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Keeping the faith

Features
August 19, 2019

The band apparently took around 15 years of touring across North America before the getting their first record break and that probably havs a lot to do with Bon Jovi’s enduring popularity and sheer professionalism, although these days it’s at stadium level and on a global scale, Johnny Black reports

Jon is very clever,” says British born Chris Dalston at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in Los Angeles.

As Bon Jovi’s agent for close to 30 years, Dalston should know.

“He understands his business better than anybody I know. He wants to know the people he’s working with, he wants to know what he’s doing at every stage, he understands how it all works but, once he’s satisfied about those aspects, he walks away and trusts the people around him to execute it all.”

This level of attention to detail has, no doubt, helped power Bon Jovi’s current  world-spanning trek, the This House Is Not For Sale Tour, through its six legs and a grand total of 95 shows, set to wind up on 2 October at the Estadio Nacional del Peru (cap. 45,000) in Lima.

“Jon’s running a multi-million dollar business, he is the CEO of his own corporation, so it’s right that he should always know where the money is going,” says Dalston.

“There’s so much money being made on touring now that anyone in his position wants to know where it is going. Touring has become increasingly important because it’s the one aspect of the music industry that can’t be replicated. There’s no experience that can give you a kick quite like going out to a live concert.”

This tour started on 8 February 2017 at America’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena (14,564) in Greenville, South Carolina, where the $1.6m box office gross was not untypical of the kind of business the tour has done since then.

“It was always planned that the tour would run into 2019,” states Dalston. “At the end of this year we’ll be going to South America and, hopefully we’ll carry on in 2020, but that might well be with a new album.”

At that opening show in Greenville, Melissa Ruggieri of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper summed the show up, saying, “While this isn’t Bon Jovi’s flashiest tour, it solidifies their standing as one of rock’s most resilient acts.”

Matthew Hales, senior project manager at the Pennsylvania-based stage set specialist Tait, confirms that their creation for this tour, “was a testament to the roots of our approach to touring and operational efficiencies. There wasn’t a lot of flash and spectacle.

“It was more about taking what we have perfected over the years with the band and the way they interface with the stage,” he explains. “Allowing them to really focus on what everyone is there to see, and that’s them.”

However much the band wanted the focus to be on their music, without lighting noone would see anything.  Multinational PRG Light and Sound Design has been illuminating Bon Jovi for almost 30 years, and their marketing co-ordinator Aanand Ewins recalls how, “with Bon Jovi it has always been very large projects, each completely different creatively and with different challenges.

“For this particular tour we supplied an eight-person crew led by Tim Probert. Followspots were really important. Our Tarantula and Spiider lights were really good visually during the daylight part of the show, but actually, lighting played a supporting role to video on this tour.  It was a large-screened and 4k camera system, with the lights complementing the big screen show.”

Bon Jovi’s production and lighting designer Spike Brant said recently, “The brief was to simplify and move away from spectacle and focus on the music. We sought to give voice to the honest, introspective, uplifting message that the man and his music bring to the fans. To do that, we wanted to strip away the distractions of the production, but still present a dynamic show.”

Clearly, the intention from the off was to focus on the music rather than on dazzling pyrotechnics or lavish sets, but it was nevertheless a massive juggernaut that rolled out across the globe.

“Depending on which shows were being played,” reveals UK-based site manager Keith Wood, “we had up to 73 trucks on the road.”

Wood, who has worked several times with Bon Jovi since 2006, and has worked with acts such as the Rolling Stones, Celine Dion and Jay-Z, came aboard this tour for its current leg, starting with the 31 May concert at Russia’s Luzhniki Stadium (81,000) in Moscow.

“That just needed three trucks, because they only took essentials    – the back-line, the stage set, instruments, mixing desk – with them and used local sound and lights.”

For the rest of Europe’s 20 dates, however, “We had four steel systems leap-frogging, so I was working between two different systems for a while,” recalls Wood. “It takes three days to build that stage, followed by a show day and a day to take it out, so you need multiple stages to be able to do more than one show a week.

“When we got to Wembley Stadium (80,994) in the UK, our Stageco stage remained there for most of the summer and was used by The Spice Girls, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel and the Eagles, because there wasn’t time to take ours out and put theirs in. It’s a very economical way for everybody to do it all round.”

