Elton John concert provided a test and an opportunity

There is nothing new about big stars — some really big stars — playing Youngstown.

Metropolitan Opera stars appeared with the Youngstown Symphony and as Monday Musical Club guests for generations. The Canfield Fair has featured some of the biggest names in rock, pop and country music (not to mention comedy). Magicians Doug Henning and David Copperfield have mystified audiences at Powers Auditorium. The Idora Ballroom brought big bands and teen idols to town. And Bruce Springsteen did a concert at Stambaugh Auditorium in 1996.

Warning: Some readers may need to Google some of these names. A short, random litany of legends who have entertained here over a century or so includes Lillie Langtry, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Will Rogers, Amos ’n’ Andy, Jack Benny, the Dorsey Brothers bands, Buddy Holly, Dizzy Gillespie, Michael Bolton and Olivia Newton John.

But the Saturday night performance of Elton John in a sold-out Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown was in a class by itself. Even skeptics about the ability of the arena to transform the downtown had to be impressed.

It was a feel-good night for about 7,500 ticket-holders who bought about a million dollars worth of entertainment. And while there were hundreds of out-of-towners, Eric Ryan, executive director of the Covelli, estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of those attending were from the core Youngstown-Warren marketing area.

In a few short years, the Covelli Centre (and its predecessor, the Chevrolet Centre) have hosted Tony Bennett, Stevie Nicks, Carrie Underwood, Sugarland, Journey, ZZ Top and John Mellencamp. Some are legends, some are destined to be legends, and all are headliners.

But as Ryan points out, the morning the Elton John tickets went on sale, there were 13,000 on-line hits in three minutes. There were enough potential buyers to fill Browns Stadium in short order. It was the fastest sell-out and the largest gate ever for the Covelli, although exact figures haven’t been released. The million-dollar reference in the fifth paragraph is not an exaggeration.

Making good luck

This was also an unusual opportunity because John, one of the most prolific and successful singers and musicians of this era, decided to put together a tour of small markets. And Ryan managed to lock it in.

There’s no telling if John’s tour of secondary markets is a fluke or part of a trend. But if it’s a trend, Ryan believes the Covelli Centre has demonstrated that it is up to hosting any artist, any time. There are only a handful of iconic stars — add your own favorites to Bono, Prince, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand — who would rise to Elton John’s level.

But it’s good to know that if any of them get tired of playing the big houses and decide to follow John’s lead, Youngstown is willing and able to accommodate them.

Perhaps at the next meeting of the Knights Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Sir Elton might whisper to Sir Paul McCartney or Sir Mick Jagger what a pleasure it is to play in such a charming colonial hamlet as Youngstown.

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