Backstage with Ron Onesti :
Michael Bolton wins over this rocker
Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Foreigner, Journey, etc., that typically describes me. I am a ’70s rocker at heart as that was the time of my high school years. So when Michael Bolton hit the airwaves, well, let’s just say I was NOT wearing a Bolton concert T-shirt under my flannel, long-sleeved shirt.
But now that I have had the opportunity to work with MB on several occasions, I can honestly say he is not only one of the most talented vocalist/songwriters I have ever worked with, but also one of the coolest guys out there!
I’ve been called a rocker, an old-school teenager and an old soul. I love the classics from all eras of music, and really all genres, for the most part. I can truly appreciate entertainers from all ranges of the talent spectrum. Some have incredible voices, but are a bit lacking when it comes to delivery. Some are amazing entertainers, hopping around the stage, venturing into the audience and leading the throngs in singalongs. And some are both.
I was hired to do a corporate event in Orlando, Florida, requiring me to bring in a headliner for the end of the event gala. I needed someone who was very recognizable, someone who can kill an audience with just a piano, and somebody who would be flexible with details. Bolton was that guy.
The event was for 300 marketing professionals. Michael came out on stage and really killed it! He did all his hits while intertwining marketing elements that were pertinent in his career. One of the biggest marketing tools he had? The long locks of curly hair he had for most of his career, although he has since cut down to a very short hair style.
“I had hair down to my waist since I was 14 years old,” he said. “I was a bit defiant those days, but as I began to get more involved in music, my long hair made me more recognizable, more memorable.”
Bolton just decided to cut it in 1997 and it made world headlines. To this day, people still associate him with that look. “About 100 million dollars was spent marketing my hair,” Bolton said. “It helped sell albums, but it won’t ever go away!”
I’ll be honest, I DID expect to see his long curly-locks when I first met him. He walked into the room that day, fit and trim, with grayish blonde hair cut short. It was almost disappointing!
After his performance, we had dinner and talked about his storied career. A cool connection we have involves the sport of softball. My brother Rich and I had a specialty-sports store in Chicago for 12 years called “Onesti’s Softball City.” We would supply hundreds of teams in the Chicago area with their baseball and softball uniforms and equipment. We had it 12 years and it was wonderfully successful, especially because I played semipro baseball myself and had a massive passion for the sport.
“I am so into softball myself,” Bolton said. “Did you know I put out a softball instructional video?” It seems on many occasions, Bolton would put a team together and play a local team to raise money for charity prior to one of his concerts.
So we talk about The Arcada and he tells me he wants to play there, and that he has heard so much about the place. How cool is that? We worked it out and a few short months later he appeared to a sold-out audience here at the Arcada Theatre.
As I welcomed him into the dressing rooms that night, he wanted a tour of the behind-the-scenes areas of the theater. All of a sudden he said, “Wait, I have to do something!” He saw a picture of fellow singer/songwriter Richard Marx on the green room wall and took a photo of it. “This is the guy who told me about your place,” he said. He texted it to Richard and asked, “Guess where I am?” Richard responded: “My favorite place, The Arcada!” I was red with pride.
He performed his heart out that night; I was just blown away by his show. “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You,” “Love Is A Wonderful Thing,” “When A Man Loves A Woman.” The hits just kept coming! And when he did one of my favorite Italian opera tunes, “Nessun Dorma,” I actually teared up. This guy is an ultimate performer!
So when I have him back this Tuesday night for a greatly anticipated command performance, I will be right there in the front row rockin’ out to the love songs of Michael Bolton. He once had hair similar to that of Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, so for me, that makes him enough of a rocker to justify me air-guitaring to “When A Man Loves A Woman.”