Ron Onesti: All hail the LOOP shirt!

BACKSTAGE with the Arcada Theatre’s Ron Onesti

One of the cool things about being on stage introducing the acts at both The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles and the Des Plaines Theatre, is that I get to look out into the audience at all the excited faces just waiting to rock ’n roll. But as each concert goes by, year after year, I am seeing more of something than I have ever seen before … “The Band” T-shirt!

People are going through their closets, trunks and the basements of their 85-year-old parents’ houses to find the same shirts they purchased at the International Amphitheatre and the Chicago Stadium where concerts in Chicago were born.

Most are authentic. I know that for a fact because I could not imagine anyone buying an Alice Cooper T-shirt online from Amazon that is two sizes too small! But somehow, being a rock ’n’ roller through and through gives you the fashion license to look like, as my dad used to say, “10 pounds of sausage in a 5-pound bag!”

Nothing says Chicago rock more than a LOOP shirt, put out by the FM radio station WLUP back in the ’70s. The wavy-blond Lorelei that first appeared on the TV commercials sporting the tight black shirt became a pop icon and made the logo and the shirt as much about the music as the guitars themselves.

And at every rock show that we have, more and more LOOP shirts emerge. It is actually somewhat comforting to see so many in the audience. They bring a sense of familiarity that adds to the experience. As I see it as our duty to do everything we can to bring our beloved customers back to the simpler years of pimples and Pink Floyd, the scattered LOOP shirts in the audience add to the ambience.

For me, the band T-shirt experience began not at a concert, but as a result of a good friend who was a silk screen printer of the concert shirts being sold at the International Amphitheatre. I was a freshman at Weber High School in Chicago. After each concert, he would have a stockpile of the shirts that didn’t sell. So he gave them to me for $2 each! Can you believe it?

So I made a deal with the guy who had the locker next to me — three shirts in exchange for allowing me to put my books in his locker. My locker became a heavenly place to get concert shirts from RUSH, Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan, Jethro Tull and others. This was of course before the internet, but also before shirts became available at Montgomery Ward or Woolworths.

I could not keep them in stock! Weber was an all-boy school and style was the last thing on our minds as we ran out of the house barely making it to the first period before the bell rang.

But my shirts added the “style” we lacked. So many students who wore flannel shirts, corduroy pants, Earth shoes and our Dad’s unwanted paisley big-knotted ties brought there fashion sense to a new level by donning a Beach Boys T-shirt over their flannels.

It is said that the first actual concert shirts were of Elvis in the ’50s, and it was really the Beatles that made the concept popular in the ’60s. AC/DC was the first touring band that made more money on its merchandise than on their concert tickets, and it was KISS that went to another galaxy with over 2,500 products that sported their logo.

These days, it is fun to see what shows up at the theaters. The past couple of weeks we had AC/DC, Judas Priest and Journey shows with so many people wearing shirts with those band logos on them, it was like being back at the “World Series of Rock” at Comisky Park again. Along with those shirts came a pride of connection to those bands. They screamed, “This is who I am, this is MY band!”

And even though the underarms were slightly yellowed, and the threads holding the seams together were being separated from the shirts themselves, these folks looked fabulous! It was a scene out of “Back To The Future,” where the youth was still present in an aged body. And really, what more can we ask of our music? It takes us back, keeps us young and makes us smile.

But nothing is more relieving at the end of that night than putting on the original record album, peeling off that shirt and being able to breathe again!

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

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