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In 1987, Bon Jovi put Rochester on rock music map

March 5, 2017 GMT

With a large expansion project nearing completion at Mayo Civic Center, most of the focus these days is on the future of the sports/concert/convention center.

But there’s one event from the past that is, now and again, fondly recalled. Thirty years ago Tuesday, on March 6, 1987, Bon Jovi played in what was then the brand new civic center arena. The concert drew, based on which source you read, between 7,000 and 7,500 fans, and for a brief moment, put Rochester on the rock music map.

Bon Jovi, after all, was just about the hottest act in rock at that time. That month, Bon Jovi had the top-selling single, top-selling album and most popular video in the country. To have an act like that playing in Rochester was a landmark event.

“I think it was,” said Donna Drews, executive director of Mayo Civic Center, who was promotions director of the center at the time. “It was a turning point for us.”

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So, is that concert something people still want to talk about around the civic center?

“Occasionally,” Drews said. “Not very often.”

It was, after all, a long time ago. Amazingly, Bon Jovi still is going strong. Thirty years is an eternity in rock music, but the band, which will perform March 27 in St. Paul, still is packing in concert crowds.

“I understand he runs a good, clean show,” Drews said of Jon Bon Jovi. “We thought they’d be a one-hit wonder.”

The Bon Jovi concert was notable in several ways: the first big rock concert at the civic center; the hottest band in the land right here in our little town; the fact it was held on the same night as a district girls basketball playoff game in the adjacent auditorium; the unseasonably warm weather that day; and finally, the sneaky way in which Mayo Civic Center officials got the show here in the first place.

“Remember, we had that petition,” Drews said. Ah, yes, the petition. A group of Bon Jovi fans had, in November 1986, sent a petition with thousands of names of young Rochester fans to the civic center requesting the band be booked here on its upcoming tour.

Noting the civic center already had scheduled a handful of major adult-oriented shows, the petition read in part, “We feel the activities are centered strictly around adult activities. Most young people do not listen to the Statler Brothers or any other country music.”

It quickly became obvious that most of the names on the petition were forged. “It was bogus,” Drews said. “But we sent it down to the promoter in Chicago anyway.”

Bon Jovi had been scheduled to perform in Duluth on March 6, but those plans magically were changed.

“Originally it was going to Duluth,” recalled Roy Sutherland, civic center director at the time. “We had to give the building away to get him, and we got him. It was huge.”

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Tickets for the concert, priced at $15.50, went on sale on a subzero morning in January. Fans were lined up outside the box office at 4 a.m. At 7 a.m., the doors to the lobby were opened to allow ticket-buyers to warm up. All tickets were sold within 5 1/2 hours.

After weeks of preparation, the day of the concert arrived. Because all tickets were general admission, fans began lining up at 3 a.m. that Friday. “We wrapped the line all the way around the building into the park,” Drews said.

By evening, with temperatures pushing 60 degrees, coupled with the crowd arriving for the basketball game, the area surrounding the civic center was a mass of people — some of them just enjoying the weather and the scene.

Fans who attended the show saw only a fraction of the intense preparations the civic center staff had done to provide security and safety both for Bon Jovi and concertgoers.

“I don’t think I slept for three days,” Sutherland said.

In the 30 years since then, there have been big shows by big names at the civic center. But the Bon Jovi concert remains the gold standard.

“Our building was fairly new,” Drews said. “We had never done anything like that and probably never will again. We would love to be able to do something like that again.”