Ron Onesti: The 1893 World's Fair is getting me through this
As I am sitting here writing this, the presidential election is neck-and-neck. So much turmoil, unrest and uncertainty. By the time you read this, things will have hopefully settled down. The challenges we have faced in this last year from the COVID-19 pandemic, myriad social issues and the volatile political battlefield we are thrust upon made for arguably the most difficult time in recent history.
You never hear me talk politics. I of course have my opinions and take a personal stance for what I believe in when necessary. But I do not betray the trust of our loyal supporters who depend upon me to help them keep their music memories alive. No one reads this column, attends our shows, feasts at our festivals or breaks bread at our restaurants to hear me soapbox my political and/or social beliefs. They just want to know when Paul Anka is coming back or what my favorite Led Zeppelin song is. Maybe a question or two about my meatballs, but that's it!
And I completely respect that! I see it as my place to help our people get through that scary stuff by virtue of our shows. Our music is to provide some sort of balance versus all those news reports that illustrate numerous causes of concern about our civilization as we know it.
So when will the shows return? Your guess is as good as mine. I am hoping to get a Christmas gift in the form of an all-access pass to opening our music venues. Just stay tuned!
So how can we stay positive right now without our live music in light of the violence and destruction that has surrounded us for months? I have been trying to stay engaged with our beloved customers and friends on social media with live Walk 'N Talks during my morning walk in the forest preserves and backstage stories in this column. For the past 24 Thursday nights I have hosted an online live interview show with legendary drummers Vinny Appice of Black Sabbath and Carmine Appice from Vanilla Fudge. We have welcomed some of the industry's most iconic musicians as guests for an hour of colorful candor about the business of rock 'n' roll. Add to it many livestream concerts and regular Facebook posts and I have been out there!
I, like many of you, am a history buff. I recently watched a television program about the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the World's Fair held in Chicago. They built more than 50 buildings, all similar to what we now know as the Museum of Science and Industry, one of only two buildings to survive the fair. The Columbian Exposition stretched over 600 acres and welcomed more than 150,000 guests a day for six months! The largest building could hold 300,000 guests! To put it into perspective, Soldier Field seats 61,000.
But to me, the largesse of the fair is not the most amazing thing about it. It is the fact it was held just about 20 years after the Chicago Fire of 1871!
Think about it. Thousands of buildings in the downtown area leveled by fire. Electricity on a mass scale had yet to be perfected, as it was to be unveiled at the fair itself. So the city needed to not only rebuild in a way fitting for an event of that magnitude, but also had to convince the World's Fair Committee to award the event to the newly built city over New York, Washington, D.C., and other prominent cities. All that ONLY 20 years after practically complete desolation of the area! Incredible! Go Chicago!
And that helped me tremendously. If we as a city can come back from that, just like then, we can come back stronger than ever now. If we survived a Civil War, states seceding and Lincoln's assassination, we can survive what is going on today.
We have been miserable for eight months but World War II lasted more than four years! Movie posters and other paper products of that era are so scarce because so much was being recycled for the war effort. Even the copper penny of 1943 was made of steel so that real copper could be used for bullets!
Look at all the civil unrest going on now, in particular, what has happened in downtown Chicago. Then Google some videos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The similarities of the social issues then and the unrest today, some 50 years later, is eerie, to say the least.
Add to it the tragedies of 911. We thought the world as we knew it would never be the same. And it wasn't.
Yet still, humanity managed to rise out of the ashes, and move forward. Many would say that after each of those devastating moments in our history, we came out of it stronger.
That is the lesson I learned from slamming on the brakes and remembering history. We WILL emerge victorious from all of this! I will not lose faith in this great country. If it is politics that divides us, it is the music that will unite us!
And that is where I come in!
So I wish you the strength to take a deep breath and come out of this stronger. Just think of how good the live music will sound, no matter how off-key that '80s "hair band" may sound. And think of those meatballs, that hot box of popcorn, our prime rib. It won't have ever have tasted so good!
I also wish you and your family the safety and good health possible for you to make it through all of this. When the sun finally comes out, we will join together, arm-in-arm, singing and dancing together, just like we once did. This will all be a nightmare in our past, overtaken by the sunshine of our future. Keep the faith, and when in doubt, play vinyl records!
• 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.