Ron Onesti: What I missed most about live music
World War II was tough on everyone as millions of Americans left their homes to fight. Those left behind would also do their part, keeping the households and local businesses going while looking at pictures of their loved ones overseas on an hourly basis.
But they still had their live music. Glenn Miller was with the soldiers, and many performers joined the fight by entertaining all over the world building morale. Even when Joe DiMaggio and other players were drafted, causing a lull in Major League Baseball, the All American Women's Baseball League kept America's pastime at the forefront.
During the Vietnam War and the plight of social challenges occurring in the Sixties, Dion was singing "Abraham, Martin and John," and Jimi Hendrix shredded an incredible version of "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock. Even then, with racial and economic injustice rising to a forefront of awareness, the flag and live music prevailed.
After Sept. 11, with increased security initiatives such as metal detectors at concert halls and sports arenas, we still joined being together at large shows that felt like intimate family gatherings, all joined by American pride and a shared heartfelt nod to the victims. It was baseball and music that picked the country up and helped dust off the uncertainty of what was to happen next. Would we be safe again?
I remember feeling that insecurity myself. But it was that Yankee game in New York City the week after the tragedy that helped me get through it. Every single person in the sold out stadium was waving a flag. Even little kids were sporting flags they had drawn with crayons. The infield was lined with police officers and firefighters. Military honor guards walked in through the outfield. Fireworks and the Air Force flew above. God Bless America was sung. I pumped out my chest as red, white and blue overtook the green grass of the stadium. We stood, we saluted, and we wept.
Then music stepped in, and entertainers stepped up. Did you know that Sir Paul McCartney was on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport during the Twin Tower attacks? He then led a concert for the victims. So many others also joined the musical fight with concerts and songs in remembrance. Dylan, Bowie, Jagger, Springsteen, Sting, Bono, Clapton, Elton, Petty, Neil Young, Bon Jovi and many others used their music to pump us back up so we could carry on with our lives.
With all the tragedies and challenges we have faced generation after generation, it seems live music and sports were the needles and threads that ultimately tied us together, a part of the repairing and healing process.
But look at us now. All of us around the world are facing challenges, many unimaginable, unthinkable, just like many others have had to endure in the history of our country. The difference during the early parts of the pandemic is we did not have live music for us to fall back on when we are at this all-time low.
Remember watching a baseball game with cardboard cutouts of fans behind the batters? Although an admirable attempt, it added an air of depressing emptiness to the ballpark that just wasn't cutting it. But still, the bats were swinging and the balls were flying over fences, so that did have SOME merit!
Whatever side of the fence you may be on regarding any issue prominent today, the strength and support we have historically received from live music and sports is back for us right now. Not long ago, the future was quite uncertain for us in showbiz.
I am pretty involved in all facets of putting on our shows. But one of the things I enjoy most about show day is when the entertainers and crew sits down for dinner. It has come to the point where they ask for my meatballs, threatening not to walk on stage unless they have a plate of them before the show, and a serious to-go box for the bus!
My office sits down the hall from the balcony on the complete opposite side of the Arcada building. There have been times when I would need to close my door as I am on the phone and the rockers begin their loud sound checks.
I won't be closing my door anymore when that all-too-familiar "Check 1-2, Check 1-2" is amplified. It's literally music to my ears.
Then there are the fans. The look on their faces as they pose in front of our marquee to take a photo of themselves with their favorite artist's name up there with "SOLD OUT" is priceless. Their next step is to the merchandise table where they purchase ANOTHER T-shirt for their collections, which they probably will not wear anyway.
They grab their favorite beverage, then enter the main theater. To see THAT look on their faces is simply wonderful! As they walk in, they look around and admire the 94-year-old concert hall for all of its history. Their focus turns to the stage where the band's assorted gear, massive drum kit and multiple-amplifiers are sitting in anticipation of the band's greatest hits to be performed LIVE … it just makes ya speechless!
I truly enjoy walking around and saying hello to our guests. They are just filled with excitement and so appreciative of what we are doing at all our music venues. It is easy for me to create these memorable experiences for people because I am as much of a fan as they are. So I put on shows that I would like!
So I guess what I missed most during the months we were closed was not the music itself. It is what it does to people that makes me happiest.
People have bad days, lose loved ones and have trouble at home or at work. But once they come by us, it all goes away, albeit temporarily. I'm like the grandparent who gets to spoil the grandkids and send them home in a good mood.
In the grand scheme of things, I believe this pandemic will all be over soon, no matter what our "new normal" will be. In the meantime, we once again can be joined together by music in grand palaces such as ours. We still need to stay safe, stay healthy, and most of all, keep the faith. In the end, our faith in humanity is all we really have to combat what threatens our music.
So if we must fight, let it be with faith, hope and the power of music.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of the Onesti Entertainment Corp. and the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.