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Backstage with the Arcada Theatre’s Ron Onesti: Take Me Back To “Chicago”

Ron Onesti:  Take Me Back to “Chicago”

Can you believe it’s September already?  The summer came and went, the COVID Devil has raised its ugly head for almost two years, and we survived (to varying degrees) lockdowns, shutdowns and quarantines.  What’s ahead?  It’s easier to pick the winning lottery numbers than figure that out.

Although so many are still facing challenges, be it health, financial or just morale, it seems we are creeping closer and closer to a new normalcy.  And with each day of seeing people in general, enjoying music or spending time with our families and friends all “LIVE” and not on ZOOM, my faith in humanity once again returns, bit by bit.

The sad truth of the last twenty-or-so months is that we have lost people and opportunities, due to either the pandemic specifically, or just at the feet of Father Time.  Regardless of the cause, it is still a painful reality we are dealing with more, and more.

We lost Charlie Watts this week, the legendary drummer in the Rolling Stones.  For just about sixty years, he played behind Mick, Ronnie and Keith (Brian Jones, too), always “on time” and never skipping a beat.  One of the only bands to stand the test of time as a contiguous group in Rock ‘N Roll history.  Really, what other band can say that?

We lost Tony Lewis of The Outfield during the Pandemic.  Their song “Your Love” was one of the biggest hits of the Eighties.  As soon as we put his show on sale, it nearly sold out.  BJ Thomas, a true legend who gave us so many hits including “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, was also a huge loss we suffered.

Others decided the health risks were not worth the effort, so retirement ensued.  Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush and of course, the great Tony Bennett, among others, have both called it quits.

Although the talent pool is literally shrinking every day, we still have our favorites coming back to help us re-live our musical memories.

Bands including ASIA, AMERICA, Loverboy, Gipsy Kings, WINGER and Brett Michaels will be taking over our stages!  Legends including Buddy Guy, Neil Sedaka, Engelbert Humperdink, Wayne Newton and Paul Anka will share their songs and their stories.  Classic groups including those fabulous Chicago Garage Rock bands The Buckinghams, The Ides of March, The Cryan’ Shames, The Shadows of Knight and the New Colony Six will once again grace our grand hall.  And THAT’S just the tip of the musical iceberg!

But I think these shows will be different this time around.  The reality of the fact that this may be the last time seeing these bands coupled with our own sense of mortality I believe is making the music sound better and the overall experience much more fulfilling.

There have been more than a few occasions when a customer of The Arcada has come up to me to tell me how much their experience reminded them of their first concert experiences.  There was a renewed anticipation, excitement and immersion into the musical experience not felt since they were sixteen.

I remember how I felt going to my first CHICAGO concert.  That for me was one of my all-time favorite concert experiences.  CHICAGO X (if You Leave Me Now hit, Chocolate Bar cover, 1976) had just been released.  That was after the recent CHICAGO IX Greatest Hits album (The one with the band falling off of a painter’s scaffolding, 1975) that hooked me in the first place.  It was August 19, 1976 at the Chicago Stadium.  I was fourteen years old.

To this day I can still feel that same excitement when I hear “Beginnings”, “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” or “25 or 6 to 4”.

I can still see Terry Kath just destroying his guitar, Robert Lamm reverently tickling the ivories of his keyboards, that incredible three-piece horn section, Peter Cetera’s high-pitched voice and of course, the incredible drumming of Danny Seraphine.

That is what I hope to bring to those who enter “Rock ‘N Roll Heaven”, as we refer to The Arcada and Des Plaines Theatre stages.  We try hard to bring you back to that time of great memories and simpler times.

Another CHICAGO song that really puts it into perspective for me is “Take Me Back To Chicago” written by Seraphine and Hawk Wolinski.  It is a Smooth-Jazz journey back in time, a better time.

I still dream of the lake of peacefulness                                                                                                                 The warm summer breeze                                                                                                                                      ’Cause my life was so much simpler then                                                                                                                        Street corners and Tastee Freeze

Take me back to Chicago

Boy, doesn’t that just say it all?  As I look at what’s left of our Lakefront, or Magnificent Mile and our Loop, I tear up.  But I have faith Chicago will once again be the world power and endless source of pride it once was.  Until then, I will still sit backstage, watching the legendary entertainers of our youth bring us all back, even for just an hour or two.

Thank God for them.  Thank God for the music.  And thank God we are all still here rocking and rolling.