Ron Onesti: "Have I told you …"
I have been writing this "Backstage with …" column in the Daily Herald for about three years now. I have been blessed with a 35-year-plus career in the entertainment biz and it has provided me almost countless moments of excitement, emotion and bewilderment. Being able to share some of these "pinch-me" moments with you, my ever-so humbling readers, has been a blessing in and of itself.
You have been so gracious in allowing me to entertain you with my stories as you muster through my punctuation and literary structure shortcomings. I write how I speak when I tell the stories live, so sometimes the translation to the written word is a little rough. But I still get my point across, I think!
I have also received some incredibly sweet and thoughtful notes from you over the years. There are no words that can adequately describe the joy I get when you take the time to drop a note to me. My response is always, "So YOU are the ONE reading this every week!" Again, this is all very humbling as I have so much respect for accomplished journalists who have paid their dues and taken the array of scholastic courses to hone their craft.
My "writing" history began when I was editor of our grammar school "newspaper" at Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago. I was in sixth grade and I believe there was only one or two issues published -- but I was on my way!
Then at Weber High School I contributed a bit to the "Weber News." I was on the student council, the color guard, homecoming and prom committees, and played on the baseball team, so my writing was limited.
Then, as I got more involved with my Italian American community, I penned a column called "Focus on Youth" in our Italian newspaper, the Fra Noi. I was active in the youth group of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans at the time, so I would spotlight on young professionals and budding new businesses. The column always ended with a "Tip For Success" feature from an accomplished member of the community. I did this for several years, writing more than 150 columns.
Several years later when I acquired The Arcada Theatre and was producing shows, festivals and corporate events with some of entertainment's biggest stars, I began interacting more on a personal basis with the celebs. I wasn't sure if it was my charm and good looks that drew them closer to me, or was it the fact that I signed the checks?
I began writing "Backstage with Ron Onesti" in the Kane County Chronicle. After about a year, I moved over to the Daily Herald where I have written well over 100 columns.
In doing so, I realized just how "human" these rock stars are. They have personal issues and tell me about triumphs and tragedies, and concerns about their kids' schooling. I see them wrap up a few meatballs to bring home to their ever-hungry spouses. Some have insecurities and arrogance, but most were, and are, great people to work with and have become lifelong friends of many of us at our venues.
Sometimes I just shake my head in disbelief as to just how much personal info they are giving me. Marital problems, industry horror stories, financial woes -- nothing has been off limits! It is comforting to know they have the trust in me to share their private lives, knowing I would not use or hold the details against them (Not until I start writing for the National Enquirer!).
In this digital age I forget sometimes about the reach these columns have. I will get comments from Germany, Italy and England, as well as New York, Las Vegas and New Orleans, to name a few of the far-off locations of some readers. You never really know who is actually reading this stuff.
I have a podcast I host with legendary Vanilla Fudge drummer Carmine Appice and his brother, Black Sabbath drummer Vinnie Appice, each Thursday night. We recently had the music icon from "Late Night with David Lettermen," Paul Shaffer, on and he started the interview by complimenting the column I wrote on my experience with him at The Arcada. "Sometimes we just Google our names, especially during the lockdown," Shaffer said after I asked him how he found it.
When cinema superstar Kevin Costner returned to play The Arcada for a second time, he presented me with a framed and autographed copy of a column I wrote on the incredible "If you build it, they will come" experience I had with him (Ya gotta read THAT one sometime). Apparently, a close friend of his was traveling through the Chicago area and was thumbing through a Daily Herald, read the column and sent the actual paper to Kevin. Knowing he was coming back, he had it framed and carried it with him on his bus to give to me. That's the kind of superstar person Kevin Costner is!
It is really nice when I hear things like "I look forward to reading your column at the coffee table to my wife," and "I sent your column to my grandparents in Florida." Or they share a common story about the subject of a particular column. That's always an interesting perspective to receive. It really feels as if I am connecting with our audience.
All in all, I love telling the stories, and hearing from the readers. It has helped keep me sane through the craziness of my regular days, and has helped me stay engaged during the lockdown. I feel blessed to have had this opportunity and will be forever grateful to the publications and the readers who have supported me, and especially to the celebrities who have given me the incredible stuff to write about.
I'll keep doing this as long as I can, or as long as there is cool stuff to write about. This business is never short of its wacky, weird, interesting and heartwarming moments to write about.
But I have been thinking, maybe I should start writing about YOU! Hmmm …
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of the Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.