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Students go backstage with Bon Jovi

Chelsea Castle / Lantern photographer

The lights shut off, the sold-out crowd roars and the arena is pitch black with the exception of the flickers of camera flashes. The moment everyone has been waiting for is finally here. A giant LED screen with 38,000 lights displays the band’s red and yellow graphics. It slowly moves down to eye level and quickly disappears as Bon Jovi emerges from behind it. The arena is shaking with excitement and energy.

Rewind 12 hours.

The arena is now an organized clutter of giant pieces of equipment. The stage is in pieces, speakers are in every corner and chains hundreds of feet long hang in the air supporting the lighting fixtures. The work to create a rock ‘n’ roll show starts at 8 a.m.

A group of six Ohio State communication students received the treatment of a lifetime on Tuesday when they spent the day behind the scenes of the rock concert at Nationwide Arena.

The six were randomly chosen to take part in an “internship for a day” program with the tour management team for Bon Jovi. The students’ day started at 10 a.m. when they met with members of management to learn how concert day works and to watch the setup of the show from the ground up.

Four of the students in the program were Ashley Kanney, Mary Posani, Hayley Simmons and Lizzie Sharkey. Two other students selected were Lantern staff members Danielle Hixenbaugh and David Gerad. Two more students chosen to participate did not attend.

The day was a focused learning experience led by Mike Savas, management and VIP coordinator, and DaRin Ryan, head representative for bonjovi.com, who is also a friend of the band.

Savas made it clear that the day is flexible and is meant to be a learning experience, as he spoke with everyone about their career goals and gave advice.

“We’re totally here for you guys,” Savas said.

The students were given the privilege to roam about backstage and talk to members in different departments. They also received access to the tour’s catering, helped with the VIP party and some even had the chance to tour Jon Bon Jovi’s dressing room.

Savas said the only rules for the students were to be mindful and “don’t steal the band’s stuff.”

There are 64 crew members that travel with the tour and they bring on about 60 local crew members in each city. Including the band, it is an 83-person tour that travels worldwide doing 140 shows in 18 months. When they are in the United States, they travel with six tour buses and 18 semi trucks full of equipment.

“If you put the semi trucks together, they will equal four football fields in length,” Ryan said.

The show takes about six to eight hours to build, and only two to three hours to tear down.

With 500 miles of cables, 1,200 speaker cases, more than 250 light fixtures, the Bon Jovi tour has advanced technology that cannot be seen elsewhere, Savas said.

Sooner Routhier is the lighting director for the tour and said the technology used is exclusive to Bon Jovi’s tour.

“A lot is only for this show,” Routhier said.

As the No. 1 grossing tour in the country in 2010, Bon Jovi is on its way to achieving this again in 2011, as it is one of the only 1980s bands that can still sell out every show, Savas said.

Throughout the day, several members of every department spoke of no accidents or issues of any kind on the tour. The majority of the crew members have been with Bon Jovi for several years and Savas said this is one of the reasons why they are so efficient and competent.

The tour was often referred to as a “well-oiled machine” and the crew’s relationship with one another is a testament to this. While watching the crew work, they often shout at each other in a joking manner. One could catch on to inside jokes and see some of the roadies singing.

“Bon Jovi got me working, Bon Jovi come and set me free,” one roadie sang as he worked on the chains that hoist the lights in the air.

Savas said the typical stereotype of a roadie might not always be accurate.

“When I think of roadies I think of black-on-black, dirty and grungy,” Savas said.

And this was true, for the most part. The majority were men — only about one-fourth of the crew was female — with long hair and wore clothing such as polka-dot bandanas and cowboy hats.

When it comes to life on the road, everyone from management to carpenters to electricians share similar sentiments: it’s fun, but rough.

Head carpenter of the tour, Greg Gish, is in charge of the carpentry team that builds the stage and set. He has worked for the Bon Jovi tour for 11 years and while he loves traveling and meeting new people, he said life on the road could be intense.

“It can be kind of extreme,” Gish said. “The work hours could be long, could be working 80 hours to 100 hours a week sometime. But it’s an easy way to save money, and it’s fun.”

