Backstage with Ron Onesti: A piece of ‘The Godfather Of Soul’ lives on
It was the summer of 2002, and we were rockin’ at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero. We produced a concert series there every summer for years with some of the biggest names in country, rock and R&B. Of the 30-plus shows we did, one stands out as a career moment for me. It was with “the hardest working man in show business” – James Brown.
We built a concert venue in the center of the racetrack. It was an awesome concept that added excitement to the already cool experience of “the sport of kings,” horse racing, but it wasn’t easy. We had to do load-ins, set-up and sound checks in between the times the horses did their practice runs on the track. This was an environment where million-dollar thoroughbreds were kings, and the track caretakers were on a first-name basis with every blade of grass, so the tension was already high.
The electricity in the air that day was at an all-time level. First of all, about 25 gentlemen in suits and bow ties showed up early, establishing themselves as “Mr. Brown’s personal security force.” Who was I to argue? Then, with an illusion of a musical fanfare that just played in my head, a convoy of four limousines came across the course at a slow – yet attention-grabbing – pace.
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