Cleveland rocks, and rarely moreso than it did this weekend at the 33rd annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions. A sold-out crowd of 6,000 people gathered at Public Auditorium to fete 2018 honorees Bon Jovi, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nina Simone, Moody Blues, Dire Straits, and The Cars, and the show didn't disappoint.
The ceremony was a culmination of an upbeat "Rock Week" celebrating the ceremony’s return to Cleveland, from the dedication of the museum’s new “Hall of Fame” floor to a Celebration Day with fireworks and a headlining performance by Richie Sambora and Orianthi to even RTA bus drivers dressing up as rock stars.
Rock Hall CEO and President Greg Harris gave our city even more reason to celebrate when he kicked off the show with the announcement of KeyBank's generous $10 million donation to the museum—and well-deserved. (It's like the E. Street Band's Stevie Van Zandt once said: "Where the f**k would rock and roll be without Cleveland?")
Get a sneak peek of the night's highlights from our perch in the press room as we round up the best backstage moments:
For the Cars, the ceremony was more like a homecoming. The third time was the charm for The Cars, who finally succeeded on their third attempt to join the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Cleveland love was in full effect as the band reminisced about its early origins right here in C-Town. (The late Ben Orr hailed from Cleveland, and lead singer Ric Ocasek attended Maple Heights High School.)
“How fitting that we are in Cleveland tonight,” Ocasek told the sold-out audience. “Without Ben’s innate talent and his rockstar good looks, it’s unlikely we would be up here tonight.”
Backstage, Ocasek continued down memory lane by sharing anecdotes about his first time seeing the Velvet Underground at Cleveland's La Cave and the unlikely place he chose to play his first-ever live gig: “The first time I ever played in front of people, I tried to find a place where no one would know me, so I went to a hootenanny down by Case Western Reserve University and played there.”
Ocasek wasn’t the only one enjoying the trip to Cleveland—keyboardist Greg Hawkes reportedly made a special trip to Brewnuts to try their Cars-themed “All Mixed Up, Candy-O” donut.
Ann Wilson proved one of the night's brightest spots. Though not one of this year’s inductees (Heart was inducted in 2013), Ann Wilson posted one of the night’s best performances with a spot-on tribute to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell—teaming up with Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell for “Black Hole Sun.” Backstage, Wilson talked about her deep admiration for Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward and why she wrote a letter to get them inducted: “He inspired me to start writing songs.”
Wilson also addressed how Heart will be different should they ever reunite: “I know for a fact it will never go back to being a meat-and-potatoes, ‘just play the hits,’ old band,” said Wilson. “That’s why I stopped it, because I felt like it was beginning to disintegrate into commercialism. It was chasing the buck. Maybe that’s idealistic, but that’s what I had to do.”
The family that plays [music] together stays together. After giving an impassioned speech onstage about his sister Nina Simone, Sam Waymon came backstage to share some more thoughts about Simone’s impact—and how she might react if she were here to take part in the inductions.
“She would find this quite unusual because she isn’t exactly rock and roll,” Waymon said to appreciative laughs. “She never thought anyone really appreciated her music that much. That’s why she sang, ‘Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…’ She didn’t think the recognition [sic] of this country would appreciate someone as individualistic as herself.”
Now we know differently—as evidenced by the impassioned tribute paid by Lauryn Hill and Andra Day at Saturday’s show and the equally enthusiastic crowd response.
Bon Jovi hasn't forgotten their humble roots. You never forget your first, and Jon Bon Jovi is no different. Bon Jovi gave a lengthy acceptance speech onstage, paying tribute to the early days of the band and those who helped give them their start toward becoming one of rock’s most beloved bands.
So that’s what made it so cool when Bon Jovi headed backstage after their performance and unexpectedly encountered the radio DJ who first took a chance on the song “Runaway” back in 1983: John “Johnny Rock” Lassman (whom Bon Jovi had just name-checked during his speech). Bon Jovi hugged Lassman and shared the story of that fateful encounter.
“I knew the loneliest man in the world was the DJ, and he was the one who loved music more than anyone, because he had to determine what people listened to,” said Bon Jovi. “Fortunately, for me, they didn’t have a receptionist. He took the cassette and said, ‘That’s a hit song.’ And sure enough, we were blessed to have it happen.”
Bon Jovi used the opportunity to reiterate why he felt it was important to include up-and-coming bands (including the Ohio Weather Band) as their opening acts for their most recent tour. “I wanted to give them that opportunity like we had to get out there and make a name for themselves,” says Bon Jovi. “It’s so much fun for me to give them that wisdom of 35 years: go out there, win your crowd over, tell your story to the local radio station, and maybe someday you’ll be up here [getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame].”
Recording artist Brittany Howard The hits just kept on coming. Other highlights included "TODAY" host Savannah Guthrie’s surprise backstage appearance (as a guest of Jon Bon Jovi); Weezer’s Scott Shriner’s earnest homage to Ocasek and The Cars (whom he credits for his “obsession with synthesizers and new wave awkwardness”); and Brittany Howard’s praise for Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whom she helped induct with rocking renditions of "That's All" and "Strange Things Happening Every Day."
"She's a rule breaker—in my opinion, she's the one who created rock and roll," said Howard.
See who else shaped rock and roll with FreshWater managing photographer Bob Perkoski's Rock Hall inductions photo roundup:
Bon Jovi on the red carpetGraeme Edge, member of the Moody Blues
Justin Hayward, member of the Moody Blues
Fans waiting in the rain behind the red carpet to watch the inductees and other celebrities roll in
Crystal Fox, actor and niece of Nina Simone
John Illsley, left to right, Alan Clark and Guy Fletcher, members of Dire Straits
Jerry Cantrell, the founder, lead guitarist, co-lead vocalist for the band Alice in Chains
Musician Felicia Collins
Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame President Joel Peresman
Jon Bon Jovi
Jon Bon Jovi and family on the red carpet
Ava Sambora, inductee Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi and Orianthi
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi
Musicians of The Roots
Brandon Flowers and Ronnie Vanneucci of The Killers
Howard and Beth Stern
Recording artist Andra Day, right