S*** You'll Never See Again: Jon Bon Jovi jams with Tim Kaine at St. Pete's State Theater (review + photos)

Gabe examines the musicality of a political rally.

click to enlarge Jon Bon Jovi (L) and vice presidential hopeful Tim Kaine jam at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 5, 2016. - Caesar Carbajal
Caesar Carbajal
Jon Bon Jovi (L) and vice presidential hopeful Tim Kaine jam at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 5, 2016.

While the music events I’m typically assigned to cover fall more into the category of straight up concerts, this was the first time I’d been sent to report on a concert wrapped inside a political rally. As this, the most unpredictable election season of recent memory, comes to a close, it looks like the final stretch has its own fair share of surprises to add to the colorful sparring match we’ve been following for months.

Add to those unexpected developments a visit from mega-popular New Jersey heavyweight Jon Bon Jovi to the area. The rocker, who rose to fame during the 1980’s hard rock/hair metal explosion, has had the good fortune of retaining a very, very loyal fan base throughout his tenure as the likeable front man of a band who rose up from the Jersey bar scene to eventually play the largest arenas and stadiums across the globe. The full band, named after their leader, will play a proper full-on rock show here in the area next February so imagine the bizarreness of the announcement last week that Bon Jovi would be making an appearance at St. Petersburg’s cozy State Theater. It’s doubtful that Bon Jovi has played a venue of this size or intimacy since his early days playing the Fast Lane in Asbury Park, New Jersey but, nonetheless, election 2016 has seen lots of strange occurrences so why not add this bill to the list.

It’s not uncommon to see a crowd swarming outside the busy Central Avenue theatre in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg; lines usually form early by fans anxious to get good placement as close to the venue’s stage as possible. The difference for Saturday night’s event was that the typical street-side activity was accompanied by the presence of national and local press receiving their credentials at a check-in table and a slew of campaign volunteers directing ticket holders to the proper lines to wait in (press, VIPs and general ticket holders each had their own queue) and distributing color-coded wristbands while doing so.

As we wait, Congressional hopeful and onetime Florida Governor Charlie Crist arrives at the front of the theater and steps out of a shiny red car with his party. He’s greeted with applause and cheers and a slew of quick cellphone photos being snapped. The same happens with the arrival of Florida Senate candidate Patrick Murphy minutes later. The air of a typical rock show is quickly disrupted by this which now feels like more like a red carpet Hollywood premiere. The rest of the evening is now a mystery to me as I really don’t know what to expect. While I’ve attended plenty of shows at the State, this one just feels different.

Inside, a massive American flag hangs as the backdrop onstage. The area that’s typically reserved for a soundboard near the back of the theater is an overcrowded throng of reporters, television cameras, long lensed cameras and wires and cables.

Always aware of music in my surroundings, a blessing and a curse that’s overtaken me since I was able to walk, the first tune I hear being blared inside the venue’s PA in anticipation of event being started is Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party”. The irony adds to the unusual feel of this night.

As attendees ranging in age from the seemingly bored millennials on my left to the showboating AARP-eligible ladies donning neon colored boas cram into the venue, the music keeps pumping. Unsure if what I’m hearing is a personally procured playlist from VP candidate Tim Kaine (who is scheduled to appear and speak at this event) who is by many accounts, a huge music fan, I drift off into knowing more about the man who might have selected the songs by Ozzy Osbourne, Bobby Womack and Green Day that fill the air inside.

click to enlarge Patrick Murphy (L) and Charlie Crist at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 5, 2016. - Caesar Carbajal
Caesar Carbajal
Patrick Murphy (L) and Charlie Crist at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 5, 2016.

Many songs are met with enthusiastic responses. “Wonderwall” by Oasis becomes a loud sing-along for those who wait. Carl Douglas’s kitschy 1974 hit “Kung Fu Fighting” elicits dancing and bopping as does Earth, Wind & Fire’s classic “Shining Star”. Again, more irony ensues when Marvin Gaye’s 1971 anthem “What’s Going On” cues up. As the familiar saxophone intro leads into arguably the greatest protest song ever written thanks to its meditative, desperate plea for understanding, I’m reminded of how relevant and poignant this masterpiece still is. Sadly, it seems like Marvin’s still powerful message is lost on the attendees who greet Pink’s 2001 throwaway pop ditty “Get The Party Started” with greater zeal a little later. But this is a night of rah-rahs and instilling of positive messages so onward we go…

The goal here for the “Get Out The Vote” concert with Bon Jovi and Tim Kaine is to remind everyone of the importance of casting a vote on November 8th and letting their voices be heard. Most in the house have clearly decided who will get their vote; plenty of Hillary Clinton t-shirts, buttons, stickers and signs are present throughout the now packed room. Most raise their hands when asked by a variety of speakers (including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman) if they’ve already participated in early voting. Most are “with her”, but not all.

