Backstage with Ron Onesti:
I’m star-struck, and proud of it!
I have been putting on shows, festivals and events for more than three decades. While working consistently with celebrities from all walks of life — sports, music, politics, television, radio and more, there is always somebody of varying degrees of stardom with whom I come into contact almost on a daily basis.
Most of my peers in the industry make it a point to express how they are numb to the celebrity interaction. “Just another day, another show, another band to baby-sit,” they would say.
And I could understand that. If you have a $50 filet mignon every day, you get tired of that, too.
But I can honestly say the excitement of meeting an entertainer from my childhood, high school years or anytime, really, whether I was a fan at the time or not, is still as much of a “high” as it ever was for me.
Yes, after meeting celebrities, they become much more “human;” they still change their socks, eat my meatballs and gotta be picked up at the hotel, just like you and I would do.
Still, the bonus I get is the story behind the songs that I am fortunate enough to hear. Not only that, but I understand their personalities better and am able to imagine with a greater degree of accuracy than most fans, of how it was when they were selling out arenas.
Besides all that, I still get the butterflies in my stomach as I approach our dressing rooms to welcome the act. And because we have such a variety of shows, the feeling is always different!
Let’s take the last couple of weeks, for example.
I had the legendary showman, singer and songwriter Paul Anka for two days. His songs were always among my extended family’s favorites. Growing up in a “Sinatra-centric” household on Chicago’s Taylor Street, having the guy who wrote “My Way” in my theater was about as exciting for me as having Frank here himself. I got to spend a great deal of time with him, both before and after his shows. Definitely a multitude of “pinch-me” moments!
Next was Pat Benatar. As far as defining the pop-rock music of the ’80s, few performers encapsulate an era like she does. Even her distinct look and facial features are part of it. Giving her a hug upon her return last week was beyond exciting! I have been fortunate enough to not only strike up a friendly relationship with her, but I have also come to be buds with her incredible guitar-playing husband, Neil Giraldo.
“Hey Ronnie, great to see you,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to being here all month.” Inside I’m thinking, “How cool is that?”
Let’s not forget a few nights later when I found myself listening to “How-it-used-to-be” stories with the legendary bluesman Buddy Guy in the dressing rooms. “We sang for cigarettes, back then,” he said. So cool.
A few days later was Tommy James. We have worked together on many occasions and yet it is still an exciting thing to welcome him back.
“The Master Showman,” he calls me. “Your songs are huge hits for not only you, but also Joan Jett, Billy Idol and so many more! YOU are The Master Showman,” I respond.
I left the dressing room singing “Mony, Mony” to myself.
All in all, I am still a fan of these showbiz people. Yes, I am star-struck. I was when I first started, and I still ask for autographs. They say if it’s fun, it’s not work. Well, if any of these people become just “entertainers” and not legendary musical superheroes to me, then that will be the day I get a “real job,” ‘cuz this is all still a dream to me.
• 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.