1 - Ed O’Neill has always carried a bit of Youngstown with him.
The actor left his hometown 37 years ago but never forgot where he came from. So it was with open arms that O’Neill was received when he returned to Youngstown State University — where he studied theater — on May 18 to deliver the commencement address.
“I’ve taken [Youngstown] everywhere,” the star of the top-ranked and critically acclaimed sitcoms “Modern Family” and “Married ... With Children” told reporters during his visit. “I grew up here, so this place shaped my sense of humor. Anything I did athletically came from here. I loved the music here in Youngstown. I took it all with me.”
O’Neill’s return to his alma mater was a big deal for him and for Youngstown. It’s also The Vindicator’s top entertainment story of 2013. O’Neill is at the pinnacle of the TV world. The actor from the North Side was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on “Modern Family” for three years in a row, beginning in 2011. But his trip home gave O’Neill a chance to reconnect with his roots and refresh his memories. “I miss the local Italian food here,” he said during his visit. “And I miss how green it is here.”
Here is a look at the rest of the top 10 entertainment stories of 2013:
2 - John Mellencamp art exhibition: The Butler Institute of American Art is known for its occasional exhibitions by famous entertainers. Past years have seen shows by Jessica Lange, Ronnie Wood and Peter Falk. In November, rock star John Mellencamp added his name to that list. The Indiana native’s exhibition of nearly 40 of his paintings opened Nov. 2 at the museum’s Trumbull Branch in Howland. Mellencamp stopped by that day for a reception. The exhibition will remain on display until Jan. 12.
3 - Elton John’s return to Covelli Centre announced: The Mahoning Valley was stunned back in 2010 when it was announced that Elton John would play at Covelli Centre. The announcement earlier this month that the British rock legend would return to the Youngstown arena Feb. 1 wasn’t quite as surprising, but it was still huge. Tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Dec. 6 and were all gone by the close of business that day.
4 - Carrie Underwood plays Covelli: Like Elton John, Carrie Underwood also is making a habit of playing Youngstown. She followed up her 2008 debut with a bigger and better show April 11. It was part of the country superstar’s “Blown Away” tour and had extra significance because of its major-league production values. The spare-no-expense tour saw the singer take a “balloon” ride over the audience, sing a duet with a virtual Brad Paisley and belt out a song with a raging tornado on stage behind her. It was a great way for Covelli Centre to demonstrate its versatility and its ability to lure the big tours with all the bells and whistles. Other big concerts and events at Covelli this year included Kid Rock, Rascal Flatts, Justin Moore and Price Is Right road show.
5 - Ray Mancini shows his film in Youngstown: Another favorite son, former boxing champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, also returned to his hometown to host public screenings of “The Good Son,” the excellent biographical documentary about his life. Mancini greeted audiences at the Oakland Center for the Arts on Oct. 26 and answered questions after all three showings.
6 - 3-D Printing Exhibition at the McDonough Museum: The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute is located in Youngstown. But how many Youngstowners really know what this futuristic technology is, and what it can do? To raise awareness, the McDonough Museum of Art put together an exhibition that ran from June to August to demonstrate additive manufacturing, or as it is more commonly known, 3-D printing. As a result, the normally sleepy art museum saw attendance soar to unprecedented heights.
7 - Cedars closes and reopens: The landmark rock ’n’ roll bar was forced to move from its longtime location in downtown Youngstown at the end of January when the building it was in changed hands. The club reopened about six weeks later in a new location on Steel Street on the West Side, and the move was practically seamless. Not only does the new room retain the ambiance of the old one, but the raised stage makes it a better music venue.
8 - Easy Street Productions marks 25th anniversary: The theater company with a penchant for big musicals brought back the show that put it on the map in the late ’80s. It was a reunion on the stage and in the audience when the East Streeters reprised “Pump Boys and Dinettes” — with the original cast intact — at Ford Family Recital Hall in April and May. Fans filled the seats every night, just like they did when the show ran for 200 performances at the old Uptown Theater 23 years ago. Easy Street capped the year with a similar homecoming of returning alumni with “Miracle on Easy Street” last weekend in Powers auditorium.
9 - Downtown nightlife scene keeps growing: A wave of new bars and restaurants that began this year will continue into 2014. Adding to the existing roster of nightlife options were Liquid Blu, Warehouse 50, Rust Belt Brewing Co. Tap House, Avalon Pizza and Bar, Christopher’s Downtown and Los Gallos Mexican Restaurant and Bar. Scheduled to open early next year are Diana’s Dogs and Drafts, a brew pub/hot dog shop/music venue; an as-yet unnamed bar specializing in craft beers on the second floor of the building that houses Imbibe Martini Bar; and Friends Roastery coffee shop. Two more nightspots should open later next year in the Gallagher Building.
10 - WaterFire Sharon: It’s not easy for a new festival to make a splash in this area, but WaterFire Sharon did just that. The festival, which takes place three times in the downtown in the summer and fall, mixed street festival flair with artsy entertainment and drew people by the tens of thousands. What puts it over the top is its primal ritual, in which dozens of wood brazier bonfires anchored to the surface of the Shenango River are lit. It is something you have to see to appreciate.
Other interesting entertainment stories of 2013 include: The premiere of “The Power of Few,” the star-laden film written and directed by Boardman native Leone Marucci, which had a debut run at Tinseltown in Boardman; Pig Iron Press is almost forced to close over nonpayment of taxes, but comes through at the last second; Valley native Michael Moritz enters the Broadway scene as a co-producer and performer; “One for Sorrow,” a novel by Youngstown State University professor Chris Barzak, is made into a film that will debut in January; 34west Theater Company leaves Columbiana after more than a decade; the costly conversion to digital projection prompts the closing of the Salem Twins cinema ; “Angry Tears,” a locally made film based on the life of local evangelist Earline Gilford-Weaver, premieres; the crumbling but once-glorious Paramount Theater downtown is razed, ending hopes for its revitalization; and Vexfest, the downtown rock festival, returns after skipping a year.