Ron Onesti: I'm star-struck, and proud of it!

I have put on shows, festivals and events for more than three decades. Because I’m consistently working with celebrities from all walks of life — sports, music, politics, television, radio and more, there is always somebody with varying degrees of stardom with whom I have contact almost on a daily basis.

Most of my peers in the industry make it a point to say they are numb to the celebrity interaction. “Just another day, another show, another band to babysit,” they will say.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

And I can understand that. If you have a $100 filet mignon every day, you could get tired of that, too!

However, I can honestly say the excitement of meeting an entertainer from my childhood, high school years or, really, anytime in my life’s journey — whether I was a fan at the time or not — is still as much of a “high” as it ever was for me.

Yes, after meeting them, they become much more “human.” They still change their socks, eat my meatballs and gotta be picked up at the hotel, just like you and I. Still, the bonus I receive from producing these shows is that I get the story behind the songs.

After spending so much “quiet time” with the artists, I tend to understand their personalities better, so I am able to imagine with a greater degree of accuracy than most fans, of how it was when they were selling millions of records and filling arenas.

Besides all that, I still get the butterflies in my stomach as I approach our dressing rooms to welcome an act. Because we have such a variety of shows, the feeling of excitement is always there — and I am not ashamed of that!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Here is an example of a typical week, backstage at The Arcada:

I booked the legendary showman, singer and songwriter Paul Anka for two days. His songs were always among my extended family’s favorites. Growing up in a “Sinatra-centric” household on Chicago’s Taylor Street, having the guy who wrote “My Way” in my theater was about as exciting as having Frank himself play here, for me. I got to spend a great deal of time with Anka, both before and after his shows. There definitely were a multitude of “pinch-me” moments, especially as we exchanged stories over a private dinner!

Next was Pat Benatar. As far as defining the pop-rock music of the 1980s, few performers encapsulate an era like she does. Even her distinct look and facial features are part of it. Giving her a hug upon her return recently was beyond exciting! I have been fortunate enough to not only strike up a friendly relationship with her, but I have also come to be buds with her incredible guitar-playing husband, Neil Giraldo.

“Hey Ronnie, great to see you,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to being here all month.” Inside I’m thinking, “How cool is that?”

Let’s not forget a few nights later when I found myself listening to “How-it-used-to-be” stories with the legendary blues man, Buddy Guy, in our dressing rooms. “We sang for cigarettes back then,” he said. So cool.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

A few days later was Tommy James. We have worked together on many occasions and yet it is still an exciting thing to welcome him back.

“The Master Showman,” he calls me. “Your songs are huge hits for not only you, but also Joan Jett, Billy Idol and so many more. YOU are The Master Showman,” I respond.

I left the dressing room singing “Mony, Mony” to myself.

With all our venues, I am putting on between 10 to 20 shows per week. That is a LOT of interaction with entertainers. But ya know, it never gets old for me. Most still have a sincere excitement to perform and feed off the electricity of their endearing fans. That is one of the main reasons they come back to The Arcada, time and time again. Our audiences are SO appreciative and every sold-out crowd is full of each band’s cult following.

All in all, I am still a fan of these showbiz people. Yes, I am star struck. I was when I first started, and I still ask for autographs. They say if it’s fun, it’s not work. Well, if any of these people become just “entertainers” and not legendary musical superheroes to me, then that will be the day I get a “real job,” because this is all still a dream to me.

• 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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