Inside the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

We went to see Bon Jovi, The Cars, and more at the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony.

When Howard Stern took the stage shortly after 2018 Rock and Roll Hall inductions in Cleveland began, it was clear that this would be a different kind of induction ceremony. 

Stern embarked on a charmingly rambling, passionate defense of his favorite band, Bon Jovi’s bona fides and summation of their long history. He also, however, had some choice words for Rolling Stone editor-in-chief and Rock Hall co-founder Jann Wenner. He said, as helpfully transcribed by Maxim:

Now, on the other side of the zombie apocalypse, Jann Wenner finally let Bon Jovi into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Way to go Jan, Jonny, John, Jann, whatever the fuck your name is. Anyway, Jann, you did it. You finally gave this fantastic band their due.  

Now, for those of you who don’t know, Jann is the man in charge, but I’m not sure why. This guy doesn’t play a musical instrument, he doesn’t have a band, but he did start a great magazine, Rolling Stone. Yeah. And now it’s the size of a pamphlet, what a business plan, way to go. I read it in about 30 seconds backstage. Now, Jann required years of pondering to decide if this glorious band that sold over 130 million albums could be inducted. What a tough decision! 

April 14 2018 at Cleveland, Ohio’s historic Public Auditorium is the day in recent history in which Rock & Roll was most in its own feelings.

Howard Stern’s Jann Wenner monologue along with several inductees declarations of “about time” set a somewhat contentious tone that would carry through other parts of the show. Perhaps the tone was set before the show even began when the newly eligible Radiohead announced they would not attend the ceremony if nominated. 

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Due to Radiohead’s self-induced snub, it was a relatively “down” year as far as Rock Hall inductions go. The new entrants were Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, Nina Simone, The Moody Blues and “Early Influence” induction Sister Rosetta Tharpe. All worthy inductees but lacking the star power of last year’s crew: ELO, Joan Baez, Journey, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, and Yes. 

All of that contributed to an at times cranky ceremony. Dire Straits didn’t perform at all, with only three of their members making it to the show. Frontman Mark Knopfler, his brother and guitarist David Knopfler declined to attend with David posting on his personal Facebook page that the Hall “reneged” on its promise to provide him with all of the required travel costs to get to Cleveland.

Also contributing to some of the agitation was Nina Simone’s brother, Nyack Sam Waymon, who accepted the induction on her behalf. As much as Howard Stern really, really loves Bon Jovi, Nyack Sam Waymon really, really, really loves filibustering. His nearly 30-minute long speech was certainly passionate and at times endearing but also as torturous as any 30-minute speech is by definition. There’s a reason the Gettysburg Address is canonized and it’s because it barely lasts four minutes. 

So while the speeches and inductions may at times carried too many chips on too many shoulders, at least they were usually followed up by performances. There may not be a format better suited for limited modern attention spans than the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions. Each classic band and artist plays exactly four songs and it’s perfect.

It should be a prerequisite of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction that all artists inducted must embark on a countrywide tour playing their four most iconic songs. It’s better than a music festival where there are multiple performances going on at once and it’s better than the Grammys where each performer gets one song. 

The Bon Jovi portion of the show was the longest and most celebratory by far. The Jersey boys performed four songs, reunited with guitarist Richie Sambora for the first time since 2013. There didn’t appear to be any bad blood. They played “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “It’s My Life,” “When We Were Us,” and “Living on a Prayer.” Jon Bon Jovi mentioned in his acceptance speech that he had begun to experience vocal problems on their most recent tour and those seemed to carry over into their four performances. He toughed it out though, trooper that he is.

The Cars induction was fairly simple and sweet. Brandon Flowers of The Killers returned to the stage, after his band’s Tom Petty opener, to induct the boys from Boston. The Cars, alongside bassist Scott Shriner of Weezer, performed “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “You Might Think,” “Moving in Stereo,” and of course: “Just What I Needed.” 

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The night, however, belonged to Nina Simone. It was impossible not to be swept up in the impressive musical montage the Hall curated before her induction. And then, after ol’ Nyack had his say and it was time for the show, a murderer’s row of talent casually walked onstage, performing for Simone, who died in 2003.

Portions of five songs from Simone’s catalogue were split up among singer /songwriter Andra Day and an incredible collaboration between Lauryn Hill (yes, that Lauryn Hill) and The Roots. Together they all contributed in some way or another to “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” “I Put a Spell on You,” “Feeling Good,” “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” and “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” When the Rock Hall forces all these artists to tour in my hypothetical, unrealistic plan this portion will absolutely kill.

Interspersed among all the performances were some other house-keeping presentations for the Hall. There was a sadly saturated In Memorium segment that saw Ann Wilson (of Heart) and Jerry Cantrell (of Alice in Chains) performing Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” acoustically. The presentation for “Early Influence” inductee Sister Rosetta Tharpe was also eye opening and impressive. 

Additionally, the Hall announced a new initiative this year in which certain singles, not their artists would begin receiving inductions. Little Steven Van Zandt of the E-Street band announced the first round of inductees: “Rocket 88” – Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, “Rumble” – Link Wray, “The Twist” – Chubby Checker, “Louie, Louie” – The Kingsmen, “A White Shade of Pale” – Procol Harum, “Born to Be Wild” – Steppenwolf.

Once everything else was taken care of, the hallowed final performance spot of the night went to The Moody Blues. And they were…fine. After an hour-plus Bon Jovi show in the beginning followed by Nyack Sam Waymon learning us up something fierce in the middle, the crowd had little left for The Moody Blues as the final performer. Still, kudos to these wizened British dudes for being able to muster up the energy to (prog) rock. They performed: “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)”, “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Late Lament/Nights in White Satin,” and “Ride My See-Saw”

The Moody Blues also suffered from a lack of proper climax to the show. Previous years have often featured big, collaborative efforts as the show’s finale. You may remember this as being the event where Prince positively blew everyone’s minds by fucking his guitar into submission on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Instead immediately following “Ride My See-Saw,” the house lights came up and a voice over the loudspeaker hastily announced that it was the end of the show.

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Ultimately, a weirdly contentious, “down” year for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made for an unexpectedly compelling and entertaining show. Rock & Roll may have been in its own feelings but just like always when the lights went out it couldn’t help but put on a show.

HBO will air the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Saturday, May 5 at 8 p.m. ET.