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Backstage with Ron Onesti: I Love Rock and Roll…And I Love The Colosseum

Backstage with The Arcada Theatre’s Ron Onesti

I Love Rock and Roll and the Colosseum

As I am writing this, I am on the Mediterranean coast at a conference about food products made in Italy.  Yes, there is more to life than my meatballs!  My tour began in Milan and took me through Rome on my way here to Formia, a small town between Naples and Rome.

Everyone knows much of Europe, especially in Italy, is centered around piazza after piazza, church after church.  And along with these centuries-old open-aired areas is the music that comes along with them.

Of course, the bells and chimes of the churches are ever-bellowing in that rejoiceful manner that also draws reverence upon their ringing.  I wouldn’t necessarily refer to it as “music”, however, it does have its own melodic tones that evoke emotion.  Well, I guess that IS music!

The music I am referring to in this case is the nomadic acoustic guitar, mandolin, and saxophone players.  On virtually every corner of these grand piazzas there is a street performer blasting out great songs, some original, some cover tunes, but with the echo chambers working in their favor, it sounds like a one hundred-piece orchestra!

As an entertainment professional I regularly give the once-over to things like sound systems and power sources, things most folks look past.  It takes quite a bit of ingenuity sometimes for these strolling artists to perform their craft in places without power, sound or lights.

The guy I saw in the piazza in front of the grand Duomo Cathedral in Milan had a car battery with jumper cables connected from the battery to his mini-amplifier for his microphone and six string guitar.  Now THAT’s creative!   Another guy was singing Italian folk songs on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, only to be accompanied by his raggedy-haired dog on the high notes!

In Rome, there was a young priest singing what sounded like ancient chants across St. Peter’s Square in front of the Vatican.  And in a piazza in Genoa, a couple was doing an acapella version of the Lady Gaga-Bradley Cooper smash, ”Shallow”.  It was breathtaking!

I became much more aware of the dynamic of sound-without-sound systems when I first got The Arcada Theatre.  Remember, these performance palaces of yesteryear were constructed before sound reinforcement was a thing.  They were built acoustically perfect so that those in the balcony could hear the softest of whispers from the stage, much like these marble-and-stone piazzas do.

I could not help but think what is was like ages ago before the element of sound was honed as a science.  But hearing these masterful renditions emitting from these marble and concrete stages gives me the insight to the way the lutes, lyres and harps from ancient Rome sounded back then.

On any particular weekend I go from the likes of Wayne Newton to Foreigner,  Bret Michaels to Paul Anka.  But this music was obviously different, It actually made me appreciate the music I work with on a regular basis even more than I do already.

So the next time George Thorogood is on one of our stages rockin’ out “Bad to the Bone,” I will imagine him doing it in Rome’s Colosseum as a mighty gladiator, wielding a massive sword and swinging a spiked chain mace.  I’m not sure if Joan Jett would make a great “Cleopatra” but I am sure Julius Caesar would give her a “Thumbs Up” for her “I Love Rock and Roll” as the losers are fed to the lions.