• Mixed views in suburbs, too, about Columbus statue coming down in Chicago

    Fraught emotions involving Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's mothballing of two Christopher Columbus statues isn't just confined to the city -- it also resonates in the suburbs. Early Friday while much of the region slept, city workers removed one Columbus statue in Grant Park that had sparked a violent clash between police and protesters July 17, and a second in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood.
  • Ron Onesti: Take me out to the ballgame … and concert hall

    Baseball is back … kind of! Who would have thought we would be going through all of this AND a 60-game season with no fans in the seats? This MUST be some sort of bad dream; somebody wake me up! But regardless, I love my baseball, and will take it any way I can get it! After more than 35 years of putting on shows, I guess I am known as "The Music Man" of St. Charles. These days, I literally eat, drink and sleep music from the 1860s, '70s, '80s and '90s. Since I was a kid, music has been a passion of mine. It really wasn't about me playing an instrument or singing in a band. This passion was more like me grasping a hair brush with two hands, falling to my knees and belting out "Stairway to Heaven" in front of my bedroom mirror. That classic rock of the mid 1970s turned me into a fantasy rock star.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         But with so much of my activity in the music scene, rarely does my past history in the sporting goods business come up. As I was gearing up for this make-shift opening day of the baseball season, it brought me back to my sports business days when I was playing hardball three days a week while owning a sporting goods store. Yes, I was a bit crazy even then! The year was 1985. The Chicago Bears were in Super Bowl XX. Up until then, the sports wearables business wasn't as huge as it has become. Of course, there was a Cubs' shirt here and a White Sox jersey there. But when the Bears of the Ditka regime became national superheroes, the team jersey and T-shirt market exploded! And in my own entrepreneurial spirit, I wanted a piece of that action! I bought all the screen printing equipment, sewing machines and artwork design tables. We stocked baseball and softball bats, gloves and balls. My brother, Rich, and I opened Onesti's Softball City on Irving Park Road in Chicago, and for the next 12 years, baseball and softball was our bread and butter. We not only made softball team jerseys and sold the equipment, but we joined together a culture of Chicago-style, 16-inch "Clincher" (no glove) softball players. This was the early '80s, and 16-inch softball was at every city and suburban Chicago park. The sport evened the field between lawyers, advertising agency professionals, truck drivers and tradesmen. In any given game, a pitcher who is a plumber by day could be staring down the batter, a brain surgeon by night.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The best part of the game, of course, was going to the bar afterwards. That is where all the "fisherman" stories inflate, turning a squib hit to the pitcher into a three-base hit smash over the third baseman's head. But for me, the best was the Saturday mornings when my customers would come in, for no good reason, other than to man-handle the 36-inch war club wooden softball bats. On any given day you may find sports radio personality Mike North (who was a hot dog stand owner at the time), Rich Melman of the Lettuce Entertain You empire, or the great television/radio personality Bob Sirott, all just hanging and talking softball. Just a few short years ago, Al Maag, a dreamer who turned a 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame into a realty, opened the grand hall in Forest Park. The building was jaw dropping, complete with exhibits, photos and memorabilia from the game's greatest players, managers and pioneers. A few years back, I got a call that my brother and I were nominated for induction into the Hall of Fame as pioneers of the game. It turns out that Onesti's Softball City was not only the pre-eminent supplier of the sport in Chicago, but also one of the principal entities to foster the game. So Rich and I were inducted into the Chicago Sixteen Inch Softball Hall of Fame! What an honor. Yes, opening day of baseball in Chicago has to be one of the most sacred days of the year, for a baseball fan, anyway. It brings memories of Jenkins, Hundley, Santo, Kessinger, Beckert, Banks, Williams and the rest; Jack Brickhouse; the various Chicago White Sox uniforms; Minnie Minoso, Luis Aparicio, Richie Allen and Harry Carey; peanuts and hot dogs; double headers on Sundays with my dad, bringing my oversized glove to batting practice; autographs; and my dad watching the game while listening to it through an earpiece connected to the AM transistor radio in his shirt pocket.