When talking with the students about their individual goals and interests, Savas said it is important to keep an eye on digital startup companies.

“There is tons of money in live entertainment,” Savas said. “But albums don’t sell tickets anymore.”

The tour is utilizing digital marketing by having text message contests during the concert and a Group Me contest. Group Me works similarly to BlackBerry Messenger in that it creates a collection of people where text messages can be sent out to the entire group. The winning group will receive text messages from Jon Bon Jovi, himself.

There was also Bon Jovi Wi-Fi available in the arena. Set up by an outside company, the network enabled those in the building to access unreleased videos, photos, trivia and more. They could receive access by submitting their email address, and they were then added to the tour’s mailing list.

Joe Costanza is part of the two-man crew that sets up and monitors the Wi-Fi system.

“We can block all access out to the web and we can do re-directs back to the content program that the band has,” Costanza said. “We track all of the email addresses and track all the page clicks, we track all of the URL requests and send a report back to the management team.”

The students were restricted from watching the band during sound check, but a few had the chance to meet Dawn Jeronowitz, Jon Bon Jovi’s stylist and personal assistant. She gave a tour of his dressing room that she decorates differently in each city. His dressing room in Columbus was draped in black with white and green accents, with silver skulls in various places.

Jeronowitz also showed off some of Jon Bon Jovi’s clothes, shoes and his bathroom where she handpicks a fortune that goes into a silver fortune cookie. He reads this before each show and Jeronowitz let the students help her pick the one for Tuesday’s show.

The students learned about Jon Bon Jovi’s love for Halls cough drops and chicken noodle soup, and that he wears so much leather because he loves to be warm on stage.

Concertgoers had to be toasty, as they shut the air conditioning off. While Jon Bon Jovi may be dripping in sweat, his hands are probably ice cold, Jeronowitz said.

One of the things that makes the tour special is the lighting and video. Video crew chief, Mark O’Herlihy, has been with Bon Jovi for five tours. He said they have “leading edge technology” with dolly systems, video cameras and backstage controls.

“I’ve worked with big acts from U2 to Rolling Stones, and this tour in particular has all the bells and whistles,” O’Herlihy said.

Carson Austin is one of the video technicians and is a Columbus native on his third tour with Bon Jovi. Robotic cameras on tracks around the stage operate all video work during the show, Austin said.

“We sit in the back and monitor what’s on the screen in relation to what we are shooting,” Austin said.

There are four small video screens backstage with dozens of controls, foot pedals and joysticks that are used to operate the cameras and what is displayed o
n the video screens out front.

The one man behind the power of the show is John Greenwood, the production electrician.

“It’s my job to make sure that every department’s power requirements are meant wherever we’re at,” Greenwood said. “Anything and everything that has to do with electricity has to go through me.”

Savas also said that the majority of the crew on this tour was a part of the Michael Jackson tour.

“So if Michael Jackson didn’t die, things would be a lot different,” Savas said.

Sharkey said she liked that everyone on the tour was interested in teaching and offering advice.

“It’s this huge tour, and there they are taking time out to talk to a few college kids,” Sharkey said.

As one of the only female lighting directors for concerts in the country, Routhier gave the students some advice as she took a moment to rest during the busy day.

“If you want to be successful, complacency kills,” she said.

The students also received a tour onstage, were able to check out Bon Jovi’s instruments and guitars and “Jon’s room,” where the singer does wardrobe changes and rests during the show.

Kanney said she had no idea it took so much work to put on a concert and the experience was fantastic.

“It was amazing to see all of the prep work that goes into preparing for a concert, as well as the camaraderie among the crew,” Kanney said. “The feeling of being backstage looking at the guitars and stepping onstage to look at the massive arena with his microphone stand was unlike any other.”

The band took the stage at 8:10 p.m. and the OSU students had the opportunity to enjoy the show from the right side of the stage.

Posani said she is even more of a Bon Jovi fan now and said she feels blessed and thankful for the opportunity.

“I always enjoyed his songs but now I’m in love with him, his style and his appreciation toward his fans,” Posani said. “I have a lot more respect for the band and the crew now than I did before.”

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