Backstage with Ron Onesti:
Being thankful for music and memories
Thanksgiving brings with it various tributes in the newspapers, on television and on the radio, to all we are thankful for. Heartwarming articles about random acts of kindness and salutes to our war veterans, teachers and first responders. Shout-outs to co-workers, waves to local business owners, hugs to friends, love to family members … all gestures symbolizing our gratitude for being a part of our lives.
I could fill this entire publication with a column devoted to those people in my life to whom I am most grateful: my family and friends, the opportunities I have enjoyed, and the blessings I have received.
I have worked hard and have my share downfalls, misfortunes and losses, but all in all, thus far I truly have had a wonderful life.
And as I sit back and reflect upon all of this, I can’t help but think about the ways in which music has so enhanced my life. For many, the ability to create music, perform music and just play music is what they are most thankful for. But for me, being able to construct a situation whereby fans can join together and experience music in such a way as to allow them to forget about life for a while — well, that is a gift from up above.
To bring people back to their formative years when they developed “their” musical tastes, even for just a few minutes, is a blessing in and of itself.
Each time I look into the audience from backstage, as the crowd is singing along and just having a great time, I know there is somebody out there who recently lost a loved one, lost their job, had an argument with their spouse or just had a rotten day. But for a couple of hours, the product we put on stage takes them away from it all. They forget about their medical ailments or their depressed state. The music uplifts them and the warm ambience of our historic stage makes them feel at home.
I am pretty thankful for the ability to provide that experience, and the love I receive back from the music lovers is immeasurable.
As we are all thankful for our parents who breathed new life into us, when it comes to my appreciation for music, I must point my ever-loving finger at the both of them. Neither really played an instrument, although my dad loved to mess around with drums as a youth, and my mom’s father was a mandolin virtuoso, and a major music professor in Florence, Italy, in the 1920s and 1930s. But still, I think I was musically born “at the right time,” and their unique personalities allowed me to open my heart to the vast world of music.
My mom opened my mind to opera, as I was exposed to the works of Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Beethoven at a very young age. She loved to clean the house with operettas in the background.
My dad was a proud World War II veteran, so I knew who the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman were before I could walk. He loved the two “greatest drummers of all time” (to quote him), Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. And lest we not forget, the “second” trinity that exists for Italian-Americans outside of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit … Sinatra, Martin and Bennett! Our house was rarely void of one of the three playing on the phonograph.
As I mentioned earlier, thankfully, I think I was born at a pretty good time musically. I am a child of the early Sixties, less than ten years after the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, so I was still exposed to that doo-wop of the Fifties (plus with the ’70s television shows “Happy Days” and “Sha Na Na” and the films “American Graffiti” and “Grease,” the music of the Fifties was something I really got into).
I was 7 years old in 1969, the year of “Flower Power,” “The Summer of Love” and “Woodstock,” but man, I was still a “cool cat” and into the music, mainly because of my elder cousins. I was SO cool, my dad, the tailor, even made me my own Nehru jacket! Remember those?
I also got to experience the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elvis, albeit just on TV, but still.
Even though “My Rock” is the classic rock of the 1970s, I was still bitten by the disco bug in 1976. There were two kinds of people back then: those who admitted they loved “Saturday Night Fever,” and those who deep down wanted to put a white polyester suit on and move like Travolta, but would NEVER say it out loud.
Television of the late 1960s through the 1970s really fostered promotion of Top 40 music. Of course, there was “Hullabaloo,” “Shindig,” “American Bandstand” and “Soul Train,” but variety shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Sonny & Cher,” “The Hudson Brothers,” “The Julie Andrews Hour,” “The Glen Campbell Show,” “The Johnny Cash Show” and so many others were all musically based. How about TV specials hosted by the Captain and Tennille, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdink and Tony Orlando & Dawn? It is incredible how ahead of their time shows like “The Midnight Special” and “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” were, and what MTV did for modern pop music can never be accurately measured.
And don’t forget what Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas and other TV talk shows and hosts did to promote music! Yeah, I am musically thankful for the time in which I was born.
When it comes for me to reflect upon the gifts for which I am thankful, what can I say about the historic Arcada Theatre? I stumbled upon it 12 years ago, saved it from an eminent repurposing into a professional building, and have taken it to the level of a nationally respected music venue. What this grand dame of the vaudeville era of the Roaring Twenties has given me, words cannot accurately explain.
It has brought hundreds of thousands of show-goers great joy, the community great pride, and has done its part to perpetuate live music. I am thankful for the incredible people I have met by virtue of this grand palace of 1926. From legendary performers to loyal employees, and industry pals to all our beloved customers, I was truly blessed when I signed on the dotted line in 2005.
So as Thanksgiving 2016 passes us by, I want to thank all who contributed to my love for all music. I hope I have shown my gratitude by respecting the legacy of those with greased pompadours in the ’50s, mop tops and hippie-long hair of the ’60s, the layered shags and Farrah Fawcett-styles of the ’70s and the hair bands of the ’80s. As the years roll by, and as my forehead gets broader and the only thing thin about me is what’s on top of my head, I get more and more thankful for the music, each and every day.
And as long as I am at it, thank YOU for reading this! I have received a great amount of support for my column, and I am humbly grateful. With your kind permission, I intend on sharing more of my “Backstage” experiences in 2017 while creating more “In front of the stage” experiences for Arcada fans! Come by and see us!
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.