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I truly think it is baseball that gave me my passion for music. It taught me about respect for the greats, the importance of working hard, practicing your craft. It showed me how timing is a vital element in sports, as cadence and melodic timing is important in music. It also taught me how to sit back and truly feel the game, much like I do the music. And that is my continued plan for the rest of my career. I can only hope that my shows will be back soon and I can help people stop their worlds for a couple of hours, while they feel the music. I will never be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but if my shows can help a few people enjoy life just a little bit more, then for me, I would have hit that World Series-winning, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth with two out, and a combination of "Hey Hey" and "Holy Cow" over the loud speaker. • Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email
  • Arcada Theatre undergoing significant renovations during shutdown

    ST. CHARLES – When the Arcada Theatre reopens its doors, patrons may not recognize the building.That’s because the historic theater and its sister operation, Club Arcada, are undergoing a major renovation project that includes new eateries as well as hotel suites and additional bathrooms. The building has been closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “My job is to create an experience that will make people want to come to downtown St. Charles,” said Ron Onesti, president and founder of Onesti Entertainment, which leases space in the building at 105 E. Main St. in downtown St. Charles for the Arcada Theatre and Club Arcada. “The main mission is two-fold – to create a better experience for our guests and also for the entertainers.” He expects the project will be done by September. He doesn’t know yet when the Arcada Theatre and Club Arcada will reopen their doors. The area last month moved into Phase 4 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, which allows cinemas and theaters to reopen with capacity limits and approved safety guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Gatherings of no more than 50 people are allowed, with the limit subject to change based on the latest data and guidance. The Arcada Theatre has about 900 seats. Club Arcada seats about 150 people. “At this point, I want it to be safe for people,” Onesti said. “I’m in no rush. Some businesses have to be.” In May 2005, Onesti Entertainment Corp. assumed ownership of theater operations. The historic building first opened its doors in 1926 and attracted performers such as George Burns and Gracie Allen. The project began to take shape last year after Frontier Development purchased the Arcada building. Frontier Development also owns the building that houses Flagship on the Fox sports bar and Pollyanna Brewing Company and is purchasing the former BMO Harris Bank building in downtown St. Charles. “They stepped up and haven’t looked back since,” said Onesti in talking about how Frontier Development owners Curt and Conrad Hurst have embraced the project. The Club Arcada Speakeasy has newly done floors and enlarged kitchen and server’s facilities. “It was a gem already,” Onesti noted. “This really didn’t need a whole lot. With the enlarged kitchen, we will have more menu options.” Nine hotel suites are being built as part of the project, made possible after Frontier Development’s acquisition of the building formerly known as George’s Sports Center located just east of the Arcada building. “They’re all themed – Elvis, The Beatles, Zeppelin, Nashville, Motown, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and Sinatra,” Onesti said. What previously was The House Pub’s second-floor event space is being turned into a luxurious VIP experience. “It’s going to be kind of like a country club experience,” Onesti said. “We’ll have VIP meet and greets.” A space that formerly housed Gordy’s Grill and Mart and Starbucks is being transformed into the Rock ‘N Za restaurant. The restaurant will sell wood-fired pizza, salads, grilled and Chicago-style hot dogs, gourmet popcorn and pretzels and flavor-burst soft serve ice cream. The acquisition of the former George’s Sports Center building will allow for the creation of another restaurant, Rock ‘N Ravioli, which will feature some of Onesti’s homemade recipes, including chicken vesuvio ravioli and braised beef ravioli. Just outside of Rock ‘N Ravioli will be an outdoor Venetian-style plaza. “There will be Italian awnings and Italian lights,” Onesti said. “We will probably be able to fit 50 people out here. We’re also looking to do an outdoor rooftop cafe as well.”
