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Backstage with Ron Onesti: What Is An Old Soul

Ron Onesti:  What is an “Old Soul?”

These days, I get many young people who come up to me at shows and thank me for keeping the “Vintage” music alive. They call themselves, “Old Souls” because they like Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Beatles.


I suppose it makes sense.  Those bands are all celebrating 50-60 year anniversaries.  THAT’S hard for me to truly embrace!  I can’t be THAT old!

I am someone who loves the music of the Jazz Age of the 1920s, the Big Band Era of the 1940s, DooWop of the 1950s, the “Free Love” Psychadelic 60s and impending British Invasion, and the Classic Rock and Soul of the 1970s.  So what does that make me?  An “Antique Soul”?  A “Prehistoric Soul”? A “Senior-Moment-Soul”?

I consider myself fortunate as I was raised in a WWII household during the 60s and 70s.  That old music was all around me, so I not only garnered an appreciation for the glorious antiquities of life, but also felt the music of the day inside MY very soul!  And it remains there to this very day.

Along with those “Singing into a hairbrush in front of my dresser mirror in my bedroom” days, I also fell victim to a love for the “things” that came with the eras of music I was jamming to.  The antiques that I squandered, bought at estate sales and over-bid at auctions that ultimately resulted in what has become to define me and my business.  I also have become a clearing house for those who know the value of those items, but do not want them to go into the dumpsters of forgotten memories.

I have two “Roaring Twenties-era” theatres and two “Prohibition-era” Speakeasy-style bars.  My other restaurants and eateries are all “retro” in nature.  I have been collecting vintage items for years, all not so much as a collector, but as a designer of music and food venues with a cool vibe and old-school atmosphere.

And boy, has my collection grown!

With two 2500 square foot warehouses and twelve ten-foot-by twenty-foot storage units filled with antique Edison phonographs, old time cathedral-style radios, French Provincial couches and ornately framed mirrors, it is an adventure for me every time I rummage through all myself!

It’s been a while since I was there, but now that Rock ‘N Ravioli is about to open and The Des Plaines Theatre is up and running, I am peppering all my places with some of the various historic oddities that have been safely tucked away over the years.

As the steel roll-up door of one of those units opened, I remembered the 1890’s Doctor’s horse-drawn carriage that I placed there years ago.  It is in perfect condition with shiny black leather seats, four-foot wooden-spoked wheels and brass hardware.  What can I do with this?

Next to it was a century-old Chinese rickshaw!  Ya never can have too many of those!  Purchasing that was definitely one of my “What was I thinking” moments!

How about that 1920’s all-copper electric washing machine from the 1920s?  It looks like a shiny copper still for bootleg whiskey.  Hey, wait a minute…

I have one of those boxing machines where you hit the bag as hard as you can and it registers the force, like a carnival game.  It is all wooden and from the 1890s.  I am sure there will be a time when THAT comes in handy!

I found this box that had these bright-red glass balls the size of baseballs filled with some sort of liquid.  They were used to put out fires in the 1930s.

How about the twelve 100-plus-year-old upright player pianos I have?  I have become the piano cemetery for those who are remodeling their homes.

Let’s not forget the old jukeboxes, framed painted pictures of un-smiling couples in bonnets and Abe Lincoln hats, countless press photos of Frank Sinatra, and the lamps…ohhh the many, many Capodimonte lamps with huge umbrella-like shades and porcelain maidens dancing with harps.

Yet, I love this stuff!  The smell of old-dark wood and the boxes of collectibles are adventures in and of themselves.  And when folks come to my places and ask, “Aren’t you afraid someone will break this stuff?”, I just say that I am happy that people can enjoy being among these things that bring me so much joy.

One of my favorite times in history was that of “The Roaring Twenties”.  Here we are, back experiencing “The Roaring Twenties-Part II!  The fact that the music, décor and pop-culture items of those days are still appreciated these days is heartwarming at the very least!  So come out to Club Arcada Speakeasy & Restaurant in St. Charles and Bourbon ‘N Brass Jazz & Blues Speakeasy soon!

And before you throw out your grandfather’s chewed up pipe or your grandmother’s gold inlaid tea set, give me a call.  I may have a place for it so you can visit your grandparents on a regular basis!