Bon Jovi
at Hersheypark Stadium,
Hershey, Pa. (22 July 2001)

It's been 15 years since Bon Jovi first started making waves on the music charts. If the crowd at a Hersheypark concert Sunday evening is any indication, the band is hotter than ever.

Ask any of the estimated 22,500 people who packed Hersheypark Stadium and they'll probably tell you the band has all the energy from the heady days of hard-rockin' "hair" bands, glam rockers in skin-tight pants and some industrious boys from New Jersey.

These weren't just '80s nostalgia nuts filling the stadium, either. There's a whole new generation of Bon Jovi fanatics, fueled in part by the band's latest album, the 2001 live release One Wild Night.

"Oh my God, I've loved Bon Jovi as long as I've been able to talk," gushed 17-year-old Megan Baglivio, who came from Point Pleasant, N.J., for her fifth Jon Bon Jovi concert since she first saw him perform in November. "He's awesome. He's like a legend," said Baglivio, who was certainly one of the crowd's more frantic dancers, air guitarists, air drummers and emotive singers. "I'm so excited. ... My mom's a fan, and I got it from her."

Of course, there were plenty of diehards in the audience, too.

"I've been following them for God knows how long," said Paula Counterman of Allentown. "I probably have a T-shirt from every tour. ... I've lost count of how many concerts I've seen." Counterman brought her niece, 13-year-old Jaimie Swingle of Phillipsburg, to see her first Bon Jovi concert. Swingle, a dedicated hip-hop fan, said there's room in her collection for Bon Jovi , too. "I like this a lot," she said.

This was the 19th show for Stacy Umstead of Etters, who flourished her JOVI FAN license plate as she recalled her first Jovi concert in 1987. "Their music has grown a lot and I'm growing with them," she said. "Back in the '80s, they were all about having fun. Then they got older and a little more serious. Now they're back and having a good time."

"I like the music. I like the guitars," added Nick Riebe of Bethlehem. However, he lamented, "Bon Jovi went and cut his hair short, and everyone who follows him did, too."

"I have always loved their music," said Scott Keemer of Lancaster. "Their stage show is one of the best ever." Keemer's wife, Nicole, said she saw her first Bon Jovi concert in Hershey 12 years ago. "I can't wait to see them again," she said, shortly before the lights dimmed and the crowd went wild.

It was only a brief video clip of gig preparations and past video awards compiled by tour sponsor VH-1, but the audience loved it anyway. Then the big screens switched to a live feed of the band backstage, bringing nearly everyone to their feet as the band came into view through an elaborate industrial-brick set and launched into the high-energy opener, "One Wild Night."

Band leader Jon Bon Jovi , who started the show in a chest-baring black vest, certainly played to his enduring image as a heartthrob. His aerobic-style dancing took him to all points of the stage, and all he had to do was look at a section of the audience to start a hundred or so women screaming and swooning.

When the band shouted "raise your hands" in the second number, you can bet that just about everyone in the packed stadium did just that. Bon Jovi used his best revival-style voice to tout the "religion of rock 'n' roll" before kicking into some of his biggest hits, including "You Give Love a Bad Name," "Living on a Prayer" and the anthem "It's My Life."

Certainly, Bon Jovi 's voice lost none of its potency during his stint in Hollywood, trading the stage for the screen in movies like Pay It Forward and U-571. By "Wild in the Street," the screams from the crowd were constant. The show kept going, rolling without a pause through "Lay Your Hands on Me," "Bad Medicine" and even a brief snippet of Otis Day's "Shout."

"They're my favorite band," Adam Wiener of Enola shouted over the music. "This music is timeless. The songs from '86 are just as great now."

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 29 September 2001