Each of the four steel teams aims to deliver one show per week. “I’d have 13 Stageco stage builders, then we hire additional local crew – scaffolders, climbing riggers, fork-lift drivers and such – via the promoter,” explains Wood. “Then, when the sound and lights arrive on the morning of the show, they have another 100-odd crew just for that, and they’d take it all out that night. Then we go in at 3am and start taking the stage down.

“It might cost you an extra 15 trucks and extra steel guys to build it,” concedes Wood, “but it’s worth it because of the additional shows it enables you to play.”

It’s universally agreed that the Bon Jovi crew, led by tour director Paul Korzilius, is among the best in the business. Korzilius has been front and centre with Bon Jovi for 31 years, but he too has acknowledged that Jon is, “the leader of the band, and the quarterback of the team. He’s the captain of the ship and everybody is a member of that team or members of that crew that run that ship around the world.

“You need a quarterback, otherwise you’re not going to be able to win any football game.”

But even the best team and the most dynamic leadership, cannot predict every potential glitch. Wood well remembers how just one missed ferry crossing, right at the start of the tour, created mayhem.

“Immediately before our very first show, we did a test build of the stage in a field next to the Stageco HQ in Tildonk, Belgium, so we could see exactly what it required. And while we were doing that, Stageco had all the staging for Metallica, Take That and Rammstein in the car park, all ready to go. There were literally hundreds of trucks lined-up, ready to go all round Europe.”

Once Wood was satisfied with the test build, “We had to get to the first show at Estonia’s Song Festival Grounds (75,000) in Tallinn for 2 June. One absolutely essential truck, with the base of all the scaffolding, missed the ferry, so we couldn’t start building the stage. We had to build the towers first instead, then lay them all out on the ground and wait for the delayed truck to turn-up a day later.”

If he hoped that Tallinn might be the worst this tour could throw at the team, Wood was soon disillusioned. “When we did RDS (71,663) in Ireland,” he notes, “Fleetwood Mac and Pink also wanted to use our stage, so I had to stay on and oversee that for them. It makes sense economically, but Fleetwood Mac [13 June] wanted the stage at eight feet high, Bon Jovi [15-16 June] had it at three, and then Pink [18 June] had it at eight again. So each time we had to take the stage apart overnight, adjust the height and rebuild it.”

The knockon effect, however, was that when Wood was finally able to extricate the team from Dublin, “we had to get to Ricoh Arena (40,000) in Coventry [UK] by the next morning. The trucks had to go on the ferries overnight which didn’t get them to Coventry until lunchtime, which meant we lost half of that day. The second day we brought in a second team – the guys who’d just loadedout in Liverpool – so we could work 24 hours. My team did the morning shift, then we got the second team working, because that was the only way to get it up in time.”

Ground zero

Sometimes, even if everything goes to plan, the very location of a concert can cause problems.

Promoter Dana-Denisa Sandulescu of D&D East Entertainment in Romania, points out that, “We struggle here in Romania to have a perfect set-up on the production side, because these shows are mounted in a massive square opposite our Parliament House in the town centre, which is normally a car parking space. So everything has to be built from zero.

“We need about 10 months advance warning to be able to plan everything. So it’s a huge thing when 60 huge trucks roll in and we have to get a show together there. It causes great difficulties with traffic flow, and we have to have the support of all of our citizens who live in the centre of Bucharest.”

On the plus side, a major rock show can bring commercial benefits to the community. “For the Bon Jovi show we had about 5,000 people coming in from Bulgaria, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia,” says Sandulescu. “That means a fantastic boost for our tourism industry.”

The European leg ended in Israel with a show at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park, of which promoter Guy Beser, co-owner/co-CEO of the Bluestone Group/Live Nation, says, “With over 45,000 people screaming for Always during the encore and it not being listed on the set list, I really prayed for a miracle.

“And a miracle we got. The band decided lastminute to add it to the closing songs and it was the perfect end to almost a year of planning and promoting the show. Jon Bon Jovi gave his heart and soul throughout the performance, both media and audience went wild with praise, so we are thrilled with the second successful Bon Jovi performance in our market.”

Following a well-deserved break through August and most of September, the tour will resume at Brazil’s Estadio do Arruda (60,044) in Recife for a fistful of South American dates, including Rock in Rio festival (100,000) at Barra Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro.

“Bon Jovi has a remarkable and dedicated fanbase in Latin America,” says Live Nation Latin America president Bruce Moran. “They will take the stage in Recife on 22 September and then on to Sao Paulo, Curitiba and Lima. We are especially excited about Recife as this will be the first time we have worked with Bon Jovi in the north of Brazil.”

Moran also observes that the popularity of the band in South America is such that, “They have repeatedly been invited to perform at Rock in Rio in recent years – 2013, 2017 and now in 2019.”

Similarly, Dalston has no doubt that these closing gigs will prove at least as successful as the rest of the tour has been.

“The tour has been spectacular and pretty much everything has sold-out,” he says. “Jon is one of the handful of entertainers that, no matter how huge the venue, he can entertain the back row as much as the front, and now he’s reaching a whole new generation, a much younger crowd.

“The numbers have been staggering – 80,000 in London, 72,000 in Munich. He could have done a lot more shows.”

Tour Dates

14-Mar USA Denver Pepsi Center 20,000

16-Mar USA Salt Lake City Vivint Smart Home Arena 18,300

17-Mar USA Las Vegas T-Mobile Arena 20,000

20-Mar USA North Little Rock Verizon Arena 18,000

22-Mar USA San Antonio AT&T Center 19,000

23-Mar USA Houston Toyota Center 19,000

25-Mar USA New Orleans Smoothie King Center 17,800

26-Mar USA Dallas American Airlines Center 20,000

02-Apr USA Boston TD Gardens 19,580

07-Apr USA Newark Prudential Center 17,500

08-Apr USA Newark Prudential Center 17,500

18-Apr USA Orlando Amway Center 16,480

20-Apr USA Atlanta Philips Arena 21,000

21-Apr USA Charlotte Spectrum Center 18,504

24-Apr USA Raleigh PNC Arena 19,500

26-Apr USA Chicago United Center 23,500

28-Apr USA Saint Paul Xcel Energy Center 20,554

29-Apr USA Milwaukee BMO Harris Bradley Center 20,000

02-May USA Allentown PPL Center 10,500

03-May USA Philadelphia Wells Fargo Center 19,500

05-May USA Uncasville Mohegan Sun Arena 10,000

07-May USA Ottawa Canadian Tire Centre 17,000

09-May USA New York Madison Square Garden 20,000

10-May USA New York Madison Square Garden 20,000

12-May Canada Toronto Air Canada Centre 19,800

14-May USA Washington, DC Capital One Arena 20,656

17-May Canada Montreal Bell Centre 15,000

18-May Canada Montreal Bell Centre 15,000

26-Nov Japan Tokyo Tokyo Dome 55,000

27-Nov Japan Osaka Kyocera Dome Osaka 55,000

01-Dec Australia Melbourne Melbourne Cricket Ground 100,024

04-Dec Australia Adelaide Adelaide Botanic Park 16,623

06-Dec Australia Brisbane Suncorp Stadium 52,500

08-Dec Australia Sydney ANZ Stadium 74,451

31-May Russia Moscow Luzhniki Stadium 81,000

02-Jun Estonia Tallinn Tallinn Song Festival Grounds 75,000

05-Jun Sweden Stockholm Tele2 Arena 45,000

08-Jun Norway Stavanger Sr-Bank Arena 16,300

11-Jun Denmark Sønderborg Slagmarken 35,000

13-Jun Netherlands Nijmegen Goffertpark 60,000

15-Jun Ireland Dublin RDS Arena 18,500

16-Jun Ireland Dublin RDS Arena 18,500

19-Jun UK Liverpool Anfield 54,074

21-Jun UK London Wembley Stadium 90,000

23-Jun UK Coventry Ricoh Arena 40,000

03-Jul Germany Düsseldorf Merkur Spiel-Arena 66,500

05-Jul Germany Munich Olympiastadion 57,600

07-Jul Spain Madrid Wanda Metropolitano 67,829

10-Jul Switzerland Zürich Letzigrund 50,000

12-Jul Poland Warsaw PGE Narodowy 72,900

14-Jul Belgium Werchter Werchter Festival Grounds 88,000

17-Jul Austria Vienna Ernst-Happel-Stadion 68,500

19-Jul Austria Klagenfurt Wörthersee Stadion 32,000

21-Jul Romania Bucharest Piața Constituției 50,000

25-Jul Israel Tel Aviv Yarkon Park 50,000

22-Sep Brazil Recife Estádio do Arruda 60,044

25-Sep Brazil São Paulo Allianz Parque 55,000

27-Sep Brazil Curitiba Pedreira Paulo Leminski 25,000

29-Sep Brazil Rio de Janeiro Barra Olympic Park 6,000

02-Oct Peru Lima Estadio Nacional del Perú 50,000

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