by Brian Eastwood

Best Musicians to Perform at IT Conferences

Jul 24, 20128 mins
IT SkillsRelationship Building

With Jon Bon Jovi playing the party at this year's VMworld and the Red Hot Chili Peppers highlighting the Dreamforce agenda, looks at some of the best (and a few of the worst) musical acts to take the stage at IT conferences.

After months of speculation, VMware announced in June that Jon Bon Jovi would be the musical guest for VMworld 2012 in San Francisco. The Red Hot Chili Peppers will likewise hit the Bay Area for Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2012. These artists are the latest in a long line of musicians to make an appearance at an IT conference shindig. Take a trip down memory lane with and check out our (100 percent objective) list of some of the best, and a couple of the worst, musical acts to perform for an audience of IT professionals.

Metallica (Salesforce Dreamforce 2011)

Metallica at Dreamforce 2011

“Image by Cindy Danielson, Mediative

Metallica has been rocking for three decades—less so as time marches on, some would say, citing the collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony or St. Anger, but still more than enough to leave your ears ringing the next morning. In 2011, the band did just that when it played at Dreamforce, the annual Salesforce event in San Francisco. The lengthy set included metal anthems such as “One,” “Master of Puppets” and “Fade to Black,” along with the band’s cover of The Misfits’ “Last Caress” and “Green Hell.”

Slideshow: Metallica Rocks Dreamforce 2011 San Francisco

Commentary: Dreamforce 2011: Ukeleles, MC Hammer, Free iPads, Chatter Still Matters

The Killers (VMware VMworld 2011)

The Killers at VMworld 2011

“Image by Josh Coen, ValCo Labs

VMworld has had its share of big names play its party—Foreigner in 2009 and INXS in 2010—but The Killers’ appearance at VMworld 2011 tops them both for two reasons. One, The Killers can be readily identified with this decade, whereas Foreigner’s appearance made one editor wonder if he would be attending VMworld 1979. Two, the band got its start in small clubs in Las Vegas before Hot Fuss went multiplatinum on both sides of the Atlantic. The Killers’ VMworld setlist consisted of 11 well-known original tracks sandwiched around a cover of the Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini classic “Moon River.”

News: VMworld 2011 Brings Flurry of Third-Party Product Launches

Stevie Wonder and (Dreamforce 2010)

Stevie Wonder and at Dreamforce 2010

“Image by Beth McClintock

Black Eyed Peas frontman and Dipdive founder is no stranger to IT conferences—he performed twice at BlackBerry WES (2009 and 2010) and delivered keynotes at WES 2010 and CES 2012 (with Intel). His best performance, though, came at Dreamforce 2010 alongside R&B legend Stevie Wonder and a big brass band. Wonder wowed the crowd with hits such as “Isn’t She Lovely,” “Superstition” and “Sir Duke.” joined him for “Give Up the Funk,” then hit the turntables for two hours once Wonder finished. Not to be outdone, the next day Wonder helped CEO Marc Benioff kill time while everyone waited for keynote speaker Bill Clinton, whose plane was delayed due to bad weather.

Commentary: Dreamforce 2010: 8 Cloud Lessons

Aerosmith (Oracle OpenWorld 2009)

Aerosmith at Oracle OpenWorld 2009

“Image by Zach Urlocker

The Rolling Stones were originally slated to perform at Oracle OpenWorld in 2009, but they couldn’t make it. Aerosmith proved to be a worthy replacement, with a 90-minute set that featured mainstays such as “Dream On” and “Livin’ On the Edge.” According to one attendee, guitarist Joe Perry called the concert at San Francisco’s Treasure Island “the largest frat part we’ve ever played.” Oracle OpenWorld 2009 very well may have had the best lineup for any IT conference party, with Roger Daltry, Three Dog Night and The Wailers also performing that evening.

Wrap-Up: Oracle OpenWorld 2009: The Best and Worst from San Francisco

Tony Bennett (MacWorld 2009)

Tony Bennett at MacWorld 2009

It was the final year Apple appeared at MacWorld as an exhibitor, and Steve Jobs wasn’t there to deliver the keynote. Instead, that task fell to Apple Vice President Philip Schiller, who tried to get excited about iMovie, iWork and DRM-free music downloads. Then, suddenly, out stepped crooner Tony Bennett. Fresh off a series of holiday promotional appearances and more than a decade into his comeback, Bennett sang “The Best Is Yet To Come” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (where MacWorld is held annually) before leaving to a standing ovation.

