Students go backstage at Bon Jovi

BY KATIE HEINE | MAY 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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DESMOINES— Kelli Sullens may be "livin' on a prayer" today as she takes her last final exam for an entrepreneurial course.

Because instead of cramming for the exam Thursday, Sullens and five other University of Iowa students spent the day in Des Moines interacting with the production crew of musical legend Jon Bon Jovi.

Students had the opportunity to learn about set design, sound production, and event planning as a part of Bon Jovi's worldwide "Circle Tour" on May 12 at Wells Fargo Arena.

"It's kind of almost a dream," said Sullens, a UI sophomore majoring in journalism.

University officials were contacted in early April about the unique opportunity, said Becky Scott, administrator of the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Originally, Scott — who attended the concert along with a faculty member — said she thought the e-mail was a joke. But after a bit of digging, she realized the opportunity was anything but fake.

The Bon Jovi "internship program" started around three months ago when the lead lighting designer suggested giving local college students an opportunity to see all of the work involved with putting on a tour production, said Mike Savas, management and VIP coordinator for the Bon Jovi tour.

"It's our way of giving back to local communities," Savas said, noting Bon Jovi was very supportive of the idea.

The goal of the program is to give students an inside look into how a tour works — from management and production to marketing and stage design. Crew members were busy preparing all day, but they took time to speak with students about what they do and how they got there.

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Students said the experience was surreal.

"I love music. Music is like my passion," said UI sophomore Alissa Rosen.

The 20-year-old said her dream job is to be in the music production field, and having this opportunity would be beneficial for her future.

As someone who's been to "a ton" of concerts, she said, it was thrilling to be behind-the-scenes.

"It's really cool to be on the other side — I'm usually in the crowd," she said.

And eventually, she was. Rosen and the rest of the UI group received free tickets to enjoy the show from lower-level seating and were some of thousands of fans to fill the arena.

The crowd erupted with cheers as the lights dimmed and Bon Jovi emerged on stage, opening with "Lost Highway." The cheering carried over into the popular track "You Give Love a Bad Name" as crowds sang along.

Students were able to see the set evolve from start to finish, speak with crew members, and assist with projects such as preparing the VIP room, an area for special guests to gather before the show.

Prior to sound check, students were allowed to explore the stage Bon Jovi and his band would perform on only a few hours later.

The Bon Jovi production crew prides itself on its advanced technology, such as using robots attached to high-resolution screens, and students were given a tour of some of the "bells and whistles" used to enhance the Bon Jovi experience.

"This tour is definitely the leading edge when it comes to video equipment used for live acts," said Mark O'Herlihy, video crew chief.

And though students didn't meet Bon Jovi himself, they were still pleased with their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"I just really can't even believe I'm here right now," Rosen said.

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