Ron Onesti: 'Lightnin' Strikes' at Italian Fest

 
 

I just celebrated the 10th anniversary of my Little Italy Fest - West in Addison this past weekend. More than 25,000 people came out to enjoy the sounds of Sinatra, the smell of garlic and the absolutely perfect weather over the four-day event.

Although this year's entertainment lineup included Sarah Potenza, a 2015 star on the smash television show "The Voice" who jaw-dropped all four judges, including Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton, much of the onstage presentations were within the "oldies" realm. Potenza just killed with her Janis Joplin-esque power and a standing-ovation finish.

I invited Lou Christie to be one of this year's headliners. His real name is Lugee Alfredo Giovanni Sacco, so he was perfect for the Italian fest! I had never worked with the Pittsburgh native before, so I was pretty excited … and so was the crowd!

His original band was called Lugee & The Lions, but to be more "sellable," he changed his name to Lou Christie in 1963. It was just in time for his super million-selling hit "Lightnin' Strikes."

Jay & The Americans also appeared at the festival, performing all their hits, including the smash "Cara Mia." The audience was so excited with many on their feet dancing the night away. The group had a couple of originals left in the band, but still had the magic, the flair and the passion of years gone by.

Although my actual "era" was the classic rock of the Seventies, I have a strong respect and passion for the music of the Fifties and Sixties. Doing what I do, I am able to produce shows with these performers. Each time I do, I can't help but think about their "Glory Days." The times when they were on those "American Bandstand" bus caravans performing to sold out crowds in dance halls and gymnasiums all over the country. A time when any performance on television warranted a reason to stay home on a Saturday night just to watch the singers swivel their hips.

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As I was watching these groups, I imagined the screaming crowds and swooning girls that once followed them. Much of this music was new to so many people back then. It really had only been in existence for less than five years when their songs hit the jukeboxes.

But then the "British Invasion" hit in 1964. Many American "Doo Wop" groups were stifled by this, and the ones with hits became one-hit-wonders. As the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Animals, Herman's Hermits and many more English groups dethroned American chart-toppers, many of the American groups just went by the wayside.

I am a huge Beatles fan and have worked with Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits, Eric Burdon of the Animals and many other British front men. But there is a salty spot in my heart for the way the American groups were cast aside by many fans, at least for a stretch of time.

At 72, the Lightnin' of Lou Christie is still striking, and those Doo Wop shows on PBS are still quite popular. It is mind-boggling to imaging where many of these groups would be had it not been for the Brits landing on our musical shores. I asked Christie about this, and he made what I thought was a good analogy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Look at the music of today. What your daughter is listening to today is replacing the music you listened to yesterday. But if it is truly good music, it will last longer than what's out currently. Our music was good, pure and fun. That 'style' never gets old."

I can only hope the songs of that generation will "never get old." I will continue to do what I can to keep the music alive, cuz if I don't, my 10-year-old daughter will reminisce about the good ol' days of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus to her kids.

Now I get what my parents were worried about when I was growing up.

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