Wrap-Up: 9 Innovative Apple-Friendly Products from Macworld 2009

Foo Fighters (Dreamforce 2008)

Foo Fighters at Dreamforce 2008

“Image by Michael Krigsman via Flickr

With three Dreamforce events on this list, Salesforce clearly knows how to throw a party. The Foo Fighters beat out some other solid Dreamforce musical acts for a spot on this list—with one notable exception that will be discussed later—in part because the alt rockers, like The Killers at VMworld 2011, performed while still topping the Billboard charts. Like the other musicians on this list, the Foo Fighters stuck to a set of recognizable hits that included “I’ll Stick Around,” “My Hero” and “The Pretender.” The band did in fact stick around, too, playing for more than 90 minutes and leaving attendees with index fingers and pinkies extended for quite a bit longer.

Analysis: Sites Slices Cloud in New Ways, Benioff Says

John Mayer (Blackberry WES 2008)

John Mayer at Blackberry WES 2008

“Image by BlackBerry Cool

If you think he’s just running through the halls of his high school and screaming at the top of his lungs, then you haven’t heard his work with the John Mayer Trio or his live blues and classic rock covers that leave female teenage fans thoroughly perplexed. That sort of repertoire makes Mayer a good fit for the demographic of the typical IT conference. Mayer even cracked a joke at the BlackBerry Worldwide Enterprise Symposium (WES) 2008 about blaming an empty inbox on BlackBerry service outages, not an actual lack of new email. Mayer stayed true to the provider, though—after the show, photographers caught him sporting the new BlackBerry Bold.

Blog: Al Sacco’s Favorite New BlackBerry Products, Services from WES 2008

Hootie and the Blowfish (AT&T VIP Bash, BlackBerry WES 2008)

Hootie and the Blowfish

“Image by

Mayer wasn’t the only hit-maker at WES 2008. Hootie and the Blowfish, whose Cracked Rear View was one of the top-selling albums of the 1990s, performed at the Orlando House of Blues during the event’s AT&T VIP Bash. Hootie’s set included a version of “Losing My Religion”—an homage to its origins as an R.E.M. cover band at the University of South Carolina—along with “Time” and “Only Wanna Be With You,” two hits you still won’t admit you listened to back in the day (probably while wearing flannel). As it turns out, WES was one of the band’s final concerts; Hootie went on hiatus at the end of 2008 so frontman Darius Rucker could focus on his (rather successful) solo country career.

KISS (Networkers at Cisco Live 2007)

KISS at Cisco Live 2007

“Image by

When director Michael Bay and comedian John Cleese are on the speaker list, as was the case for Networkers at Cisco Live 2007, the entertainment had better be good. Cisco delivered with a carnival in a field in Mission Viejo, Calif., complete with a Ferris Wheel, human foosball and none other than the boys from Detroit Rock City. KISS entered to its customary light show and pyrotechnics and was greeted by a surprising number of network administrators decked out in KISS face paint. Lead singer Gene Simmons and guitarist Paul Stanley also appeared in a short video as part of the Cisco Connected Life contest.

Ray Charles (WordPerfect party at Comdex 1992)

Ray Charles

We’re stepping into the vault to highlight a party hosted by a company that no longer exists at a conference that no longer exists featuring a singer-songwriter who died in 2004. Why? Because it’s soul legend Ray Charles, who, according to this Google+ thread and accounts from staff, made an appearance at the party that WordPerfect threw at Comdex 1992. No set lists or photos can be found online, but it’s safe to say it was probably an awesome show.

Dishonorable Mention: Train (Microsoft TechEd 2006, Dreamforce 2006, Google I/O 2012)

Train at Microsoft TechEd 2006

“Image by Jason Coyne

The venue for the Microsoft TechEd 2006 party was fantastic—an empty Fenway Park. Attendees had a change to walk on the warning track, pose with the 2004 World Series trophy, take some swings in the batting cages and even hang out in the park’s swanky luxury boxes. Few bands can stand up to such a venue, but the band responsible for “hits” such as “Meet Virginia” and “Hey Soul Sister”? Really? (If it’s any consolation to Microsoft apologists, Train also played at Google I/O 2012—though the band apparently put on a pretty good show for the search engine giant, even making SEO jokes about the futility of Googling the band’s name.)

Roundup: The 6 Biggest Announcements from Google I/O 2012

Dishonorable Mention: Chris Martin (Apple press conference 2010)

Chris Martin at Apple's press conference, 2010

It’s cute that Chris Martin would play an Apple event, since his daughter is named Apple. It’s also cool that Martin would use the occasion of the September 2010 iTunes 10 and Ping launch to debut a new Coldplay song—in this case, “Wedding Bells.” That doesn’t make his music any better.