Tonight is only the start for YFA’s positive impact

2Those lyrics from one of the biggest smash hits by tonight’s national headliner at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre exude the optimism for a stellar future for downtown’s newest entertainment milieu.

Yes, after two weekends of warmup attractions, tonight’s concert by Grammy-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Chicago will truly test the potential for success – and possible pitfalls – of the 5,000-capacity amphi-theater on downtown Youngstown’s expanding southern edge.

The $8 million venue for outdoor concerts and community events officially opened two weeks ago with a free preview concert by local acts and tours of the nicely manicured 22-acre complex and riverfront park. It attracted a respectable showing of about 2,000 people.

After Mother Nature’s rain-soaked wrath forced cancellation of the first paid concert featuring regional favorites Michael Stanley and Donnie Iris the next evening, the YFA opened last week with its first official paid attraction – rapper and hip-hop artist Gucci Mane. For a very narrowly targeted fan base, that concert drew a decent-sized crowd of about 2,500, according to JAC Management Group, which operates the facility and the nearby Covelli Centre.

Tonight, however, the YFA must put the pedal to the metal. It will be the first true test of the new concert venue’s ability to handle a likely sell-out crowd with a minimum of hiccups. It is a test we suspect promoters and operators of the YFA can pass, given their attention to detail in the planning, construction and opening attractions at the facility.

We’re also certain that YFA managers will be closely monitoring any glitches with parking, crowd control, acoustics, concessions, rest rooms and other details with an eye toward quickly remedying any shortcomings pronto.


But given the caliber and four-decade prominence of the main musical attraction, the concert promises to be one for the record books in Youngstown entertainment history.

After all, Chicago, originally known as The Chicago Transit Authority, has produced dozens of hit songs since the act premiered in 1967, including “25 or 6 to 4,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is?,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” “Saturday in the Park,” “You’re the Inspiration,” and “Beginnings.” Chicago has released 36 albums, of which an impressive 25 have been certified platinum. The band has a total of 47 gold and platinum awards.

For downtown Youngstown, tonight’s concert aptly serves as “only the beginning” in several respects. It opens a weekend chock-full of crowd-attracting events that are likely to create more hubbub downtown than has been witnessed in recent memory.

As cleanup continues from the amphitheater grounds Saturday morning, an all-day family-oriented gay-pride parade and festival will roll out, concentrated on one of the central city’s newest entertainment backdrops, the North Phelps Street Party Block between West Federal and Champion streets.

Then at 8 p.m. Saturday, Grammy-winning superstar and “American Idol” judge Lionel Richie will perform to a house that likely will be filled to the gills inside the Covelli Centre in a stop on his “Hello! Hits Tour.”

This weekend’s attractions also serve as a prelude for a hodgepodge of top-caliber attractions downtown virtually every weekend through the unofficial end of summer on Labor Day weekend. A sampling of YFA events alone includes:

Earth, Wind and Fire, nine-time Grammy winners and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, at the amphitheater July 5.

The Youngstown Wine and Jazz Festival on July 13, featuring the music of nationally acclaimed jazz artist Norman Brown.

Free Drive-In Movie night featuring the classic “Jurassic Park” on July 19.

Michael Stanley and The Resonators with Donnie Iris and The Cruisers on July 27.

Collectively that star-studded lineup bodes well for the long-term positive impact of YFA on downtown. Not only does it enhance the economic and aesthetic revitalization of a city, it seals the viability of Youngtown’s central business district as the undisputed top-tier entertainment destination between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

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