New Jersey’s big guns Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen came out tonight for the Jersey 4 Jersey fundraiser and, as always, performed admirably to raise money for their neighbors and those on the front line of the Covid-19 crisis, each of them solidly delivering a pair of mood-appropriate songs.
But it was the reunion of surviving Fountains of Wayne members that brought a collective bawling of tears from legions of music fans still reeling from the April 1 passing of founding member Adam Schlesinger from the effects of Covid-19. The reunited band’s performance of “Hackensack” was full of the band’s clever, sublime chord changes and concise, witty lyrics that turn on a dime into a punch you in the gut resolution. “I will wait for you as long as I need to/And if you ever get back to Hackensack/I’ll be there for you,” sang co-founder Chris Collingwood, his words reflecting a new reality.
Band members Jody Porter and Brian Young (accompanied by Belleville native Sharon Van Etten on bass and backing vocals) joined Collingwood and synced their performances from their individual homes. “This is for Adam, his parents, his children and New Jersey,” Collingwood said.
Equally as tear-inducing were the words from Covid-19 survivors, family members, overworked health care workers and business owners still caught in the crossfire of the lingering pandemic.
The show was short and sweet at one hour and featured seven musical performers, plus appearances from Jersey-born actors and sports stars, including Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Kelly Ripa, Whoopi Goldberg and others.
A rare celebrity who walks the walk when it comes to quietly volunteering (he is often found working at his Soul Kitchen ‘pay what you can’ community kitchen), Jon Bon Jovi spoke with Apple Music prior to the benefit and said: “The governor is a local. He lives right near me here in Jersey. And his wife had come to me and said, ‘We have to do something specific for New Jersey.”
A quick call from Bon Jovi to Springsteen, ‘the King Of New Jersey,’ led to Tony Bennett, Charlie Puth, SZA and Halsey signing on. Fountains of Wayne were added after the initial announcement. Jon Stewart served as an informal MC throughout the show. “I’m always proud of Jersey, but I’m never more proud than when we have our backs up against the wall.”
Springsteen opened the show with his 1999 E Street Band reunion theme song “Land of Hope and Dreams,” accompanied by Patti’s complimentary harmony vocals sung over Bruce’s open tuned guitar, and flanked by an envious collection of vintage microphones, Trainwreck and Matchless Amplifiers. The pair returned later in the show for “Jersey Girl,” a classic Jersey Shore song-along written by Tom Waits which has become a Springsteen deep-cut favorite.
A relaxed Bon Jovi began by saying “we’re here to entertain you and looking for that virtual hug” before performing “Do What You Can,” a new song he debuted online last month as a crowd-sourced co-write, inviting fans to ‘tell your story’ with additional verses and choruses. He returned later to close out the show with “Livin’ On A Prayer,” delivered in the more intimate ‘unplugged ‘94’ version.
“New Jersey! I love you!” proclaimed Tony Bennett. The 93-year old legend still has it and knocked out the Charlie Chaplin standard “Smile,” with its oh so simple words of wisdom “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile/ if you just smile.” And indeed, he gave a glorious smile of satisfaction after finishing the song.
Charlie Puth sat at the piano in the childhood bedroom where he first honed his craft and paid tribute to his Jersey roots with a cover of Springsteen’s “Growin’ Up.” It was a home run performance, with Puth adding a smooth and contemporary R&B feel. He admirably tackled the piano solo (originally played by the under-rated Jersey keyboard prodigy David Sancious) with fervor.
SZA (“Solána from Maplewood”), performed her 2017 hit “20 Something.” The performance, filmed in black and white, featured her guitarist/producer Carter Lang adding ethereal chords over her controlled, stylized vocals. Halsey, accompanied herself with a small-bodied Martin acoustic for the first section of her hit “Finally// Beautiful Stranger” before being joined on split screen by her backing band for a strong performance.
Scenes of everyday folks in near ruin and potentially failing businesses and, in Whoopi Goldberg’s words, “hero nurses, doctors and technicians” telling heartbreaking stories of healthy individuals passing, particularly hit home. Eddie Donnelly, president of the NJFMBA firefighter’s association, soberly commented on how it compares to his work on the 9/11 relief efforts. “Unfortunately, this disease is taking a more serious and tragic toll.” An older gentleman who recovered from the virus put it succinctly: “You might say I had a dance with death.”
Jersey-born comedians, actors and sports stars served as ‘we got this, Jersey’ cheerleaders.
Danny Devito gave it a detailed local flare, reminiscing about the Jersey Shore: What keeps me sane is thinking about Asbury (Park)… That’s the promised land. When it’s done, we’ll go to Asbury and have a big party!”
Stephen Colbert riffed on colloquial regional Jersey-ism battles (subs vs hoagie, pork roll vs. Taylor ham, Wawa vs Quick Check, Giants/Jets/Eagles) before introducing Fountains of Wayne.
Chelsea Handler, wearing a Whitney Houston T-shirt, humorously said “I’ve been self-medicating since they legalized cannabis here in the state of California. And lately I’ve had to up my dose after seeing images of our front-line workers without the protective gear they need.” She then humorously showed her latest, and inventive, invention- a bra turned into a face mask.
The telethon was broadcast on multiple networks from Philly to NYC, as well as online. To donate, visit https://njprf.org or call 844-NJ-Relief.