Kenny G … Legendary performer and iconic prankster
It’s no secret I loooooooove my rock ‘n’ roll! Being a kid of the early Seventies, I was exposed to that great classic rock of the time, from Led Zeppelin to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and classic pop of Elton John to Barry Manilow. My older cousins and their friends were still in the “Hippie” phase from the 1969 Woodstock era, so I was surrounded by Joplin and Hendrix much of the time, too.
The television shows “Happy Days” and “Sha Na Na” and their throwbacks to the music of the “Fabulous Fifties” made me want to cuff my straight-legged jeans and grease back my thick head of hair at the time (instead I started with that side-part Donny Osmond look in grammar school, then went with the part in the middle to look like Chachi/Scott Baio). Because of those shows, my love for music of that era broadened and I was doo-wopping all the time (no bad Italian jokes here, folks).
Although I have come to adore jazz as a musical genre, jazz wasn’t a huge thing for me growing up. It was hard for me to follow those structured/unstructured tunes, and I hadn’t come to fully appreciate the power of “scattin’ ” and “do-be-do-be-do-ing” yet.
But then in 1987, “Songbird” by Kenny G came out on the jazz charts, then the R&B charts, then the pop stations started playing it. I think it was that song that helped me realize I had a “romantic” side to me. Not since “Colour My World” by the band Chicago did a song epitomize the slow dance for me.
A couple of years later, Kenny G came to Poplar Creek Music Theatre. By then, his star had risen tremendously, and I really wanted to see this guy. So I got my tickets for the Kenny G show, and I was so excited! To keep my rockin’ record straight, I also saw Poison, Phil Collins and Cheap Trick that year, too.
I was running late, trying to catch the show after work, as usual (I’ve been a seven-day-a-week worker for as long as I can remember). I had to park so far away in those massive and dusty gravel lots Poplar had.
Halfway to the venue, I heard the crowd roar as the lights went down. The show was about to begin! I started running to the gate, fully dusting up my new brown, suede “Earth” shoes. I got in just as Kenny was beginning his set. I was starving and just couldn’t pass up the popcorn stand I was smelling halfway through the parking lot.
As Kenny’s saxophone filled the air, I tried to find my seat in the pavilion, hands full with popcorn, Twizzlers and soda. I was dipping my tongue into the box while walking, trying to grab a kernel or two. I couldn’t help noticing people kind of staring at me as I walked on that concrete walkway between pavilion chairs and lawn seats.
It really was awkward as all these people were glaring at me as I walked by, obviously taking note that I was late for the show. But I couldn’t believe just how many people were looking at me rather than Kenny G. on stage! Jeez, did I feel embarrassed!
I was so taken aback over the attention I was drawing while trying to find my seat, I passed up the section my seat was in. I spun around and saw what it was people were actually staring at. Kenny G was following me the entire time I was looking for my seat, still playing his sax. No wonder he wasn’t on stage. I thought it was recorded music playing to warm up the audience!
I thought I was embarrassed before! The whole crowd laughed and applauded as Kenny escorted me to my seat, never missing a note.
Here its is, over 25 years later. I have been in the music biz about 35 years and had never had the opportunity to work with Kenny G, until just last week. He performed for the first time at our Arcada Theatre. And I gotta tell ya, if there is only one show with us you come to see next year, his show should be right up there with your other favorite possibilities.
I found him to be such a “real” person, incredibly warm, humble and sensationally accessible and considerate to his fans. He stood in our grand hallway both before AND after his show, shaking hands, signing autographs and taking pics. He loved the theater and was so impressed with our 92-year-old building. He loved it!
Just before he came on stage, I welcomed the audience as I usually do. I gave a couple announcements about future shows, thanked all for coming, and briefly spoke about this being Kenny G’s premier performance at The Arcada.
I was thinking to myself, this audience is great. Every one of them is smiling widely, laughing hard at every one of my little “quips” and attempts at humor. I really thought I was “on” that night. Everybody loved me!
But then, as I turned to introduce Kenny G, I found him to be standing behind me the whole time, kind of mocking me and pointing to his watch to get me offstage. That son-of-a-gun did it again! I was an innocent victim of a Kenny G prank — once again!
His show was nothing short of breathtaking. He even did a couple of songs standing on a chair in the audience; the crowd went wild! Note after beautiful note literally filled the room with a great arena-style sound, embracing the audience, leaving all with that warm feeling of a sip of hot chocolate on a cold winter day.
I just can’t say enough about Kenny G as a performer, and as a human being. As much as I love his music, and have come to admire him as a “regular” guy, my goal has gone from working with this legend to figuring out how I can get him back for those times he made me part of his act.
But then again, being the “straight man” to a guy like Kenny G, isn’t all bad because it comes with some of the most soothing and beautiful music on the planet.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email email@example.com.