One thing about classic rockers: they know how to put on a show.
The same goes for country music superstars, and the Mahoning Valley saw its share of both in 2018.
Looking back on the best concerts of last year, it’s easy to pick a winner. It’s at the end of my top concerts countdown. Read on:
10. Michael McDonald, Dec. 13, Stambaugh Auditorium: This one turned out much better than I expected. Seated at grand piano, McDonald played hits from his Doobie Brothers days, some new solo stuff and an ancient carol or two. It was a great chance to see a rock notable with a tight band, an iconic voice and a Southern sound, with just a dash of holiday music tossed in the gumbo.
9. Toby Keith, Sept. 4, Canfield Fair: The fun-loving country superstar with a Western flair finally returned to the Valley, and the old grandstand was filled to the rafters on a sweltering evening. Keith delivered a career-retrospective set that included a slew of hits, such as “Whiskey Girl,” “How Do You Like Me Now,” “Red Solo Cup,” and, of course, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”
8. Alice Cooper, Oct. 27, Packard Music Hall: As long as The Coop is still getting his head chopped off in a guillotine, I am going to be there.
7. Sugarland, July 13, Covelli Centre: After a five-year hiatus, the duo of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush released an album and hit the road. The sugary country-pop duo didn’t need big screens, laser beams or pyro at their concert. Nettles and her big voice was more than enough to reach the cheap seats.
6. Florida Georgia Line, Aug. 11, Stambaugh Stadium: This superstar country-pop duo shattered the Youngstown concert-attendance record with a crowd of 20,003. Before the show, the whole downtown area was in party mode on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, with tailgating breaking out in the most unlikely places. On stage, FGL’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard ruled like two hip-hop emcees.
5. Bob Dylan, Nov. 13, Covelli Centre: Dylan’s return felt like a momentous event. The ever-touring folk-rock legend has entered a phase of classical performance, and Covelli Centre was like a dark and hushed theater for the concert. In short, a dignified mood prevailed. Dylan, wearing a spangled white evening jacket, stood at his piano with his band lined up behind him. The master long ago reworked his entire canon of songs and performs each with a different arrangement, melody and – sometimes – pace. But collectively, the songs had a uniformity of style, and it seemed right.
4. Keith Urban, Nov. 13, Covelli Centre: My seat was at the opposite end of the arena from the stage, but for about 15 minutes, it was front row. That’s because the New Zealand-born Urban likes to get close to all of his fans and made his way to the other side of the arena to do so. It’s just one more reason why the mega-talented Urban is such a fan favorite.
3. Judas Priest, March 15, Covelli Centre: This singular event was more than a concert. The torchbearers of heavy metal for five decades delivered an attack of speedy, crunchy riffs all night. It was in cavernous Covelli, and I was afraid it would get echo-y, but the sound was crystal clear and never sludgy or tedious.
2. Earth, Wind and Fire, March 16, Covelli Centre: This legendary act was simply fantastic. The remaining original members – Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Verdine White – were backed by a full band and a three-piece horn section, with a pair of bouncy backup singer/percussionists to boot. The result was a dazzling display of constant-motion choreography, great musicianship and a ton of funky-yet-timeless hits.
1. John Fogerty and ZZ Top, June 19, Covelli Centre: I’m still scratching my head over how this tour landed in Youngstown. The men of ZZ Top were their usual bearded bad selves. But what made this concert one for the ages was Fogerty. The eternally young rocker remains in peak form and his old Creedence Clearwater Revival songs had as much life as the day they were recorded. Easily the best concert of the year in Youngstown.
Guy D’Astolfo covers entertainment for The Vindicator. Follow him on Twitter at @VindyVibe.