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07/13/2008 1:22 AM ET
Bon Jovi hits one out of the park
Central Park hosts All-Star performance from Jersey rockers
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NEW YORK -- Asked what he had planned for the free concert on Central Park's Great Lawn Saturday, Jon Bon Jovi cracked a boyish grin and said, "Nothin' but the hits, baby, nothin' but the hits."

And to the delight of more than 60,000 fans, that's what he delivered in a two-hour set that kicked off All-Star Week in New York City. Under a clear evening sky, a soft breeze cooled off thousands of music and baseball lovers as they pumped their fists in the air to Bon Jovi classics spanning more than a decade of chart-topping albums. Despite early concerns about capacity, no ticket holders were turned away. The crowd, peppered with Yankees and Mets jerseys, was "mellow and happy," according to the City Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe. And the band was excited for the honor to play such an historic event.

"It's the Great Lawn," Bon Jovi marveled backstage before the show. "Simon and Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand, Pavarotti, not too many people ... It's a pretty rarified air to play the Great Lawn and so it's great to be a rock band here."

Longtime Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, who just celebrated his 49th birthday, said the show felt like a culmination of the high points in their career as a band. "It's a real dream," he said.

The show was a dream come true for fans, too, many of whom camped out overnight to get tickets and arrived at the park first thing in the morning to get front and center spots for the concert. "We got tickets at the Staten Island Yankee Stadium," said Keri Hanson, who had been holding onto a patch of grass directly in front of the stage since 10 a.m. "I've been listening to him since I was 12. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Parks Commissioner Benepe was equally pleased. "It's a magical night. We've got a great show, a great artist. We wanted everyone to have a good time and to have the largest amount of people possible without injury to the park and we hit that exact balance. It's the most diverse crowd I've seen, both generationally and geographically, at Central Park. There are grandparents, little kids and people in their 20s and 30s."

Another fan, Marlene Copelow, sported a laminated bundle of photos of her and various friends posing at shows over the years with Jon Bon Jovi and members of the band. "I brought my crew shirt from 20 years ago," showing off a tattered black Bon Jovi crew shirt. "And this necklace is the same one they all wore in the Slippery When Wet tour," she said, holding up a sparkly gold necklace a few hours before the show got under way.

When the moment she had been waiting for finally arrived at 8 p.m., and a thumping bass line accompanied the band to the stage, she jumped up and cheered, along with a sea of like-minded concert-goers. Bon Jovi tore through a rendition of "Livin' on a Prayer" to kick things off, with a screen behind them that occasionally panned back to show thousands of arms in the air and people singing along with the chorus to the band's 1986 hit single. "Come on New York City, are you with me out there?" Jon Bon Jovi asked, raising his own arms above him to pump up the crowd even more. "Let's show the world what we're made of," launching right into another classic from Slippery When Wet, "You Give Love a Bad Name."

As the crowd cheered wildly, he jumped to the band's present repertoire and performed the title track off his latest album "Lost Highway." The band then reached deep back into the '80s to play their first hit "Runaway," from their self-title debut album. The set continued to bounce back and forth between classics and newer material from the current tour, named one of the highest grossing of 2008. Bon Jovi dedicated the new tune "We Got It Going On" to the arena football team he co-owns, the Philadelphia Soul, but even when he was performing that song, his heart was clearly rooted in the Big Apple, inviting cheers and applause at remarks like, "It's Saturday night in New York City!"

Richie Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi in Central Park
Bon Jovi in Central Park (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow).
Bon Jovi was also impressed by the diverse turnout. "They came from Jersey and Germany," he told reporters backstage. "I see the flags of the whole United Nations back there and I'm very pleased they all came into the city for the weekend. It's fun for us.

"What a way to end up," he added. "We started with ten nights in New Jersey and ended up at Central Park on the Great Lawn with the biggest show in New York."

As Bon Jovi wraps up their Lost Highway tour, the band seems elated about the new album's success. But Jon Bon Jovi says he's also looking forward to getting back home, saying he loves what he does but "It will feel good not to have to dial nine for a cup of coffee."

Jennifer Odell is a Reporter for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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