  • Photos: Arcada Theatre unveils renovation plan

    Ron Onesti, president and founder of Onesti Entertainment, which leases space in the building at 105 E. Main St. in downtown St. Charles for the Arcada Theatre and Club Arcada, showed some of the many renovations going on at the entertainment facility. Renovations include a new stage floor, restaurant spaces and upgraded and additional restrooms. [Sandy Bressner -] Ron Onesti, president and founder of Onesti Entertainment, which leases space in the building at 105 E. Main St. in downtown St. Charles for the Arcada Theatre and Club Arcada, shows some of the many renovations going on at the entertainment facility. [Sandy Bressner -] Ron Onesti, president and founder of Onesti Entertainment, which leases space in the building at 105 E. Main St. in downtown St. Charles for the Arcada Theatre and Club Arcada, shows some of the many renovations going on at the entertainment facility. [Sandy Bressner -] Autographs on the wall of the Arcada Theatre's "green room" by musicians and entertainers will remain as renovations throughout the building continue. [Sandy Bressner -] One of the many additions to the building at 105 E. Main St. in downtown St. Charles as part of the Arcada Theatre and Club Arcada will be a 9-suite hotel with rock and roll-themed rooms.
  • Ron Onesti: The sport of showbiz kings

    I always wondered what it was like to golf with those Hollywood legends who are identified with the sport almost as much as they are with showbiz! I mean, I love to golf. Part of my daily workout routine is to hit a bucket o' balls at the local public course, then a half hour of putting practice. You would think I am pretty good because of that sort of regimen. Let's put it this way -- my handicap is the fact that I play the game! I am far from good, but at least I don't embarrass myself on the course (not very often!).                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I am a player who goes out to enjoy the outdoors and the "get away from it all" aspect of the game, as well as the camaraderie with guys I play with. Who I am not is that focused player who hits a regular 300-yarder and gets upset with a bogey. I loved Bogey on the silver screen (especially in "Casablanca") and I love him on the course, too (one shot over par on ANY hole is a huge win for me)! I remember a couple of entertainers who never went anywhere without a club in their hand: Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. When I think about it now, it seems sort of strange. Whether it was on a television variety show or USO military Christmas tour, those two were always "armed" with a driver, and not the kind behind the wheel of a Jeep! And they always dressed the part. Bing always wore that same Stetson hat, the era's version of khaki pants, and a light sweater. Hope, always sporting a baseball cap, much of the time in tribute to a branch of the military. One of my favorite pictures of the Great One, Jackie Gleason, shows him with his close buddy, golf legend Arnold Palmer (yes, the one who mixed lemonade and iced tea together). Jackie has a Newsboy hat on and that "… and awayyyyy we go" look on his face. You gotta be old (like me) to remember that!                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Speaking of Gleason and golf, who can forget the timeless "Honeymooners" skit when Ralph is all dressed up in plaid and knickers, and Ed Norton is trying to help him learn how to swing? Norton reads from the book: "Plant your feet firmly and address the ball." Ralph not understanding what is meant, Norton shows him what HE thinks it means. So Norton plants his feet firmly and says directly to the ball, "Hello Ball!" It never gets old. Then there was the King of Cool, Dean Martin. I am lucky to be able to call Dean's daughter, Deana, my big sister. And she would regularly talk about her dad and his daily game. He would never rehearse his television shows, playing 18 to 36 holes during the day instead. When he was in Vegas, he would try to get out of hanging with Frank all night, just so he could get on the course early the next morning. He loved it. And who can forget Johnny Carson and his theme song? It was written by a legend who has become "Uncle Paul" to me: Paul Anka. Paul told me the story that "Johnny's Theme" began as a song he wrote earlier in his career. When Carson contacted his friend to help him write a theme song for his new job, when taking over for Jack Paar on the "Tonight Show," they collaborated and came up with the iconic tune. He and Johnny would make about $200,000 a year each with royalties on the song, and it was played about 1.4 million times during Carson's 30-year stint, only to be retired when Johnny called it quits in 1992. And the song always ended with Johnny's famous golf swing! Fast forward to rock 'n' rollers who also love the game. Probably the most famous rocker/golfer would have to be Alice Cooper. As we grew up with this devilish demon of death metal from my era, it was hard for us young fans to imagine him in his top hat, a snake around his neck, on the ninth green. But the reality is he satisfied his addictive personality with the sport when he got out of rehab. He credits the game with saving his life. Pretty powerful stuff!                