Backstage with Ron Onesti:

There’s nothing like music from ‘The Neighborhood’

Another edition of “Cornerstones of Rock: American Garage” at The Arcada Theatre is over, and boy, what a night it was! This was the fifth production of this historic presentation, and fans still could not get enough.

This show featured those amazing garage rock pioneers from Chicago who kicked off a national sensation that helped 1950s-era rock ‘n’ roll make the transition to the harder edged rock of the Sixties.

Being from the neighborhoods of inner city Chicago myself, I know exactly where these bands came from, and how they evolved. Summer nights, garage doors open in the alleys with 55-gallon metal garbage cans surrounding a splintered-wood telephone pole. This was in 1964, 1965, 1966. The British invasion was in full swing and local bands like the Buckinghams and the New Colony Six were planning their American music counterattacks.

Just a few months ago, we took the biggest garage rock bands from the Chicago area and brought them together for what we thought would be a single-night fantasy concert. It was such a cool concept, we taped it and PBS was all over it! WTTW Channel 11 sponsored it, the “Soundstage” people produced it and it became one of the most popular shows during the PBS pledge drives.

So we put together a roster of bands that truly represented the powerful impact Chicago had on the rock scene of the ’60s. The Buckinghams, the Ides of March, the New Colony Six, the Cryan’ Shames, the Shadows of Knight, Aliotta, Haymes & Jeremiah and the American Breed all came together for a one-night-only fantasy show, and it was incredible!

This past Valentine’s Day, we brought them together again for an encore performance at The Arcada. And these guys didn’t disappoint.

Jimy Sohns, the voice of the Shadows of Night, opened with “Shake” and his rock anthem “Gloria.” Next was the New Colony Six, who performed its smashes “Things I’d Like To Say” and “I Will Always Think About You.” Ted Aliotta came up to do the Chicago-centric tune “Lake Shore Drive,” then the Ides of March closed the first half with its monster hits “Vehicle” and “L.A. Goodbye,” while rounding out their set to include a couple hits written by Ides frontman Jim Peterik for other bands, namely .38 Special’s “Caught Up In You” and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

The second half began with the Cryan’ Shames performing hits including “Sugar and Spice,” then the Buckinghams closed the show with six smashes in a row: “Don’t You Care,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” “Susan, “Kind Of A Drag” and “Hey Baby,” followed by a special tribute to the leader of the group the Outsiders, Sonny Geraci, who was a great friend of all of ours and who recently passed away. They sang his hit “Time Won’t Let Me” and it was more than moving.

All the bands came out for the finale, a group rendition of the American Breed hit “Bend Me, Shape Me,” saluting another fallen brother, the Breed’s Gary Loizzo. The concert did end on a high note with a five minute standing ovation.

All night I was backstage, conversing with the acts before and after their performances. They were so excited, it was almost inspirational. Here are guys who have been performing for 50-plus years, and still putting their all into it, as if it were 1966 all over again. They still worked for their applause. They appreciated their audience. They were humble, grateful and just so sincere. The songs sounded as good as ever, and that audience was brought back to a simpler time in their lives.

And that is what I see as my responsibility: to provide people with an entertainment experience that takes them away from their everyday lives and brings them back to those earlier years of less stress, less responsibility. The power of music is something we at The Arcada have seemed to bridle, and it is our mission to redirect that power so people go home with a happier soul.

Within our packed houses of 900+ music lovers are individuals with major family issues — maybe the loss of a loved one, problems at work or financial woes. But for a couple of hours, they are able to forget it all, dance and sing to the music of their younger years. How cool is that?

I value that responsibility, and continuously try to find new ways of putting musical smiles on people’s faces. I guess I have a pretty good job, but at the end of the day, I am deeply indebted to these rock stars who started as 15-year-old songwriters sitting on the steps of a few bungalows in Chicago. It is their music that has stood the test of time and has allowed me to bring back great memories to music lovers everywhere.

Thank goodness for those concrete stoops, oil-stained garage floors and local high school gymnasiums. Those were the “studios” of the day, and music has never sounded as good as it did back then.

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email