Ron Onesti: No my friends, Thank YOU!
Thanksgiving is the time that I, like so many others do this time of year, truly take a few steps back and reflect upon the blessings in my life. This year, MAN, this will be hard to do!
Still, I have been blessed with so much up until the pandemic hit. I feel there's still a bit of credit left in the "count your blessings" department.
The vintage-venue Arcada Theatre is flourishing, and as the No. 1 live music venue in the Midwest, no other place features more classic acts from the 1960s, '70s and '80s than we do! And we have featured more Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famers on our historic stage than almost any other venue in the country. We are so humbled.
We here at The Arcada have a unique opportunity to, in our own little way, affect the lives of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people each week. Think about it … in every 900-guest audience, at least one person has recently lost a loved one, lost a job, argued with a boss or spouse, or just had a bad day. We feel we have a responsibility to lift those people up, take them away from it all, even if it is for just a couple of hours. We want to make their day just a bit better.
The other day, I received an email from a caretaker of a young man with a horribly debilitating disease who is bound to a wheelchair. This young music lover cannot readily communicate, can't really change his facial expressions and can hardly move in his chair. Yet, he loves coming by us. His caretaker says he can feel the music, and he loves our place.
"He looks forward to your hug when he comes by you," the caretaker said. "His face truly lights up when he sees you."
"It's all about the music and the magic of The Arcada," I said.
In his letter, he stated they attempted to go to a concert at a larger venue downtown. They went on to describe a horribly difficult time they had at this show. "It was a cold experience and they treated us terribly. It wasn't like being at The Arcada. We feel like family there, and he is treated as if he had no disability," he wrote. What a wonderful trophy to have, I thought.
One of my favorite things to see at the shows is an adult exposing a child to the classic music of the '60s, '70s and 80s. To see a dad with his 12-year-old son sporting a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, or a mom and her two young daughters enjoying Pat Benatar together -- it really warms my heart!
Here's another one: When someone brings their aging parent to a show that the adult child wouldn't normally attend, yet they are there just to share an experience with their older loved one. When we do our Sinatra shows, our Glenn Miller Orchestra dances or our Fifties Sock Hops, it really warms our hearts when a customer of ours introduces us to his or her 75-year-old parent, while they dance together. Magical.
We also get quite a few people at our place sharing a romantic date night, sometimes a first date or a 20th anniversary. The music really becomes the catalyst for a fabulous evening, something that greatly contributes to the health of a good relationship. And I can't tell you how many engagements have happened during our shows! Pretty powerful stuff, when you think about it.
One night a few years ago, just before a show was to start, I was making my usual rounds welcoming guests throughout the audience when I happened upon a young man sitting in the front row with his dad. He was 12 years old, and he was at a Neil Sedaka concert!
"What are you doing here?" I asked. The father told me the boy was really good at the piano, but needed a push to stick with it. Neil Sedaka is a world class player, and a legendary singer/songwriter. He thought a close-up experience watching someone of the caliber of Sedaka may inspire his son to give the piano the attention it deserves. Sedaka was incredible, and his performance was enough to instill the excitement back into the young player, which is what his dad wanted. He went on to say that his son's piano teacher was really great, but had no place to hold his school recital. "Have it by me," I yelped.
"Really?" his father asked. "Absolutely!" I answered. Two weeks later, I had 100 kids at The Arcada, showing off their skills and exhibiting a certain pride in their craft on a big stage in front of their families. How cool was that? I do have a slight ulterior motive here. These 12-year-olds will be ticket-buyers someday!
At the risk of putting myself in a tough position, I also have been able to, on many occasions, but not always, bring a certain amount of guests down into our dressing rooms to meet the band of their dreams. Most of my contemporaries in the industry really try to shy away from the meet-and-greet initiative because it is usually difficult, time-consuming and something the artist is rarely happy about.
But I still do it, as much as possible. I do it because I once again feel I have some level of responsibility to help keep this music alive. And the best way to do it, is to engage with the audience. But when I am down in the dressing rooms with the act and my security force brings down some meet-and-greet people I had previously approved, I really get a kick out of seeing the degree to which that person gets excited about meeting his or her childhood hero. I have seen people cry, some get all tongue-tied. It's definitely bucket list activity. I'm always thankful I'm lucky enough to be able to help people with their "bucket lists." Really, how many people get that kind of opportunity?
And when the artists are fan-friendly, that just makes it more of an amazing experience. The Monkees' Davy Jones once proclaimed to our audience after his encore how much he loved The Arcada crowd -- so much so that he would love to hug each and every one of them! Well, after the show, NOBODY left! I told him that we had 900 people waiting for their hugs. He spent more than three hours hugging every one of them. Class act, he was.
Or when I had a local all-girl band open for their absolute hero, Pat Benatar. Pat heard about this and brought them into her dressing room and gave advice to the 15-year-old budding rockers. Life changing!
How about the time when a girl with a brain tumor contacted me saying her "life dream" was to meet Bret Michaels of Poison? I asked him for this favor and he said, "Absolutely, no question!" He came off the bus, and really spent some quality time with her. We parked her wheelchair right in front of the stage and she had the time of her life. He even invited her to his next show! I recently heard from her, her tumor has left her, she is feeling better and she said it was that day when she decided she was going to get better!
Country music superstar Vince Gill is a great friend and one of the nicest people I have ever met in music. I told him a family drove in from Alabama to see him. He asked, "Where are they now?" I told him they were at dinner across the street. He said, "Come on, let's go." So we walked across the street into the restaurant, filled with preconcert diners. He went table to table, stoping for pics and talking with fans. Then, as he walked out, someone in front of the bar next door said, "Hey Vince!" So he went in there and said hello to all those people! Amazing.
I could go on and on about our little way of touching people. So many people thank me and my staff for these great experiences. Little do they know that deep inside, WE are thanking them! We get the opportunity to help people, using music and a little bit of heart. And even with the lockdowns and other elements of sadness we have all experienced this year, I am still positive and excited to get back to seeing you all again very soon.
Really, I am the lucky one! My heartfelt thanks go to all of you who have helped me make my dreams come true. The happiest of Thanksgivings to all of you!
• 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.