Squeezed in to my right is Karyn Hillary, a middle school teacher from Brandon in her “mid-40’s” who is only here to see her favorite artist from her teenage years, Jon Bon Jovi. When asked about how she was able to score a ticket, she goes into a charming story about how her mom alerted her and the friend she’s here with that she’d read the announcement in a local news publication. Hillary arrived at 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon with her friend to ensure a place inside to see the guy whose pinups adorned her bedroom walls as well as her locker in high school. Her insistence that she’s only here for the headliner makes my pry a little deeper. I ask if she’s not really here for the political aspect of the event and she swiftly tells me she’s not. When asked about her favorite musical artist’s decision to take a political stance and make himself available for this event, she gives me an earful: “It does bother me…I wish it was more of a ‘Rock the Vote’ type of thing” she insists. So, add to the varied group of folks who are here, those who are only fans of the headliner and not so much of the political platform he’s representing. I liken this to, say, someone who went to see Bon Jovi as an opening act for hard rock band Ratt in 1985 at the old Bayfront Center down the street from where we are and didn’t really care for the headliner.

“I’m only here for Bon Jovi”…I heard that a lot back in the days when the long-haired heartthrob was still at opening act status and I’m hearing it again tonight.

click to enlarge Steven Cary at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 5, 2016. - Caesar Carbajal
Caesar Carbajal
Steven Cary at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 5, 2016.

A local musician (and Hillary campaign staffer), Steven Cary, opens the night with a short acoustic set that goes mostly unnoticed as the crowd buzzes. His cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” engages the audience and gets most to sing along.

After some words of encouragement and enthusiasm from Patrick Murphy and Charlie Crist from center stage in which Crist quotes film director Spike Lee and urges the crowd to “Do the right thing!,” the main attraction makes his way to the stage. Introduced by a disembodied voice as the “Secretary of Entertainment," Jon makes his way onstage where his small, three-piece band is waiting. An acoustic guitarist, a fiddle player and a percussionist who don’t resemble any of his longtime bandmates back him for his quiet, abbreviated set. Donning a black jacket, t-shirt and faded jeans, Bon Jovi looks youthful, relaxed and comfortable. His short graying locks, his ever-present smile and his eternal handsomeness still draw some passionate responses from his female fans.

“He is so beautiful!” the ladies to my right swoon a few times throughout the night.

A short four-song set is decorated with Jon touting Hillary Clinton as the most qualified candidate for this race and his verbatim reading of a letter he found on the internet from a devout Republican, gun owner and Catholic who feels like the only logical choice for this election is Clinton, signed “Dan in Pennsylvania”. Turning his attention to the importance of the voice of Pinellas County and neighboring Hillsborough County in this race, Jon gives his message a personal touch and the crowd goes wild. Think of the response Jon will get next February as he takes the stage at Amalie Arena and screams “Tampa! How you doing!” and you’ll get a feel for how this crowd responded to their home counties being name checked.

“I believe in her…she is the answer we need today” Bon Jovi passionately pleas before introducing Tim Kaine to take the stage. Kaine first focuses his attention to the admirable work Bon Jovi has committed himself to as a humanitarian for years. He goes through his entire resume and recognizes him as a person with “deep, deep values”. Kaine then delivers his own casual speech that soon becomes more enthusiastic and heartfelt. He praises Florida for their strong early voting numbers and drills home the importance of a Hillary Clinton win on Tuesday. He’s won eight elections over his political career and he’s going to be “9-0” come next week, he eagerly announces.

“You can beat me in Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit, but you won’t beat me in this election!” he jokes and the fired up crowd goes insane. “Let’s go make history” he closes with, referring to the relevance of the first-ever female president being elected into the office.

The night closes with a bluesy, slowed down version of the Bon Jovi staple “You Give Love A Bad Name” being belted while Kaine pipes in his own respectable blues harmonica playing in accompaniment.

A hearty high-five is exchanged by Jon and Tim before they all lock arms with the other musicians and pose at the front of the stage for a photo op for all the attendees who’ve been filming and photographing the whole event.

The event is over, folks pour out of the theater and head back to their cars or to one of the neighboring bars or restaurants that are still open and ready to serve. The sweet sounds of Marvin Gaye’s voice still fill my head and I reflect on his message and I realize that the answer to Gaye’s question won’t truly be answered until all the votes are counted late Tuesday night. What’s going on? Tim Kaine and Jon Bon Jovi both hope they’ll have a better answer to that question by Wednesday morning.

click to enlarge Jon Bon Jovi at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 5, 2016. - Caesar Carbajal
Caesar Carbajal
Jon Bon Jovi at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 5, 2016.

About The Author

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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