Published February 11. 2013 4:00AM Updated February 11. 2013 7:18PM
Led Zeppelin can crow all they want about being from the land of the ice and snow. But if it's blizzard-time rock 'n' roll you want, look to Bon Jovi.
The multiple-platinum New Jersey band put on an impromptu free performance Saturday afternoon in the Mohegan Sun Arena before a Sun-estimated crowd of 2,000 fortunate folks.
Bon Jovi was scheduled to open a world tour Saturday night in the arena, but had postponed the show because of the blizzard and a statewide travel ban. The concert was rescheduled for Oct. 25.
As Saturday wore on, though, the band - on-site in the casino after several days of tour rehearsals in the Arena - learned that not only was the travel ban lifted at 4 p.m., but also hundreds of fans were already in the casino in anticipation of the scheduled performance.
After consulting with Tom Cantone, the casino's vice-president of sports and entertainment, Bon Jovi decided to put on the free concert.
"It was a weekend to remember. It was Jon and the band's idea totally," Cantone said. "We'd been discussing the postponement. Jon said, 'We'll do the October date, but why don't we also do a free show tonight for the people who are here and did make it?'
"Which was a great idea," Cantone said. People were already here and couldn't leave. We took a bad situation and put a happy ending on it."
News of the impromptu show was communicated within the casino in a variety of ways. Information was spread door-to-door within the hotel, the facility's PA system made announcements, and staff members went throughout the facility spreading the news. Word-of-mouth and use of social media took the information beyond the parameter of the property. By the time the band took the stage about 5 p.m., original ticket holders, arena staffers and Sun employees, fans nearby who could brave traffic conditions, and casino customers just randomly wandering through the gaming areas and shops gathered in the hall.
They were treated to a complete recitation of Bon Jovi's complete and tightly choreographed tour show. Using a full complement of stage lighting and production effects, Bon Jovi played 23 songs over the course of two hours - including an encore of "Living On a Prayer." The band mixed old favorites and material from their upcoming album, "What About Now," which will be released in March.
A statement on the official Bon Jovi website said, "The band performed … for snowed-in fans, patrons and employees alike. Bon Jovi recognizes how much preparation it takes for fans to attend a concert and they wanted to honor that the best way that they know how."
"I've never heard a crowd that size sound that loud," said longtime Bon Jovi fan Michael O'Farrell. "This is why people love this band. They didn't have to do this at all. Or they could have come out and played five or even 10 songs and people would have been grateful. But they went full blast for two hours - and they were clearly having as much fun as we were."
O'Farrell, a Norwich resident, spent Saturday alternating between shoveling snow and trying to find out whether the concert had been canceled. At 4 p.m., a friend called O'Farrell to say he'd heard from a source in the casino that Bon Jovi would in fact perform around 5 p.m.
"My wife, Renee, gave me an early Valentine's Day present," O'Farrell said. "She told me to go for it. It was like driving through ice-soup to get there, but I made it in time. The lights went down and the band came out and Jon Bon Jovi said, 'You've got to be really big to do a matinee. It's not how we envisioned kicking off a world tour, but it'll be fun.'"
O'Farrell said he was standing on the floor in a very disparate group. Fans from Vermont told him they'd had to leave home really early Saturday to get to the casino on time - given the weather and travel conditions - and were just hoping the performance wouldn't be canceled. Others standing next to O'Farrell told him they didn't have tickets and weren't even aware Bon Jovi was playing. They were just visiting the casino. "Believe me, they're fans now," O'Farrell said.
Tickets for the official Saturday concert will be honored at the Oct. 25 performance.