Ron Onesti: Food, the REAL rock star!
There are so many elements that go into producing a live show. Most concertgoers are not privy to all the ingredients that are part of making a fabulous show "recipe." The sound, lights, power and technical staff -- even the stage itself -- are all pieces that are obviously an integral part of the presentation.
That is what the fan sees. But it's all the other stuff that goes into making it happen that I'm talking about.
For the most part, as soon as the entertainers playing at the Arcada Theatre or any of our other shows hit Illinois soil, they become our responsibility. We have to pick them up from the airport, get them to the hotel (rooms that we arrange and pay for), and take them to and from our theater, then back to the airport when they are done.
When guitar god Michael Schenker broke a special European guitar string, it was off to Guitar Center we went. When country music star Jo Dee Messina wanted to jog over the Fox River Bridge behind the theater the morning of her show, we coordinated it with local police. Alice Cooper and Toby Keith wanted to play golf, so we got them a private round. When Bret Michaels wanted to work out at a health club, we secured a private area and his own bench press.
We did a show with James Brown years ago and at the last minute I needed to find one of those old helmet-style hair dryers our moms sat under at the beauty salon so he could achieve that perfectly round and shaped signature hair style of his. I found one in a resale shop by Hawthorne Racecourse in Cicero and had it to him three hours before show time!
The list goes on and on.
We provide them the instruments they play on stage, towels they use during the show and many other amenities they require. Certain teas, ginger roots, Australian throat lozenges, craft ginger beer from New Orleans, gluten-free cookies from a little bakery in New York City, organic mini avocados … boy they get creative with their requirements! Even six pair of black socks have been on the list! But I have yet to be asked for the infamous bowl of green M&M's.
One of the reasons we are able to secure so many of these quality acts is that we treat them as if they were coming to our home. I actually cook for many of the bands myself, a rare offering from a venue owner. From my world-famous meatballs to a 20-pound, slow-roasted prime rib, they just love it! Many places offer them some lunchmeat, a loaf of bread, a bowl of fruit and some dry chicken. With us, the dressing room experience for them is as exciting as the entertainment experience they provide on stage.
I recently made an Italian delicacy for a European heavy metal rock band that blew them away! I marinated anchovies in olive oil, crushed garlic, chopped parsley and minced onion for about a month before. Then I toasted bread crostini-style, buttered the toast and slathered the savory mixture on top. They went crazy!
I hand-sliced some imported prosciutto from Italy, so tender it was like butter. I put a two-pound plate of it in the green room only to find out later that the lead singer downed it all himself with a loaf of crusty bread and no fork! He also washed it down with an entire bottle of Sicilian wine, which added to his onstage presence!
The last time Gino Vannelli played here, I made he and his band a salmon Vesuvio with garlic and herb bread crumbs and fresh lemon, right in front of him in the dressing room. It was "Better than anything he had ever had in Canada!"
It has gotten to the point where the stars themselves like to cook with me! British rock stars Denny Laine (Moody Blues and The Wings) and Joey Molland (Badfinger) made Yorkshire pudding (a meat dish) backstage with me, and Eddie Money made vegetable lasagna in honor of his vegetarian wife on stage left, just minutes before he walked on stage! We actually set a camera up and played it on the big screen for the audience as they waited for the start of the show. How cool!
The point here is that I could easily get away with what most places do … impersonal catered meals that are good enough, but not with that extra touch that makes the band feel "at home." This approach really affects the quality of the show itself, as well as the band's willingness to return. After 30 years in the biz, I guess I have somewhat of a reputation as a gracious host. We normally have "meet and greets" backstage, but as Rick Springfield put it: "Ron, you are the King of the Eat and Greet!"
But most of all, I get to host stars who have given millions of people, including me as a fan, countless hours of musical joy. And if all it takes to make them happy is my eggplant garli-sian, then it is my honor to slow cook a pot of Roma tomatoes for three hours the night before a show.
When I hear stories about the drugs that were backstage back in the day, I am comforted to know that I have replaced that addiction with fresh garlic and chopped basil.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email email@example.com.