Ron Onesti: Backstage with “The Boss”
Being in the biz of entertainment for almost four decades, one can only imagine how many boxes of “stuff” I have packed away in my basement. An extra-ordinary and unorganized collection of autographed posters, set lists, vinyl albums, and backstage passes join other unique bits of Rock ‘N Roll memorabilia I have stashed away over the years.
While moving a stack of posters that lay atop an old pan I needed for an event I was cooking for, a backstage laminate fell to the ground. It was from a night I’ll never forget-with Bruce Springsteen.
It was from a fundraiser held at Carnegie Hall in New York City for “Music for Youth”, a Springsteen supported organization, on April 5, 2007. An All-Star tribute to “The Boss”, about twenty artists performed his biggest hits. Interestingly enough, Bruce himself was not scheduled to appear.
Bobby Valli, Frankie Valli’s younger brother and also a performer himself, invited me to join him at the event. He was a part of the tribute to his fellow “Jersey Boy” along with Eddie Brigati and other members of “The Young Rascals” (“It’s A Beautiful Morning”, “Groovin’”). I had been buds with Bobby and the guys for years, and just finished doing some shows with them here in Chicago.
Bobby was very excited about this show they were doing at Carnegie Hall and invited me to be their “Road Manager” for the day.
So I flew into LaGuardia Airport the day of the show, and wend directly to Carnegie Hall. I got there just in time to greet the guys and get them backstage where they needed to be. Then the show producer took over and put everyone in the order of their appearance. My job was done.
The backstage area was cleared, but since I knew the guy putting the show together for years, he asked me to coordinate the backstage and left me there alone. Just being in Carnegie Hall was enough of a thrill, but actually being a part of this show was truly exciting!
There really wasn’t much “coordinating” to do, so I was just hanging out backstage. A guy comes up to me and asked me to hold his guitar for a second while he tied his pretty worn shoe. “Whoa!” I said out loud uncontrollably. It was Kevin Bacon! We talked for a bit…what a cool guy! Very humble and sincere. We talked about how cool the event was, especially being at the famed venue Carnegie Hall is. He and his brother Michael performed “The Streets Of Philadelphia”. A heartwarming rendition.
Among the other highlights of the night was a heartfelt performance by Patti Smith. She told the story about her biggest hit, “Because The Night”, and how Bruce wrote most of it, and “left blanks for her to fill in”. She was very much to herself before she went on.
My “Jersey Guys” did, of course, “Jersey Girl”. It became a sing-along song and the crowd joined in pretty loudly!
The performances and kind words for the cause and for Bruce continued for about two hours. During what turned out to be the last tribute song, this unassuming guy just a little bit taller than me appeared to my right, with his arms folded.
“This turned to be a great show,” he said to me.
In classic Ralph Kramden style, I just kind of said, “Homina, homina, homina.” It was Bruce Springsteen making small talk…with me!
I said, “I though you weren’t coming!” “We kept it quiet. We wanted to keep the focus on the kids,” he said.
He then thanked me for volunteering at the event, and took my backstage pass and signed it! “Volunteering?” I thought to myself. “I just came along for the ride!”
He then just walked onto the stage and the place went nuts! He spoke with sincere appreciation for the artists and the audience. The event raised over $150,000 for music education for kids.
For me, it was about reducing my six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon to one. But who gets to say their one degree is Bruce Springsteen?