Jon Bon Jovi was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year on Friday to kick off this year’s Grammy Weekend, joining other legendary artists including Joni Mitchell, Lionel Richie and Dolly Parton to have been honored at the glitzy annual dinner over the past 30 years.
Flanked between two previous Person of the Year Honorees Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney at his table for much of the evening (along with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who introduced him before his speech), Bon Jovi finally accepted the honor at the end of the night. He thanked his two heroes, particularly Springsteen for playing even as his mother had died just two days earlier.
“I want to thank my hero, my friend, my mentor Bruce Springsteen,” Bon Jovi said as the crowd started howling the famed “Bruuuuce” chant. “Bruce’s mom passed two days ago. When I first got the news he was already on the airplane on the way here. 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.”
He also thanked McCartney, telling him that “it’s fair to say that the reason most, if not all of us, are in this room tonight is because of you. Thank you very much for being Beatle Paul.”
Bon Jovi spoke on the importance of MusiCares’ work throughout his speech, and on the importance music has played in his life. “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. It doesn’t matter if you’re eight or if you’re 80, if you’re playing in a bedroom or local stadium. Tonight, and every night, I know how blessed I’ve been.
“There are millions of other musicians who set out on this same journey, but for whatever reason their paths took them in different directions,” he continued. “Some of them may have played professionally, some as a hobby, and some may have needed help along the way. As musicians, we don’t have safety nets. Some maybe need some basic assistance, and that is where MusiCares comes to their need. I love what they do, not just financially but what service providing becomes available. That is proof that music saves lives.”
Heading into the evening, the biggest question among the show’s attendees was whether or not Springsteen would be there following his mother’s death. The Boss wasted little time putting that speculation to rest as Bon Jovi quickly brought him out as the first guest of the night, with the two playing “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” and “Promised Land,” before adjourning to their table to watch the rest of the performances.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan, the event’s host, quipped about Bon Jovi’s legacy of giving New Jerseyites, as he said it, an unreasonable level of confidence. “Chris Christie ran for President. Twice. Talk about living on a prayer.” Gaffigan lovingly ribbed Bon Jovi for his over-the-top Eighties outfits, repeatedly showing a picture of the singer in a Jack Daniels tank top and short jean shorts.
Springsteen’s collaboration with his Heartland Rock disciple was the most anticipated in a night of nearly 20 performances over nearly three hours. Melissa Etheridge, Jason Isbell, Shania Twain, Sammy Hagar, Jelly Roll and Lainey Wilson all performed Bon Jovi hits.
Etheridge, backed up by blues rock duo Larkin Poe, kicked off the rest of the night’s performances singing Bon Jovi’s solo debut “Blaze of Glory.”
Lenny Kravitz, in a leather jacket and his signature shades, introduced Jelly Roll, who stomped through “Bad Medicine” adorned all in black while a burning heart took over the screen behind him. “You’re the fucking man, Bon Jovi,” he said as he walked off stage.
Jelly Roll’s Broken Bow Records labelmate Lainey Wilson, wearing a wide-brimmed black hat and green blazer and matching pants, took the stage soon after with “We Weren’t Born to Follow.” Kylie Minogue introduced Shania Twain for a soulful rendition of “Bed of Roses.” By the end of the song, Bon Jovi was standing in approval, holding his hands over his heart.
Among some of the other performances, Jason Isbell got the nod to play “Wanted Dead or Alive,” taking the stage with a double-necked Gibson, nailing Bon Jovi’s signature rasp and shredding a solo. Train’s Pat Monahan performed “It’s My Life,” and Maneskin’s Damiano David played “Keep the Faith.” Mammoth WVH played “Have a Nice Day,” and Marcus King performed “Born to Be My Baby.”
Taking to the middle of the convention center room accompanied by an upright bass and acoustic guitars, the War and Treaty gave perhaps the best performance of the night with a touching duet of “I’ll Be There for You.” Elsewhere, Brandy Clark’s dainty rendition of “(You Want to) Make a Remedy” — which had followed Sammy Hagar’s spot-on cover of “You Give Love a Bad Name” — was another highlight.
Following his speech at the end of the evening, Bon Jovi took the stage for one last song, with an ensemble of many of the night’s other performers (sans Springsteen) coming back out with “Livin’ On a Prayer.”
MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s charitable wing, was founded in 1989 to support musicians in need of financial help, healthcare assistance and addiction recovery. The 66th Grammy Awards will air on CBS on Sunday at 8 p.m. EST.