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Other guys who have frequented The Arcada and also like to bang their balls on a golf course include my close buddy Bret Michaels, Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Robby Kreiger of the Doors, Don Felder of the Eagles, Vince Gill, Stephen Stills and even Dweezil Zappa! There must be a scientific connection between a guitar and a 5 iron. Yes, golf and show biz go hand in hand. It has definitely helped me get through a few select times when my head was about to explode! As I get older, Titleist has gotten as cool as Fender. And while all this pandemic stuff is going on and we have no ticket sales to speak of, the only green I see these days is the one I see at the driving range! • Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email
  • Renovated Arcada Theatre could reopen by Labor Day

    For 15 years, Ron Onesti has dreamed of creating a "fantasy land" in St. Charles. Now, he says he's on the verge of completing that dream with the transformation of the 94-year-old Arcada Theatre in St. Charles from an old-time rock n' roll house into a more dynamic and diverse entertainment venue.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         A choice of eateries, a themed hotel, new and improved bathrooms and better climate control are among the amenities customers can expect when the Arcada reopens in about two months. The 900-seat theater, which debuted Sept. 6, 1926, to a vaudeville audience, is midway through a total overhaul. Workers are putting the finishing touches on a $3 million renovation project, said Onesti, president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp., who manages the Arcada.   Arcada Theatre in St. Charles is undergoing a $3 million renovation including new bathrooms, restaurants and bars, manager Ron Onesti said. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer Construction on the project began in January, and the Arcada has been shut down since the coronavirus crisis struck in mid-March. The lockdown, though, has just "accelerated all my plans," Onesti said.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         He and Arcada owners Curt and Conrad Hurst aim to create a unique entertainment and dining experience. They're constructing seven new venues -- four restaurants and three bars -- in the redesigned, repurposed theater building and the building next door, also purchased by the Hursts. The Arcada and associated venues could reopen around Labor Day, Onesti said.   Arcada Theatre in St. Charles could reopen around Labor Day after a $3 million renovation. Workers are putting on the final touches with reopening planned around Labor Day. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer Upgrades include new sprinkler systems, energy-efficient electrical units and wiring, copper pipes to replace lead ones, touchless equipment in bathrooms and everywhere else, centralized hot water tanks, beer and soda distribution systems, walk-in coolers, and new paint and fixtures. "It's a much more comfortable, safe and healthy environment," Onesti said. The theater's first floor will house Rock 'N Za wood-fired pizza on the west corner where a former Starbucks was located. Arcada merchandise also will be sold there. The former RockStock store will be the new Bar-Cada, with a larger entrance, full-service bar and video gambling machines. The theater's ticket counter has been retrofitted with a 1940s-style box office and hi-boy tables.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Arcada Theatre in downtown St. Charles is in the midst of a $3 million renovation. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer Among the new eateries is Rock 'N Ravioli, an outdoor Venetian-style cafe with custom awnings, Italian lights and newly placed brick pavers. At the theater's entrance will be a new main bar with a 1920s vibe. The front theater floor where banquet-style chairs will be placed and stage have been refinished. The second floor will house a large walk-in bar and an upscale, VIP event space designed like a country club. Onesti Entertainment's former corporate offices and the second floor of the former George's Sporting Goods in the building east of the Arcada are being transformed into The Arcadian Suites -- nine hotel rooms themed for Sinatra, Elvis, Zeppelin, the '60s, '70s, '80s, Motown and Nashville experiences. The Club Arcada Speakeasy on the third floor is getting new dance floors, a larger kitchen and server facilities.   The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, shuttered since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, is undergoing a $3 million renovation. Manager Ron Onesti is aiming for a Labor Day reopening. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer "It will be the most interesting venue in the country for sure," Onesti said. "I am thrilled that we can show our loyal customers and our beloved bands just how much we appreciate them with better facilities and equipment to make their experience here memorable."
