Backstage with The Arcada Theatre’s Ron Onesti
Not a UFO sighting, just Schenker doing his thing
This past week we had two crazy-sold out shows with the legendary former guitarist from iconic rock bands The Scorpions and UFO, German-born Michael Schenker. The crowds went absolutely out of their minds when he took the stage, a “Rock-God” like few others, and we literally could not fit a piece of paper in the theatres!
What he does is pure rock guitar, no vocals. He leaves that to the talented singers that have surrounded him through his musical journey since the early 1970s. But he does “speak” through the countless, licks, strums, picks and waa-waas that emerge from his guitar as if it was an animal he was trying to hold back from leaping into the adoring crowd!
His performance was jaw-dropping and infectious. His devout audience was blink-less as their attention never wandered from the choreography of his skillful, agile paws. It was so intense, as he allowed those focused on his performance to peek into the actual “relationship” he has with his axe. He danced with his signature “Flying V’ in a rock-ballet even fair-weather fans would be mesmerized by.
Then came the face-morphing that accompanied every individual note. His mouth appeared as if he was shifting around marbles in his mouth timed with each note played, showing to the degree that he was “feeling” his music. I noticed some of the audience members doing the same thing, not realizing it. The music AND the physical performance emitting from every pore on his body was ever-contageous!
Schenker is definitely a much appreciated extreme when it comes to “being” his music. But still, so many also do the same, in their own ways. And when you think about the many, many musicians who have been playing virtually the same set of music for 30, 40, 50, even 60 years, yet still have the vim and vigor of that same rocking band that played at Chicago’s International Amphitheatre performance in front of 10,000 screaming fans in 1977, it is a testimonial to the degree of professionalism these music icons posess.
That is probably what I love best about the genres of music I specialize in at my venues. Doo-Wop of the 50s, Garage and Psychedelic Rock of the 1960s, Classic Rock and Heavy Metal bands of the 1970s, Hair Bands of the 1980s,and “heritage’ acts including Wayne Newton, Engelbert Humperdink, Tony Orlando, Tony Danza, Paul Anka and others…these folks take the concept of making it a “Biz of the Show” in “Show-Biz” to a level that touch millions on a daily basis.
The nervousness they still have as they are about to take the stage, their warm-up regimens and their pre-show “focus” time are traditions that have been with them for decades. And its quite interesting to be behind the scenes during their rituals.
78-year-old Blue Oyster Cult frontman Eric Bloom slams his dressing room door shut until the moment comes for him to walk on stage (no, he is not tuning up a cowbell). Kenny G plays his alto sax for four straight hours before his performance, Jerry and Dewey from AMERICA belt out scales together from separate dressing rooms and Steve Augeri formerly of JOURNEY is hitting high notes for a solid hour before his performance. These guys are serious!
But it is truly the way they engage with their audiences that excite me the most. We are entrusted with taking people away from the downs in their lives for a couple of hours, and the entertainers are the main part of that equation. The folks who spend their hard-earned dollars to purchase tickets walk in with the hope of being entertained. And all sides of that equation work tirelessly to take that needle and thread and stitch together a memorable experience for the fans.
And here is to the entertainers, not as much for their career accomplishments, but more for the commitment to their craft, and giving their audiences memories of a lifetime, from when they were fourteen-year-old budding music fans to today’s retired concert afficionados. They toss that “Hail-Mary” pass into the audience with every song they play, then the crowd catches that pass for a Superbowl touchdown. At least, that’s how these true professional make the audience feel.