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Faces of 2013: Arcada’s Onesti brings big-name concerts back to Elgin’s Festival Park

Concert producer ArcadTheatre owner ROnesti looks over Elgin's Festival Park during setup for Lynyrd Skynyrd concert there October. The show

Concert producer and Arcada Theatre owner Ron Onesti looks over Elgin's Festival Park during a the setup for the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert there in October. The show drew about 8,000 fans. | Romi Herron for Sun-Times Media.

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Updated: January 28, 2014 6:03AM

This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our local communities in 2013.

ELGIN — In 2013, Ron Onesti, the man behind the rebirth of the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, brought big time music back to downtown Elgin’s Festival Park.

Working with the adjacent Grand Victoria Casino, Onesti produced three shows — Eric Burdon and the Animals and Joan Jett in and the Blackhearts in August, Night Ranger and Grand Funk Railroad in September, and Lynyrd Skynyrd in October.

The first two concerts each drew more than 5,000 fans while the crowd for Lynyrd Skynyrd was close to 8,000, Onesti said.

The turnout was so good that he is planning more shows in Elgin next year, with announcement of the lineups to come sometime in mid to late January.

“I am currently in the negotiation process, traveling around the country meeting with agents, managers and acts, determining their availability for the summer,” he said.

Festival Park opened Memorial Day weekend of 2007 and has hosted a share of shows from the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and local pop acts, including at the Rib Fest in June and at the city-sponsored iFest in August. Until this summer, it had been four years since a national touring act played the grounds.

In 2009, The Verve Pipe and Creedence Clearwater Revisited played at the city-sponsored FoxFireFest. The prior summer, Blues Traveler brought one of the park’s largest-ever crowds during that event. In September 2007, the Smithereens gave a free concert that was part of a Boys & Girls Club of Elgin benefit.

Meanwhile at the Arcada, Onesti said, “We are rockin’ and rollin’, enjoying our biggest year ever, and heading into a monstrous year to come. The near future holds a number of bigger acts and creative entertainment options that I have sought from around the country as well as internationally.”

In 2013, the St. Charles venue “definitely hit a new level this year with acts like Pat Benatar, Boz Skaggs, Michael McDonald, Michael Bolton and so many others,” Onesti said.

Onesti, who lives in Wood Dale, bought the more than 900-seat Arcada in 2004. Owning the former vaudeville and movie house, which first opened in 1926, came about while he was managing Beatles tribute band American English in 2004.

“I have a renovation plan for every inch of the building. It’s just a matter of timing, and upgrading is a continuous process that I started seven years ago and plan on continuing in 2014,” Onesti said.

The theater did have a big loss this year. In November, Jim Shaffer, 78, who for more than 30 years volunteered his time to play the hall’s pipe organ before acts took the stage, passed away.

“No matter how big or successful we become, there will always be a void, as we have lost a pillar of the theatre, in the person of Jim,” Onesti said.

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