Ron Onesti: Wow! Whatta year!
As the Arcada Theatre enters its 93rd continuous year, I sit here, in front of my fireplace with snowflakes outside my window and a mug of hot chocolate in my hand, reflecting on what has been our best year ever.
Well over 100,000 people enjoyed upward of 300 shows we had in 2018 between the Arcada Theatre and the new Club Arcada Speakeasy and Restaurant. Each show was an experience unto itself, creating lasting memories and one-of-a-kind evenings.
We had quite a few "first-time" performers at The Arcada last year. I thought I would share with you the "New Kids On The Arcada Block" for 2018.
We had the political satire of comedians Dennis Miller and Hannibal Buress. Miller was able to escape raging fires in his hometown in California, just barely making the show. And it was a great one at that. Hannibal packed the house with a new generation of Arcada attendees, most experiencing the theater for the first time.
"Classic" classic rockers Savoy Brown and Uriah Heap joined Foghat and the Edgar Winter Band for a weekend of rockin' early '70s nights. It's just amazing how much this music has stood the test of time. And when people come up to me with tears in their eyes after reliving their high school years, well, it makes it all worth it.
Jazz-sax icon Kenny G stopped by for his first time at The Arcada. He still sported that flowing curly hair and turned out to be one of the kindest entertainers to hit our stage. His smooth musical notes just filled the air of the theater. He played three songs as he stood on a chair in the middle of the audience, thrilling hundreds of selfie-takers.
The son of rock icon Frank Zappa, Dweezil Zappa, came to The Arcada for the first time in 2018. I could not believe how down to earth he was. I mean, his name is "Dweezil!" I didn't know what to expect! But he has his father's music running through his veins, and with his own compositions added to it, this was a night no one could forget.
Two of the most amazing "purveyors of piano" came here for their first time. Jim Brickman, jazz legend who reigned when "Smooth Jazz WNUA" was on top in Chicago radio, just wowed the audience for two straight hours! Then, Bruce Hornsby, just he and a piano, shared "The Way It Is" and so many other songs and stories. Both INCREDIBLE evenings!
One of my all-time favorite bands of the '70s is Heart. So when Ann Wilson, the voice of "Barracuda," was looking for a place to film her television special and asked us to do it, I almost lost my mind! That incredibly familiar and powerful voice brought her huge hits, other standards and classics that made for a very special experience for us. She did two shows … and it was spectacular!
Jimmy Osmond, the little brother in the legendary Osmond family, brought to The Arcada from Branson, Missouri, his tribute show to the great Andy Williams. What a warm, family show. Grandkids bringing the grandparents type of thing. Its part of what I love about The Arcada!
When it comes to iconic rock bands of the '70s, Yes is right up there. We presented two nights with the band as they kicked off their U.S. tour here. We even hosted them for two days of rehearsal! It was a rock 'n' roll "Roundabout" fantasy!
Another special night was when Gene Simmons of Kiss performed his all-hits show! He was quirky yet larger than life. He wound up being very nice and approachable. He was not as shy with his tongue as I would have expected. I know that sounds weird, but if you are a Kiss fan, you'll know what I mean!
New '70s pop was also a hit! The Sweet with "Little Willy" and "Ballroom Blitz" appeared, as did the Bay City Rollers with "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y … Night!" I had forgotten just how much fun THOSE songs were!
Both Richard Marx and Eric Burdon of the Animals came back after a five-year hiatus, and the Stylistics brought back their sweet melodies and moves. Kenny Wayne Shepard did things with a guitar that left us all with our jaws dropped!
Another "newbie" to The Arcada was television favorite Tony Danza. What a great show he put on! Songs, stories, comedy -- he even played the ukulele! But it was his warm, genuine and all-too-familiar personality that made for another memorable evening by us.
I would say my two biggest "scores" of 2018 were Gladys Knight and Tony Orlando & Dawn.
Ya know, with these "heritage" acts these days, you never really know how "mature" they may be. If you think about it, many have been going for 50 and 60-plus years. So when I had the opportunity to bring in Gladys Knight, I was extremely excited, but I was also a bit concerned.
Let me tell you something! She looked AMAZING. Her voice was as perfect as it could be and her demeanor was comedic and warm. She made the audience feel as if each one was in her living room! And when she began singing "Midnight Train To Georgia," the crowd went wild!
Then there was Tony Orlando & Dawn. We have had Tony before, but rarely since 1985 has Joyce Vincent and Telma Hopkins re-teamed up with Tony on stage. I am blessed to say that Mr. Orlando is one of my closest friends in the biz. And when I asked him about the possibility of bringing "Dawn" with him to The Arcada, he didn't even pause. "Anything for you, baby!" he said. And a 50th Anniversary Christmas Show happened!
That show created some of the most memorable moments of 2018. We watched video from the original television show together backstage. To see Tony, Joyce and Telma watch those clips together, really for the first time, was a moment I will never forget. I saw how the years have touched them, but how their love and respect for one another has never waned.
2018 was a banner year for the Arcada Theatre! All these new shows PLUS the fabulous ones that come back year after year. I cannot thank our incredible staff, our generous volunteers and our most valued customers enough! The only thing I can do out of sheer appreciation to all is to keep it going and to bring more and more to St. Charles.
I sincerely hope 2019 is a great year for you and your family, and I KNOW I will see you, at the show!
• 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.