Gary James' Interview With Rich Antonelli Of
Bon Jovi Tribute Band
They are referred to as "The Ultimate Bon Jovi Tribute Show." Sell-out crowds follow where ever they perform. For a look inside one of the most successful touring Bon Jovi tribute acts on the road, we spoke with Rich Antonelli of Bon Jersey.
Q - Central New York is Bon Jovi territory. I see you performed at Vernon Downs on January 21st, 2017. How was the turn out?
A - It was great! It was sold out. They had us in, I guess they call it the ballroom there, and they set up a stage. They had six hundred people and standing room. So, hopefully we'll be going back there at some point. We actually played in Baldwinsville (New York) one year too. So, we've been up there a couple of times.
Q - You're not just a Bon Jovi tribute act, you're "The Ultimate Bon Jovi Tribute Show". How'd you get that title?
A - We've heard that from people just because of the type of show that we've done, and as far as the look of the band too. There are other Bon Jovi tributes that are really good musically, but they don't have the look. It just kind of came up that way.
Q - They guy who plays Jon Bon Jovi in Bon Jersey, Joe Ventura gets stopped regularly because he bears such a resemblance to Jon. How annoying is that to him?
A - (laughs) He's been doing it for over twenty years now. Here's a funny story: We played in B.B. King's in New York City one year. In most of those places there's only a front door. There's no back entrance. All of those buildings are connected. So, you had to load your gear through the front door and then when the show was over you had to go out the front door too. So, we finish the show. There was like a thousand people there. We're taking our stuff out the front door. This is after everybody cleared out of there. We're bringing everything out to the cars and this guy comes running up to him. We're all looking at him like, "What's going on here?" The guy goes over to Joe and starts shaking his hand. He says, "I just saw you on The Today Show yesterday. I can finally meet you after so many years." The rest of us are on the side just laughing, watching this whole thing. Joe played it up and took a picture with the guy. Stuff like that happens a lot.
Q - So, he just takes it in stride then?
A - Yeah. It's not like it happens to him every single day, but mostly at shows. Where he lives, people know him.
Q - Would it happen to him if he went to a supermarket?
A - I don't know if it happens to him that much as far as that goes. You know, he's not dressed for the stage. He lives in a small town, so most people know him.
Q - You guys were originally known as Jovi. Then you changed the name to Bon Jersey. That's a clever name change. Who came up with that?
A - Actually, Joe and I did. We had to change the name. The reason it was called Jovi is back when we first started, Joe's name is Joe Ventura, so Joe V. When my drummer and I got in the band around the same time, we started playing bigger and better venues. The band was getting bigger and bigger. We basically had to stop using that name because we got a cease and desist from trademark attorneys. I got over-nighted a letter basically saying you need to shut down. We actually got in touch with Jon Bon Jovi's brother, Matt and let him know about this and the band knew nothing of this, that the attorneys were going after tribute bands. So, his advice was, "You know what? It's just a name. Change it. Don't try and fight the battle 'cause you're not going to win." We had to come up with a name. Joe and I were just talking on the phone one day and we, both of us, kind of instantly came up with it.
Q - Would the attorneys have come after you had the band's name been Jove?
A - I don't know. They said it was more of a trademark thing. I know we weren't the only band they went after.
Q - It's interesting that some tribute bands will get that cease and desist order and other bands, tribute bands, will never hear from the original guys.
A - I think it just depends on the band really. When we talked to Matt Bon Jovi he said, "Change the name. One good thing that came out of this is that my brother knows who the guys are now. He's checked you guys out. So, you're known to those in Bon Jovi."
Q - Just for the record, Jon Bon Jovi knows who Bon Jersey is?
A - Pretty much. That's what we were told. I'm sure he checks 'em all out. I've read his interviews where he said he doesn't mind tribute bands. Tribute bands really are just promoting the actual band.
Q - That's right.
A - We've actually had people come up to us after shows that just happened to be at the gig and weren't really Bon Jovi fans, and said, "You know what? I wasn't a Bon Jovi fan, but I saw you guys tonight and I'm at least gonna try to check out the "Greatest Hits" album." So, we know we've helped some CDs here and there.
Q - What were you doing before Bon Jersey?
A - I was in a Bon Jovi cover band, just in Rhode Island, playing locally. Didn't have the look that Bon Jersey has. Right before that I was in an original band called Sky High for fifteen years.
Q - When Bon Jersey won the Limelight Magazine 2010 Tribute Band Of The Year, that's when things really took off for the band?
A - Yeah, probably. I'd been in the band since 2006. I'd say around 2009, 2010, is when it really moved forward a little.
Q - Bon Jovi still tours, correct?
A - Oh, yeah. Still doing it.
Q - And you guys are pulling in the crowds as well.
A - The other thing too, and it's not just with us, it's with a lot of tribute bands, is that ticket prices are so high these days, people don't want to shell out $200 to $300 for a ticket in the nosebleeds when they can just go see a tribute band that does it well for a free show or like ten dollars.