Ron Onesti: 'Going viral' … not a cool thing anymore!

  • Duke Ellington and other Jazz Era greats created the music that helped pull the nation out of the Great Depression.

    Duke Ellington and other Jazz Era greats created the music that helped pull the nation out of the Great Depression. Britannica/Courtesy of Onesti Entertainment Corp.

 
 
Posted5/7/2021 6:00 AM

What is going on? Nobody knows! Is this just another scary time in our history? Being in the hospitality industry, owning restaurants, bars and the theaters, I have fallen victim to the massive closings mandated by the state. As I write this, it is still quite unclear of the fate of my venues. But still, I am staying positive. Really, what choice do I have?

During each dangerous period in our nation's past, there seems to have been music to keep the morale of the country going. The music has come to define the era. Let me explain.

 

When the country entered World War I, a true hero emerged -- not because of the battles he won or the medals he earned, but because of the songs he wrote. George M. Cohan is a personal hero of mine. I am familiar with him because of the classic film "Yankee Doodle Dandy" starring James Cagney. Multiple times I watched it with my dad over the years.

Cohan penned "Over There," "You're A Grand Old Flag" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy"… songs that brought a nation together during a very difficult time.

During the Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, the country was at a 25% unemployment rate. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 left hundreds of thousands of families penniless. There was no hope in sight for so long.

But yet, when I think of the Roaring Twenties, I think of those "Flapper Girls" and the "Jazz Era" Cotton Club performers. Young Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Cab Callaway and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1935 is what comes to mind. "Puttin' On The Ritz," "Toot Toot Tootsie, G'bye," "Ain't Misbehavin' " and "Happy Days Are Here Again" are some of the popular songs that represent that era.

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Then World War II hit. More than 400,000 U.S. casualties. Millions impacted worldwide. Centuries-old buildings, bridges, landmarks and total cities decimated.

When WWII is referenced these days, however, rarely is it done without the music of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey in the background. "Moonlight Serenade," "I'll Be Seeing You," "American Patrol" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" are favorites that warm my heart when I think of my 18-year-old father fighting from a foxhole on the front lines of Normandy.

The Vietnam War gave us so many more pointless deaths. Anti-war AND anti-vets were common sentiments of the day. But virtually any time "Nam" is brought up, the psychedelic colors of "Woodstock" and the riffs from Jimi Hendrix go along side by side with it. "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" by Eric Burdon and The Animals is almost as much of an anthem for that conflict as is the national anthem itself.

Remember "We Are The World?" It came out for African Relief in 1985. "Farm Aid: A Song For America" in 1986. Both came as a result of the world coming together to stare down the face of social tragedies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Toby Keith's "Red White and Blue" is the song that gets me going when I think about the Sept. 11 tragedy.

So many songs. So many challenging times. But now that we are all going through another historic and difficult time, I wonder, what song will come from it?

Each night, we have been doing free concerts from the stage of an empty Arcada Theatre. They are called #MUSICSTRONG Livestream Concerts (or Quarantine Theatre). I came up with this idea when somebody called me so upset. He has respiratory problems and must stay at home indefinitely, and he said he was going to go crazy without live music.

I called up a few of my music friends and explained to them this was a chance for us in the entertainment industry to give back to those who have been supporting us over the years. For those people who have bought our tickets, beer and food, but now have elected to stay home as a shut in, we should bring the music to them!

Everybody bought into the concept! So in the beginning of the pandemic, we streamed live band performances so the music will stay alive during THIS trying time!

The response was incredible. Thousands have tuned in each night. The concept has become incredibly important to so many people!

So now, as we as a country have done before, we must take a deep breath, pump out our chests and fight this thing. As bad as it may have seemed, we all know it will end soon, maybe sooner than we had thought. We will get through this and go back to rebuilding the economy. We can't let this virus keep us down for long, not with the power of music as an IV in the veins of our souls!

God Bless us all!

• 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.

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