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A spirited tour of the Arcada with Night Ranger

Night Ranger

 

Each week I produce shows with entertainers who are mainly from the eras of the ’60s through the ’80s. This covers MY era of music, with others that I was exposed to by the older kids in high school or the younger ones we were hanging out with.

I get the privilege of doing shows with big names in classic rock, classic country, Motown and what is now called “Heritage” music, or the Oldies. But as I fulfill my musical fantasies, I have come to realize there is much more going on at The Arcada than meets the ear.

Many of these bands are somewhat splintered — some more than others, with a variation of the original members. Some are all original, some just have a couple originals, and some may just have one band member who owns the name and goes out with a new roster of musicians.

Regardless, the music is always fabulous! They work so hard getting it right and keeping the integrity of the song intact for their devoted fans who can sing every song, note for note. It is always so cool to hear them perform their music the way they did 30, 40, 50 or more years ago!

We just had the ’80s supergroup Night Ranger at The Arcada, and it was nothing short of incredible! Brad Gillis, Kelly Keagy and Jack Blades, three original members in the band, played all the hits as if they started this year. The energy, excitement and sound resulted in truly one of the best shows I have seen. They are a classic example of bands reaching new generations with their music by way of newly arranged incarnations of their original lineups.

As I am fortunate enough to do with many of the groups, I got to hang with the band throughout the day. I couldn’t wait to hear them tell me the real story of the band’s biggest hit, “Sister Christian.”

“Actually,” said drummer Kelly Keagy, “I wrote the song about my little sister, Christy. She was always cruising on the strip, otherwise known as ‘motorin.’ The other guys just heard me wrong and thought I was singing about a nun in school, and it just stuck!”

They were so interested in The Arcada’s history and the building’s classic Spanish/Venetian architecture. Many bands admire the warmth of our theater and respect its historic nature, but these guys were just mesmerized. The band members were particularly interested in the “hauntings” that occurred at our Vaudeville music house. They hung on my every word as I told them some of the crazy experiences that have been shared with me over the years as we spent about two hours walking through the deep, dark bowels of the landmark 1926 building.

“I have been a guest host on a couple of those Ghost Chaser shows,” Night Ranger guitarist/vocalist Jack Blades told me. “This place is cooler than any of those places on TV!”

We have actually had a few of those companies come to The Arcada to investigate paranormal activity. And they have all been eerily close to each other’s findings. The consensus is there are approximately eleven “souls” that live at the theater. It seems they were silent film actors, who also performed live plays, whose lives were ruined by the practically overnight demise of the silent film industry when the first talkies came out in 1927. The Arcada was one of only four theatres that premiered talking films, thus being a part of the crush of the silent film industry. So these “souls” remained here as the last theater they performed live in.

There is also an Al Capone connection as the basement of the theater was rumored to operate as a brothel on occasion. (THAT is a story I will tell you in person, when I see ya!) Mr. Capone really liked St. Charles because the Fox River had great access to more than a hundred communities whereby he could distribute his “hooch” via barges on the river. There was even an old shack on the river where his “henchmen” would hang out. It was later turned into a popular restaurant called “Al Capone’s Hideaway,” which recently closed. The Capone clan “disposed” of a few unworthy co-workers at the brothel, and some washed up on the Fox River.

There was a tunnel that connected the Hotel Baker across the river to The Arcada. Not only did mobsters use the tunnels to run liquor through during Prohibition, but also entertainers liked it so as to stay out of the public eye on performance days. The tunnels were sealed off just a few years ago, and there are several “haunted” stories connected with them.

The guys from Night Ranger said the could feel the paranormal energy. “I really believe in this sort of stuff,” Keagy said.

Legendary actress and paranormal expert Shirley MacLaine, who performed at The Arcada a couple of years ago, said the same thing. “There was a 12-year-old boy who died early connected to this place. I can see him,” she said as she sat in her dressing room. She insisted it may have been me in another life! Can you believe it?

There are a bunch of stories connected to these old buildings. Because we are such a theatrical entity, and much of the building is in its original state, maybe there are one or two accounts here more than others. I can tell you one thing, though, before I got this place, I really wasn’t much of a believer in “ghosts,” whatever that means. But now, after many quiet and creepy nights alone closing up the building, I truly believe SOMETHING is going on here!

People say what we are doing at The Arcada is so cool that it’s SCARY! Well, I know the shows are good, but I can only imagine what our other “guests” are doing during the performances — dancing above the heads of our Earthly patrons.

The place definitely has character, oozes history from within its walls and has a life of its own, whether it is full of people or completely empty.

Contact me at ron@oshows.com or visit http://www.oshows.com.

 

About Ron Onesti

Ron Onesti is the CEO and president of Onesti Entertainment Corp. For the past three decades, he has produced Chicago’s most popular Italian festivals, and also owns the historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Producing more than 200 live concerts each year, Ron has worked with some of music’s most loved entertainers. Frankie Valli, Mickey Rooney, Connie Francis, and Jersey Boys, as well as stars Joan Rivers, Bret Michaels, and Don Rickles, have all graced the stage of the Arcada Theatre. He is a gourmet cook and journalist, writing a weekly column for the Daily Herald and hosting his own show on WGN. Ron lives in Wood Dale with his wife, Elena, and their daughter, Giuliana.