Backstage with Ron Onesti:
To all the dads out there
Each year, for the past 24, I have produced a festival on Father’s Day weekend in Chicago’s Little Tuscany neighborhood at 24th Street and Oakley Avenue. It’s called Festa Pasta Vino, and it showcases the Italian restaurants on the block, featuring generations-old recipes, classic Italian-style entertainment and the ambience of an “Old Neighborhood” block party.
As I prepare for this weekend’s annual event, I started to think about the dads who have taken the stage at The Arcada over the years. Since pretty much all the acts are “classic,” most of the performers are dads. But a few specifically come to mind with whom I have had the honor of connecting with personally.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of my dad’s passing. At this event on Father’s Day Sunday each year, we remember fathers who have passed, and recognize those dads who are still with us. To say it is a touching presentation is an emotional understatement.
Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers had lost his singing partner Bobby Hatfield not too long before I booked the two for The Arcada. Rather than cancel the show, or fill in with someone else that soon, his daughter McKenna accompanied him. Her voice was marvelous, and when it was time to do “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” she sang a duet with her dad that brought tears to the eyes of the sold-out audience.
Most people do not know that A-Lister film legend Kevin Costner has a country band! And I have been fortunate enough to work with him on several occasions as he and his band, Modern West, have appeared on The Arcada stage several times. The last time he came, he brought his daughter, Lily, who was about 26 years old at the time. A five-foot-seven beauty, her folksy voice added so much to the show, and watching the interaction between her and her uber-famous dad really brought Kevin’s “every-day-guy” side out.
My daughter, who was 10 years old and all of 40 inches tall, decided to take the hand of the three-times-her-age (and size) fellow daughter and teach her how to “shuffle” (a current dance move). Keven actually stopped his rehearsal just to watch the two backstage shuffle together. “Kev” and I shared a moment.
Most recently, I had the great Eddie Money tear The Arcada house down. His show is always so full of energy and humor, not to mention his pop-rock songs are just plain awesome! The past few years he has been joined on stage by his daughter, Jesse Money (birth name Mahoney, which is Eddie’s real name). She is a little firecracker of a performer who travels from one end of the stage to the other, singing backup vocals and even doing a solo or two.
It is so nice to see the celebrity relationship of father and daughter. Having a daughter myself, my ears perk up when I am walking through our dressing rooms and I hear someone call out, “Hey Dad.” It’s even cooler when both Kevin Costner and I say “Yes Honey” at the same time.
Then there are those with whom I have worked who are the famous offspring of legendary performers.
I spent many a night at an Italian restaurant table with Frank Sinatra Jr. He definitely lived in the shadow of his famous father, and some of his stories were rather sad. He always had great respect for his dad, and always referenced him with tremendous reverence. “I learned more about my dad on the internet than I actually knew myself,” he would say. Kind of sad.
The great New Orleans music man Louis Prima had a son, Louis Jr., and a daughter, Lena Prima. They became like family to me as I actually managed Lena for a few years. I even held Louis’ trumpet! For me, quite a big deal. Lena would always tell me wonderful stories about her dad, always funny, and always a good time. He was the voice of King Louie in the Disney classic film “The Jungle Book.” As a very young girl she though the big ape in the cartoon WAS her father!
She is an incredible vocalist and has a show in musical tribute to him, aptly called “Louis Prima, That’s My Dad!”
A young lady who has also become family to me, and who I work with often, is Carlise Guy, daughter of legendary bluesman Buddy Guy. A fabulous vocalist in her own right, she has her own band, NuBlue, and performs with Buddy regularly. He is always looking out for her and gives her constant advice (Somewhat of a rarity in the entertainment biz today).
Then there is the daughter of the “King of Cool,” Dean Martin. Deana Martin is like my big sister. Deana also performs around the world in tribute to her father and his music. Her book “Memories Are Made Of This” is a bestseller with warm memories of growing up as the daughter of the Rat Pack legend. Although her stories were heartfelt, her statement in her book — “My father was a great man, but not a great father” — referenced his time away from his seven kids (and three wives).
Here’s to you, Pops. And here’s to the other dad’s out there today, and to those of yesterday. Thanks to all those who have made a difference in their kids’ lives. We will celebrate you on Father’s Day, but feel you every day of our lives.
• 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.