Backstage with Ron Onesti:
The “culture” of music
Variety is a weekly entertainment “rag” (newspaper) that was first published in 1905 covering turn-of-the-century vaudeville performers and schedules. It soon branched out to film, publishing the first film critique in history (1907), and subsequently included reviews of books, music and television. The magazine is still in existence today, albeit solely in the digital format since ceasing the paper copy editions in 2013.
The name is no accident, as entertainment is based on variety, and proves wrong the adage “You can’t be all things to all people.” It is not necessarily true of entertainment, especially in the case of “Show Biz” (a term coined by Variety in 1945). All people are entertained to varying degrees, and I see it as my job to find ways to provide quality entertainment experiences for people from all walks of life.
As much as I live by that mission statement every day, it was only until recently where the concept of variety took on a whole new meaning.
In any given year, I will produce more than 200 live shows. The list of entertainers is a Who’s Who of classic rock all-stars, legendary singer/songwriters, country superstars, blues hall-of-famers, television icons, Motown greats and kings of comedy. Yes, a true variety.
But another perspective on the variety of shows we present is one of ethnic diversity. So much of what we present on our historic stage represents more than just the act itself being performed. Some shows and performers are a source of pride for fans from other countries who now call America home.
Much of my fun at The Arcada is watching the audience more than watching the actual show. Seeing folks dancing and holding hands, singing along with the superstars is an excitement for me rarely experienced under any other circumstances. And when a celebrity has a distinct ethnic presence, the pride exhibited by those in the audience of similar ethnic backgrounds just adds to the electricity of the show.
Take the Latin community, for example. Recently we had Rita Moreno appear at The Arcada. She is the 85-year-old Puerto Rican fireball who is one of only 12 entertainment legends to have earned an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award. A remarkable feat.
In the audience for her show was a Puerto Rican theater company just bursting with pride. She recognized the group publicly, and all 20 actors met her after the show, speaking in their native tongue as Moreno signed items in the colors of Puerto Rico, receiving gifts from her homeland. The group was full of proud tears and wide smiles.
When we had Jose Feliciano just a few months ago, the Latin community came out in droves! He was absolutely incredible, with more than 40 No. 1 hits to his credit. And as he sang those songs and bantered with the audience, he would throw out a phrase or a comedic punch line in his native Puerto Rican slang, which would bring out yells and applause from those who could understand his Latin humor.
Another “ethnic” entertainer who is, by far, one of the most talented and positively one of the nicest individuals in all of show business is Tony Orlando. Although many think he is of Italian decent, he is another pro of Puerto Rican decent — being half Puerto Rican and half Greek! Still, the Latin community showed up in support at his concert at The Arcada, as he just killed the audience with his megahits including “Knock Three Times” and “Tie A Yellow Ribbon.”
Vikki Carr, the American vocalist, performed at The Arcada just a few months ago. Although she is Texas-born, she has really embraced the Mexican heritage handed down to her from her parents. She has full albums out in Spanish, and some of the songs she performed that night sounded like a beautiful and romantic night in Spain.
When the Red Hot Chilli Pipers came from Scotland, (that’s right, “pipers” as in bagpipers), there was more plaid in The Arcada audience than ever at any one time. These were rock ‘n’ roll bagpipers that brought out the Scottish and Irish community like crazy!
Of course, volumes can be spoken about the effect Canada has on American entertainment. So many Canadians have graced our stage (too numerous to mention them all!). But when Burton Cummings of the Guess Who, or Paul Anka appear, people originally from all over Canada come to experience their favorite performers in our intimate venue. And what Canada has done for comedy, is almost unmatched! Dana Carvey, Martin Short, Norm Macdonald … all performed at The Arcada, just to name a few.
Jon Anderson of the band Yes, John Waite of the Babys, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, Alan Parsons from the Alan Parsons Project, Eric Burdon of the Animals … the list of performers from Great Britain who perform at The Arcada is about a mile long.
I am of Italian decent, so I regularly try to bring over entertainers from my “motherland.” Zucchero, the “Joe Cocker” of Italy who discovered Bocelli, is Eric Clapton’s favorite performer and is one of my personal favorite acts I bring from Italy. Il Volo, those three young tenors taking the world by storm, and Laura Pausini, the female pop superstar from Italy, are just a few of the green, white and red performers I have been privileged to bring over from “home.”
Eastern Europe is good for heavy metal bands. Just some of the “heavier” ones we host here at The Arcada include: The Scorpions’ Uli Jon Roth, UFO’s Michael Schenker, and the band Accept, all direct from Germany. Then there is the band Krokus from Switzerland and Yngwie Malmsteen from Sweden.
French violin virtuoso Jen-Luc Ponty has honored us with his show as has Cirque Zuma Zuma from Africa, a huge group of physical performers that turned The Arcada into an acrobatic wonderland.
It does go on and on. Not only do I have the exciting job of bringing music to the masses, but along with it has come the opportunity to provide a platform of ethnic pride. In this time of social and ethnic unrest, it truly is entertainment that unites people.
America is a musical “melting pot,” and it is music that will be the glue that keeps the fabric of this great country together.
• 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.