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Backstage with Ron Onesti: Ain’t Nothing But A Good Time!

The 1980s “Hair Band” era of Rock ‘N Roll was a few years past the “Classic Rock” era of my high school musical formative years.  As much as the FM radio waves were filled with hits by Poison, Guns ‘N Roses, Warrant, Winger, Vixen, Dokken, RATT, Cinderella, Slaughter and others, I always kept a daily diet of RUSH, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, YES and the like.

As I got more into developing what The Arcada Theatre was to ultimately become, those 80s Hair Bands continued to draw sell-out crowds and provide some of the rocking-est nights we would ever have.  I grew to have a huge respect for these musicians as I got to know them both personally and professionally.

Their level of business acumen and sincere love for their fans truly impressed me.  Horror stories of bad business deals made by managers gone by, record companies that MAYBE sent them pennies for their record sales, and minimal merchandise deals soured many artists about the industry as a whole.

But the fans never gave up on them.  As they got on in life, the desire to see the bands of their high school years increased exponentially.  Washing their car on a Sunday while sporting a Bon Jovi t-shirt made it all that much more of a cool, car-washing experience, so picking up a t-shirt with their favorite band’s logo became more and more of a demand at the shows.

It may not be in sold out arenas very much anymore for some, but still, that on-stage electricity, crazed fandom and long lines at the merch counter has given them a restored faith in the industry, and in themselves.

Putting on those shows provided me with an opportunity to get to know these legends of Rock personally.  They became “real people” to me.  I got to know their personalities, the sliding scale of egos and what was important to them.  I got to cook for them and give them my “Meatball Experiences”.  In turn, they gave me their friendship.

Just recently we hosted one of the most popular figures from that era, Bret Michaels, the frontman of the band Poison.  He has not only become a regular figure on the Arcada/Des Plaines Theatres calendars, but also he has warmed up to be a great friend.

I have a sincere admiration for Bret, as he has built a fan base and business empire that most could only dream of.  And while doing so, he has remained true to his fans by being grounded, sincere and appreciative.  He has never forgotten those tough times of the building years.  I have seen him actually go somewhat against his own people just to give a fan that extra autograph, photo or hug.

He is one of those people who lights up a room when he enters it.  The electrons in the air begin to move more rapidly, and smiles are abounded by all.  He makes every single person feel special, and goes out of his way to make veterans, physically challenged and others feel that they are important to him personally.

His show is a “Rock-Doesn’t-Stop” experience.  Hit after hit, even some that weren’t his songs but good for the crowd, keep the audience on its feet for the entire concert.  Geysers of vertical fog, photographic banners of Bret on stage, arena-show moving lights and a powerful sound gives everyone present chills on top of chills.  It is a true “Parti-Gras,” as he calls it.  Although the crowd always craves more, Bret never leaves an audience musically unsatisfied.

I give these guys a lot of credit.  I am unsure whether the fans truly understand what a physically draining endeavor it is to fly from city to city, and get up on stage for an adrenaline-filled performance the way most of them do.  Oh, and to do it for 30-40 years straight, still with a smile.

By the way, here’s a little shout out for all the support crew that really makes the performances complete.  The band that surrounds the frontman (or woman) on stage, the sound, lights, guitar and drum techs, tour managers, merchandise sellers and bus drivers-all unsung heroes of the show biz equation.

At the end of a long day of set up, performance and take down, there is that deep breath of accomplishment they all take-and deservedly so.  It is a very, very physically and mentally straining experience, but as challenging as it is, it is even more rewarding.

So the next time you are in an audience and you make eye contact with that performer, just know that it is YOUR smile as you mouth the words to the songs being sung that is the fuel to their fire.  It is what keeps them going, and what keeps the shows happening.

As WE ALL are getting on in our years, the more support we can give to these entertainers the better.  Believe me, I want to do everything in my power to keep their music alive-and YOU are helping me to do it!  Rock doesn’t stop, but it is slowing down a bit!  At least I know I am!

Long live Rock ‘N Roll!