Tech Check

Bon Jovi: Born To Be A High Tech Baby (Part 1)

This is the first of two posts on my "exclusive"  interview with Bon Jovi. Be sure and come back tomorrow for more.


Bon Jovi's tour continues through the United States today, but it was at a visit to Silicon Valley earlier this week that I got a taste of the phenomenal technology the band is using during the show.

It was so good, so unusual, that I took the weird step of calling the band to see if I could get a closer look. They pulled out all the stops giving my crew and me an all-access pass to get this story told.

I think the band was a little surprised at the request, quite frankly. We had virtually no time to set this up, and had many hoops to jump through to get the necessary elements shot. Who would I need to talk to, they wanted to know? Tech ops, engineering, production managers, engineers. That's it, I was asked? Yup, I think that covers it. Are you sure, they wanted to know? Umm, yeah, I'm sure. So, you don't want to talk to the band? Oh, I said, well, not really. It's a tech story.

I think they were stunned, and that's probably what made the approvals for all this all the easier. It's a story the band and the touring folks really haven't told before, so they were eager to cooperate. In fact, I've really never seen this level of cooperation. And it will translate into a heck of a cool story on CNBC's "Closing Bell" on Friday.

We arrived at San Jose's HP Pavilion at 3 pm, more than four hours before the show. We were credentialed, got a lay of the land, and quickly met up with John "Bugsy" Hougdahl, the show's production manager. Talk about a daunting job: he's in charge of 200 roadies that'll build and tear down one of the most complex stages I've ever seen during the 100 city global tour. And this is no small endeavor. These guys will spend $900,000 a week and entertain close to 2 million fans when all is said and done. "There's 50,000 pounds of PA and 50,000 pounds of video, I mean, we're 50 tons of gear hanging in the air," he tells me.

And make no mistake, "roadies" today are hardly the roadies of yesterday.

"When you talk about roadies, they're not the guys making minimum wage. They're engineers, technicians, the top of the game," says Dave Lemmink, the engineering director of Nocturne, the company behind all the tour's video production, which is extensive.

And good thing too thanks to all the computers, networks, routers and software that are used to get this show up and running every night.

The stars of this show, beyond the band itself, are four, ten foot by ten foot, high def, robotic video screens designed by Tait Towers from Lititz, Pennsylvania. Each is controlled independently, either as four separate blocks, or can come together as two larger screens, or even together still as one giant screen. And each block is actually made up of 28 smaller, horizontal video slats that extend and contract during the show like electronic Venetian blinds. There are 40,000 moving parts and I can tell you, the effect is jaw-dropping.

"It's everything from grease and gears to some pretty serious hardware to software that's gotta be really intelligent to pull this off," says Rob DeCeglio who runs the screens' motion control during the set.

And as you might expect, they don't come cheap, and they aren't light. Each screen weighs as much as a Volkswagen and costs almost $2 million.

The technology doesn't end there. Fans can text message the band during the show for a chance to pick encores or even appear on stage. And Bon Jovi is also partnering with Google'sYouTube, letting fans upload home movies that are later incorporated into the show itself, as well as Bon Jovi's music videos.


While we were wandering around and shooting the pre-show sound check, Jon Bon Jovi took an interest in what we were doing, and asked his staff if we wanted to talk to him about any of this. It was a surprise, to say the least, since we were warned time and again prior to our arrival that Jon simply doesn't do interviews the day of a show. Which was actually fine by me since it was a story really focused on the show behind the stage rather than the show on stage.

But when we were told Jon could make some time for us, I mean, I'm not dumb. So we met up with Jon Bon Jovi, walked out onto the stage and talked about his show's complex emphasis on all this technology. Was it a tough sell to get the band to adopt this kind of stuff?

"No, no," he says. "I have four kids, I get it. I get where they're going, what they're all about. But trying to get them to discover music through the same mediums I did is like trying to break through a brick wall. Look, if you're wise enough to keep your eyes and ears open when that new generation comes a callin', and says 'Look Dad, this is called YouTube, this called Facebook, this is texting,' and you keep your eyes open to it, and you go, 'Oh, I get it.'"

Beyond using all this new technology to better connect with fans, he tells me it's also about good business: "I can sing a song tonight, and they'll have it up on YouTube and watch it in India. Tonight! You're getting the response on the email, on the web, and the blogs consistently, worldwide and keeping that presence up, and all of this just adds to it."

Great show, neat stuff, but I was transfixed by how cool the tech was. Oh, and Bon Jovi sounded great, too.

In tomorrow's post, I'll blog about the business of this tour. The numbers, the gross and the net may surprise you. And we'll have video and a slideshow of my Bon Jovi adventure. Don't miss it.

Update: Here's the second post.

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