  • 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 Onesti: Tumultuous time repeats itself

    Have you by chance been watching the television special about "Laurel Canyon" lately? It is a wonderful "rock-u-mentary" about a small neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills region of the Santa Monica Mountains just outside of Los Angeles. For only a few short years, this area was the home to some of the biggest names of the rock/pop/folk culture of the 1960s and '70s. Frank Zappa and his Mother of Invention band was one of the first major groups to inhabit the wooded area just five minutes from Sunset Strip. But after six months of experiencing that free-love, drug-driven, party culture, Zappa moved to a more secluded house still in the Canyon. He lived there during the years when he produced most of his classic work until his death in 1993.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The secluded, inconspicuous neighborhood became home base for many legends-to-be including David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Jim Morrison, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell, John and Michelle Philips of the Mamas and the Papas, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork of the Monkees, the Eagles, Carole King, Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt. Many more moved in down the street, next door or in the same house together. And the list of iconic visitors is astonishing: the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Alice Cooper, to name just a few. The television special told the story in the words of those musicians present at that tumultuous time, who pretty much could only agree on one fact: they were all too high too often to really remember what actually happened back then! The routine for all was about the same -- sleep much of the day, grab something quick at the Laurel Canyon Country Store (where behind it Jim Morrison lived), watch buddies perform at the Whisky-A-Go-Go or the Troubadour Club on the Sunset Strip, then grab a bite at Nate 'n Al's Deli. After that, they would wander into friends' houses (nobody locked their doors) to jam and get high all night. That was their "day at the office." But as I continued to watch the show, I began to realize just how many of those icons I have been fortunate enough to work with when they performed here! It was a humbling and exciting revelation as I reminisced about some memorable nights with those "historic hippies" at The Arcada.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         I never worked with Frank Zappa, but I have done several shows with his son, Dweezil, who was born "in the Canyon" in 1969. Many of the stories he shared about his dad happened within the first 10 years of Dweezil's life there. Did you know Frank offered Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees an opportunity to join Zappa's band but his record company wouldn't let him? Dolenz was a big part of the scene as the Monkees were just exploding. Micky has appeared many times with us, including three times in an eight-week period in 2019! Davy Jones would also frequent the Canyon because bandmates Micky AND Peter Tork lived there. Peter was known for his nudist parties, often just hanging out or swimming in his pool, totally naked! Davy was one of my most favorite rocker friends. He also performed at The Arcada on many occasions. Although we never really talked about the Laurel Canyon experience, his numerous references to the "psychedelic years" really make sense to me now that I have seen the LC story! I have had Crosby, Stills & Nash at The Arcada -- sort of. Their sometimes collaborator Neil Young has never appeared on our stage, but David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash all have, though separately!                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Graham Nash was always generous with his time with me, story after story. My favorite being how the CSN&Y song "Our House" came to be: "Our house is a very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard. Life used to be so hard. Now everything is easy 'cause of you." These lyrics were written in about 15 minutes in the house Graham shared with Joni Mitchell. But it almost didn't come to be, because there were two songwriters in the house and only one piano. He said they were both working on album projects at the time, but Joni had dibs on the piano. Stephen Stills appeared at The Arcada with another Laurel Canyon regular, folk icon Judy Collins, for whom the CSN&Y song "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" was penned. Stills is a true genius who was behind so much of that early pop culture success of bands that included Buffalo Springfield. The musical stroll down their rock 'n' roll Memory Lane was almost too much to handle all at once! Robby Krieger of the Doors is also a friend of ours who has shared hours of stories with us. I feel I have a true insight into exactly who Jim Morrison was after hearing Krieger share memories with us. Morrison would ride a bicycle around The Canyon, stopping to see friends and writing poetry under many a tree. When the "next generation"of "Canyonites" moved in, the folk footprint in pop culture also widened. Linda Ronstadt was part of that inner circle, and so was her band, which included a couple guys named Glenn Frey and Don Henley. They were so good playing behind her that they formed their own group with Randy Meisner, Bernie Leadon and Don Felder, calling themselves the Eagles. Don Felder appears at The Arcada on a regular basis, packed with stories, some good, and some reflecting his unwarranted departure from the band. A story for another day. Just being in the presence of these icons whose "California sound" helped define a generation has been