Ron Onesti: What I missed most about live music

World War II was tough on everyone as millions of Americans left their homes to fight.  Those left behind would also do their part, keeping the households and local businesses going while looking at pictures of their loved ones overseas on an hourly basis.

But they still had their live music.  Glenn Miller was with the soldiers, and many performers joined the fight by entertaining all over the world building morale.  Even when Joe DiMaggio and other players were drafted causing a lull in Major League Baseball, The All American Women’s Baseball League kept America’s game at the forefront.

During the Viet Nam War and the plight of the social challenges of the Sixties, Dion was singing, “Abraham, Martin and John”, and Jimi Hendrix shredded an incredible version of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock.  Even then, with racial and economic injustice rising to a forefront of awareness, the flag and live music prevailed.

After 911, with increased security initiatives including metal detectors at concert halls and sports arenas, we still joined together at large shows that felt like intimate family gatherings, all joined by American pride and a shared heartfelt nod to the victims.  It was baseball and music that picked the country up and helped to dust off the insecurity of what was to happen next.  Would we be safe again?

I remember feeling that uncertainty myself.  But it was that Yankee game in New York City the week after the tragedy that helped me get through it.  Every single person in the sold out stadium was waving a flag.  Even little kids were sporting flags they had drawn with crayons.  The infield was lined with police officers and firefighters.  Military honor guards walked in through the outfield.  Fireworks and the Air Force flew above.  God Bless America was sung.  I pumped out my chest as red, white and blue overtook the green grass of the stadium.  We stood, we saluted, and we wept.

Then music stepped in, and entertainers stepped up.  Did you know that Sir Paul McCartney was on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport during the Twin Tower attacks?  He then led a concert for the victims.  So many others also joined the musical fight with concerts and songs in remembrance.  Dylan, Bowie, Jagger, Springsteen, Sting, Bono, Clapton, Elton, Petty, Neil Young, Bon Jovi and many others used their music to pump us back up so that we could carry on with our lives.

With all the tragedies and challenges we have faced generation after generation, it seems that live music and sports were the needles and threads that ultimately tied us together, a part of the repairing and healing process.

But look at us now.  All of us around the world facing challenges, many unimaginable-unthinkable, just like many others have had to endure in the history of our country.  The difference now is that we do not have live music for us to fall on when we are at an all-time low.  And watching a baseball game with cardboard cutouts of fans behind the batters, although an admirable attempt, adds an air of depressing emptiness in the rest of the ballpark that just isn’t cutting it.  But still, the bats are swinging and the balls are flying over fences, so that does have SOME merit!

Whatever side of the fence you may be on regarding any issue prominent today, the strength and support we have historically received from live music and sports is not there for us right now.  And the near future is quite uncertain for us in the biz.

I know I will lose it when that first tour bus rolls in and parks by the stage door in the back of The Arcada.  When the artists enter our dressing rooms for their first time back, I am sure it will be like the locker room after a World Series win.  The only difference?  A musician would NEVER waste champagne by spraying it all over when they could drink a bottle or two instead!

I am pretty involved in all the facets of putting on our shows.  But one of the things I enjoy most about show day is when the entertainers and crew sits down for dinner.  It has come to the point where they ask for my meatballs, threatening not to walk on stage unless they have a plate of them before the show, and a serious to-go box for the bus!

My office sits down the hall from the balcony on the complete opposite side of the building.  There have been times when I would need to close my door as I am on the phone and the rockers begin their loud sound checks.

I won’t be closing my door anymore when they return as that all-too-familiar, “Check 1-2, Check 1-2” will literally be music to my ears.

Then there are the fans.  The look on their faces as they pose in front of our marquee to take a photo of themselves with their favorite artist’s name up there with “SOLD OUT” is priceless.  Their next step is to the merchandise table where they purchase ANOTHER t-shirt for their collections that they probably will not wear anyway.

They would grab their favorite beverage, then enter the main theatre.  To see THAT look on their faces is simply wonderful!  As they walk in, they look around and admire the ninety-four year-old concert hall for all of its history.  Their focus turns to the stage where the band’s assorted gear, massive drum kit and multiple-amplifiers are sitting in anticipation of the band’s greatest hits to be performed LIVE…just makes ya speechless!

I truly enjoy walking around and saying hello to our guests.  They are just filled with excitement and so appreciative of what we are doing at all our music venues.  It is easy for me to create these memorable experiences for people because I am as much of a fan as they are.  So I put on shows that I would like!

So I guess what I missed most was not the music itself.  It is what it does to people that makes me the happiest.  They have bad days, lose loved ones and have trouble at home or at work.  But once they come by us, it all goes away, albeit temporarily.  I’m like the grandparent that gets the grandkids when they are good.

In the grand scheme of things, I believe this will all be over soon, no matter what the “new normal” will be.  We will once again all, not some, be joined together by music in grand palaces such as ours, in the very near future.  In the meantime, we need to stay safe, stay healthy and most of all, keep the faith.  In the end, our faith in humanity is all we really have to combat what threatens our music.  So if we must fight, let it be with faith, hope and the power of music!