renditions of Bon Jovi’s 2006 hit “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” which boasts Springsteenean “Alrights” in the chorus, and Springsteen’s “Promised Land,” with Bon Jovi playing Springsteen’s trademark harmonica parts before the Boss joined in for a little harmonica duet at the end.
Among those singing along in the audience were Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, MSNBC host Ari Melber, frequent Bon Jovi collaborator Desmond Child, Rita Wilson, Carly Pearce, Gayle King, Nile Rodgers and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul. The latter pair made the rounds earlier in the evening, schmoozing with Bon Jovi, 2012 MusiCares honoree Paul McCartney and Springsteen.
Bon Jovi then sat down, flanked for much of the evening by Springsteen and McCartney, as a constellation of artists took the stage to deliver some of the most beloved anthems in the arena rock canon from the past 40 years. With more than 150 million albums sold, including 12 times platinum rock juggernaut Slippery When Wet, and nearly 20 top 40 hits, there was no shortage of familiar material to draw from.
Melissa Etheridge, joined by Larkin Poe had the tough task of following Bon Jovi and Springsteen, but proved more than up to the challenge with a sizzling version of Jon Bon Jovi’s No. 1 solo hit, “Blaze of Glory,” from the 1990 film Young Guns ll. Train’s Pat Monahan delivered a stylish take on 2000’s driving hit, “It’s My Life”; Shania Twain turned in a dramatic reading of ballad “Bed of Roses”; Sammy Hagar was joined by guitar slinger Orianthi for Bon Jovi’s first No. 1, 1986’s “You Give Love A Bad Name”; and Jason Isbell pulled out a double neck guitar, similar to the one sported by former band member Richie Sambora, on the iconic “Wanted Dead or Alive.” While many acts pulled from the multi-platinum group’s ’80s and ’90s era, the Goo Goo Dolls dipped into more recent fare, taking on the title track from 2016’s This House is Not for Sale.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan served as a nimble and often hilarious host, good naturedly roasting Jon Bon Jovi for his ’80s fashion and even more so for his ’80s big hair, and even taking to the stage in a replica of a trademark beefcake poster of Jon Bon Jovi from the ’80s in a cut-off Jack Daniels T-shirt, obscenely short denim shorts and a wig with a shocking amount of teased, flowing blond locks. As he sarcastically noted of the ridiculously photogenic Bon Jovi, “You have to wonder where he would have gotten if he was good looking.”
Later, he suggested that Bon Jovi, McCartney and Springsteen, as well as table mate, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, could form a new iteration of The Traveling Wilburys, with Kraft on lead vocals.
Additionally, a new generation of artists equipped themselves well taking on songs that they had likely grown up with or heard their parents play. Best new artist nominee Jelly Roll delivered a growly, rollicking “Bad Medicine,” while taking advantage of the playing before a room full of powerful music industry executives to spread a message about an issue close to his heart, drug addiction. The country artist, who spoke at a congressional hearing in support of an anti-fentanyl bill in January, sported a jacket with facts about drug addiction, including one across his back that read “190 people a day overdose and die in the United States of America.”
A pigtailed Lainey Wilson followed with a spirited “We Weren’t Born to Follow,” while Måneskin’s charismatic frontman Damiano David performed a propulsive “Keep the Faith.” Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH delivered a pounding “Have A Nice Day,” and guitar wiz Marcus King showed off his blazing fret work on “Born to Be My Baby.”
Playing on the round, revolving B-stage in the middle of the audience, best new artist nominees The War and Treaty gave one of the evening’s most inspired performances at times singing directly to each other with an elevated, emotional take of “I’ll Be There For You,” Bon Jovi’s 1989 tale of devotion that husband and wife team Michael and Tonya Trotter should definitely consider cutting for their next album. Also utilizing the smaller space to great effect was 17-time Grammy nominee Brandy Clark with a beautiful rendition of 2007’s “(You Want to) Make a Memory.”
The evening also included video tributes from Matthew McConaughey, John Mayer, P!nk, Ed Sheeran and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who praised Bon Jovi for “his everyday commitment to [help] other people.” Bon Jovi’s myriad philanthropic efforts include the JBJ Soul Foundation, which has built close to 1,000 units of affordable housing, and JBJ Soul Kitchens, which operate on a pay-it-forward model where those in need volunteer for their meals at the kitchen while paying customers are asked to make a donation that will cover their meal as well as the meal of someone in need.
Kraft, who first met Bon Jovi on the sidelines at the 1997 Super Bowl (“In a game we lost,” he noted), presented Bon Jovi with his award, praising the honoree for his business acumen and social consciousness.
“Unlike the majority of artists and performers, who understandably, are insular, Jon’s always had an empathy for the world at large,” Kraft said. “And he’s shown that impact as a philanthropist. He has used his platform as a global rock star and paired it with his own money and operating skill and created the Soul Foundation… building a model program for solving the vicious cycle of hunger, poverty and homelessness that has now been copied by many others.” He also praised the son of two Marines for his long-lasting marriage to his high school sweetheart, Dorothea.
After thanking Springsteen and McCartney (saying to the Beatle, “I think it’s fair to say that the reason most, if not all, of us are in the room tonight, is because of you.”), Bon Jovi quickly noted that this award wouldn’t have been possible without those around him. “Everything that I’ve accomplished with or without the band or in my philanthropic life has had the support of my family, my friends, bandmates, collaborators and an army of the willing, who’ve been ready to take my dreams and make them a reality,” he said.
He also praised the ability of music as the “common thread” that “moves us when we’re happy and it comforts us when we’re sad and brings us together.” He then spoke of recently buying back his first electric guitar that he sold in 1979 for $100. With his newly reclaimed guitar back in his hands, “the first thing I did was held it, cradled it, really, and then wrote a song… another thing I’ve come to know is that every time that I strum my guitar, I’m reminded that I have a best friend for life. That instrument will never let you down.”
Bon Jovi then thanked MusiCares for providing assistance to those musicians not as fortunate as himself, who have needed a helping hand. Since 1991, MusiCares has handed out more than $110 million to provide essential support for programs and services assisting the music community, including physical and mental health, addiction recovery, preventive clinics, unforeseen personal emergencies, and disaster relief.
Ending by saying, “the 18-year-old in me wants to sing with everybody else,” Bon Jovi called his band back to the stage, including keyboardist David Bryan and drummer Tico Torres, as well all the evening’s participating artists (minus Springsteen) to perform the group’s beloved anthem and 1986 Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper “Living on a Prayer.” Jon Bon Jovi roamed the stage, hugging and trading lyrics with many of the performers to close the evening.
See the MusiCares Salute to Jon Bon Jovi set list below:
“Legendary,” Bon Jovi
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen
“The Promised Land,” Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen
“Blaze of Glory,” Melissa Etheridge and Larkin Poe
“Bad Medicine,” Jelly Roll
“We Weren’t Born to Follow,” Lainey Wilson
“It’s My Life,” Pat Monahan
“Bed of Roses,” Shania Twain
“Wanted Dead or Alive,” Jason Isbell
“Keep the Faith,” Damiano David
“This House is Not for Sale,” Goo Goo Dolls
“I’ll Be There for You,” The War and Treaty
“Have a Nice Day,” Mammoth WVH
“(You Want To) Make a Memory,” Brandy Clark
“Living on a Prayer,” Bon Jovi and guests