an amazing thing for me. But after watching how they were all incestuously joined at the hip (and I MEAN at the hip … and below) during their humble beginnings, I realize how lucky I am to have them perform at our humble house. And watching "Laurel Canyon" background footage from that era was also kind of a reality check. Student protests resulting in four unarmed students being killed at Kent State University, graffiti about ending police brutality, riots over desegregation, the assassinations of MLK and RFK, economic turmoil, cultural breakdowns, loss of faith in government -- it all happened 50 years ago and a bit too real to us today. Unfortunately, some things don't change. But fortunately, the strength of that music has remained alive. I hope to God THAT doesn't change! • 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 Onesti: Bright songs in tragic times

    Today was a very big day. A very good friend who is from my "old neighborhood" of Taylor Street turned 95. His name is Al Centofante and he is a proud World War II veteran. We held one of those drive-by parades in St. Charles where he lives with what turned out to be well over 100 vehicles. It was nothing short of fabulous!                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Countless American flags placed on the parade route fluttered in the wind and waved above opened sunroofs, which added to the emotional tribute to one of the last of a generation we honored on this day. As the procession advanced slowly through his cul-de-sac, I thought about the decades that have passed since he was a U.S. Navy communications specialist. So many wonderful occasions, experiences and historic moments -- yet also, the horrible realities of life that went with them. And with what we are all going through now, I think of the music that got past generation through it all. Of course, there was that big-band sound of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and a few others that helped homesick soldiers get through the lonely nights, as they stared at the corner-worn photos of their stateside sweeties. "God Please Protect America" was an actual pop song by Jimmie Osborne released during the Korean War in the 1950s. This was a profound song on the AM radios of the day that could apply to the challenges of generations to come. For many of us who weren't around then, the theme from "M*A*S*H" comes to mind when reflecting on this period.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         At The Arcada, we have had Eric Burdon, the Animals' frontman from the British invasion of the 1960s, on numerous occasions. When he performs "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "The House Of The Rising Sun," it is truly wonderful to look out into the audience and see the brotherhood of Vietnam War vets in their camouflage jackets scattered about, singing in unison. Visions of those Army-green helicopters, millions of wounded soldiers and college-age protesters come to life for me every time I hear those tunes. Tony Orlando (from Tony Orlando & Dawn) has come to be family to us here at The Arcada. He is one of the most wonderful persons I have ever met. His song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" is one of the most popular songs to be played on our stage. From a military standpoint, we today remember it used as millions of yellow ribbons were tied around trees awaiting the return of hostages from the Iran crisis. But it was actually known in 1974 for welcoming returning military personnel from Vietnam. The space shuttle Challenger disaster occurred in 1986, and I can remember John Denver doing a song called "Flying For Me" as a tribute to those lost in the accident. Its such an interesting story. Denver said in an interview he personally initiated a "civilian-in-space" concept while the development of the space shuttle was being done. He wanted to be that first person, but President Reagan at the time decided to send a teacher instead -- Christa McAuliffe -- to join the astronauts on board. Upon seeing the newscast of the explosion, he wrote the song in memory of those who "flew for us," and to Christa, who "flew for him."                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Just after the 911 tragedy, we hosted the 80th birthday celebration for Patti Page. She was the biggest female pop star in the Fabulous Fifties era. Her hit song "Tennessee Waltz" was another tune that helped the veterans get through the cold Korean nights. In the middle of her show, she paused to pay tribute to those lost in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She had a slow and soft demeanor, and her gentle words brought us all closer together under the banner of freedom and solidarity we all experienced at the time. She then broke out into a tune that literally tore out every heart in the sold-out audience. It was a letter from the daughter of a pilot of one of the planes that went down. It spoke to the level of pride she had in him and how much she and her soon-to-be-born child will forever miss his warm hugs. It was a moment I will never forget. That brings us back to today. Among massive racism, protesters, looters and a pandemic, here stood this lively nonagenarian (someone between 90 and 99 years old; I had to look this one up), smiling from ear to ear, still proud of the country he fought for 75 years ago. It is his efforts back then and his smile now that will help me get through the challenges of today. "Happy Days Are Here Again" came out when Al Centofante (and Al Onesti, my dad) were just 4 years old. It won't be long before we are all singing that timeless song again, arm in arm, all together and safe, eating meatballs and attending concerts, shoulder to shoulder again! • Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email