Early in the night for the second of two Hope charity concerts at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J., Jon Bon Jovi told the audience that they were the lucky ones.
“We made it through the first set,” he smiled. “That was the sound check.”
The Sayreville, N.J., native was in great spirits on Wednesday night, flashing his mega-watt smile, leading the audience in song and feeding off the energy of Jillian Rhys McCoy for his opening song, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.”
Bon Jovi’s second set of the evening was almost completely different from the first show, which included “Lost Highway,” “Bad Medicine” and “Blue Christmas” (which he sang donning a Santa hat). For show two, Bon Jovi strapped on a guitar and delivered a slow-burn performance of “Whole Lot of Leavin” — ad-libbing “Who cares?” after singing the line, “I bet it’s warm in California” — and then encouraging audience participation for “Because We Can.”
Backed by show organizer and former Bon Jovi touring guitarist Bobby Bandiera, as well as Kings of Suburbia drummer Rich Scanella — who played percussion for several other performers, including Blondie‘s Debbie Harry — Bon Jovi celebrated the season with a little help from Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Jersey soul singer JoBonanno and, of course, a costumed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, for a rocking version of “Run, Run Rudolph,” after which he said he was going to “disappear.”
Bon Jovi’s brief and satisfying appearance at the Red Bank venue (capacity 1,568) bodes well for the singer’s 2016 tour plans. Being onstage is truly his happy place, and he was clearly having a great time with Bandiera and company. He won’t vanish for long.
Over the last eight years, Bandiera’s Hope concerts have raised more than $2 million for Jersey Shore charities. This year’s celebration benefited the Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, 180 Turning Lives Around, and Mary’s Place by the Sea.
Bandiera assembled a great lineup, including Harry, Bonds, John Cafferty and unannounced guest Franke Previte, writer of the Dirty Dancing hit “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Tim McLoone and the Shirleys opened the show with holiday merriment, including a joyous sing-along of the Steve Van Zandt-penned Darlene Love hit “All Alone on Christmas.” Notably missing from the bill was scheduled performer Southside Johnny Lyon, who was a no-show.
While Bandiera said Lyon was sick early on in the first show, the second show’s explanation became increasingly murky, with Bandiera offering explanations that ranged from the Jukes singer getting “hit by a bus” to sitting at home with pizza and a game of Parcheesi.
His absence irked Bonds, who later said, “This is really pissing me off,” before singing Lyon’s anthem “We’re Having a Party.” Southside fans should take heart: He will return to the Count Basie Theater in one week for his annual New Year’s Eve show.
One very big highlight of the evening belonged to Harry. Bandiera introduced the singer as someone New Jerseyans probably have seen in the supermarket or “coffee shops,” as she lives nearby. Harry — looking glorious in red and a sparkly vest — brought on Blondie members Tommy Kessler and Lee Fox for an exhilarating punk-rock version of “We Three Kings,” which she set up with a story about living across the street from a seminary in New York City. She then tore off her vest, slamming it to the floor and segueing into a fierce “One Way or Another,” stalking the stage and grabbing hands of fans in the front row.
The spirit of the evening was described eloquently by Cafferty saxophonist Michael “Tunes” Antunes (movie buffs may remember him as Wendell Newton in the film Eddie and the Cruisers). Tunes owned the stage with a fantastic turn on sax for the song “Tender Years,” extending each note with passion and melancholy. The grandfather of 23 capped it off with a heartfelt speech about the charities and their work for “those who need something more.”
Cafferty — who marveled that Rhode Island’s Beaver Brown Band was so warmly embraced by New Jerseyans when they first played a show at the Fast Lane in Asbury Park — was the surprise of the night. For “On the Dark Side,” he asked for the audience to “please rise” as he bounded deep into the crowd (both shows), climbing on top of the venue’s seats. He returned for two more songs: “Tough All Over” and “C-I-T-Y.”
Other gems included several turns by Bonds, who got the crowd moving with old time rock and roll numbers “New Orleans” and “Quarter to Three.” At Bandiera’s request, he sang Jimmy Ruffin‘s “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” At first he was aided by a lyric sheet, but ditched it toward the end to give the classic a strong conclusion.
Previte and vocal partner Jennifer Sherman gave the evening a light moment with their duet of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” doing some dirty dance moves of their own, but alas, no lift (Sherman did re-create Jennifer Grey’s skate dance moves, though).
Bandiera provided some nice moments of his own, with an emotional cover of The Hollies‘ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” as well as taking over on Lyon’s “I Don’t Want to Go Home.”
The evening ended with show-closer “Night Time Is the Right Time” by Ray Charles, aided by appearances from Santa and Mrs. Claus, The Grinch, Frosty the Snowman and a choir of teen singers, Rockit!, who also aided with backup vocals throughout the evening.
“We’ll see you next year!” Bandiera promised.
Jon Bon Jovi (Show One), “Bad Medicine”:
Watch Debbie Harry: