YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The concert industry is finally beginning to return, albeit at a glacial pace, and the Sept. 19 concert by Disco Inferno at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre was the first step.
This was a full-blown concert at a major local venue – not a drive-in gig where the audience had to remain in their cars, or next to them.
And while the pandemic’s death grip on the concert industry remains firm, it was the first sign of life.
Before the concert, the big question was, “Will enough people buy tickets?” Well … that and “How does The Amp gets its lawn grass so thick and lush?”
Many folks are too fearful to go anywhere near a gathering such as a concert. But enough did to call it a success.
Familiarity was a factor, of course. The Cleveland-based Disco Inferno – which does a mean cover of “Boogie Oogie Oogie” – has played the Mahoning Valley many times over the years. Everyone knows them and a lot of people love them.
So, about 500 fans, give or take, showed up on a crisp fall night for the concert. It’s well under the 1,500 that The Amp (which can hold close to 5,000) is allowed to let in under the reduced-capacity regulations. But The Amp is intimate. So it looked and felt like a crowd. For those on hand, it was more than that. It was a bit of normality in this lost summer.
The late and truncated concert season at The Amp, which consists solely of regional bands, also included the Jazz in the Park All-Stars Sept. 26.
The series will continue Oct. 2 when local radio station Loud 102.3 presents a hip-hop show with DJ Chip Banks, DJ Swin, DJ Mazefaze, Chief P. Murdah 1, Crazy Chris, Moodzie, The Poses and Mxnsta. Tickets are $5 at ticketmaster.com.
After that will be The Vindys, with JD Eicher, on Oct. 10 ($10, ticketmaster.com). It will likely be the last of the year, says Ken Bigley of JAC Management, which operates The Amp.
The show will be the first of this magnitude for The Vindys and Eicher since at least February. Both artists did drive-in concerts in September, when guests had to stay inside, or within arm’s length, of their cars.
Jackie Popovec, lead singer of The Vindys, was a bit nervous before her drive-in concert, which was Sept. 12 at the Southern Park Mall parking lot.
But not because she feared the band would be rusty. The apprehension was over potential glitches in broadcasting the sound to car radios. “We had [speakers] up, but you could also listen on the radio,” she says.
It turned out fine, even memorable.
“It was such a neat thing,” Popovec says. “I was just telling the boys [her band mates] that we should do this once a year to commemorate this year and how music adapted to it. It was a cool, special thing that I never thought I’d want on my bucket list but it was a great experience.”
The Vindys rehearsed just before that drive-in show – the first time they had done so since March. It didn’t take long before they were in mid-season form.
“It was magical,” Popovec says. “It was the first time we put some loud levels on our amps. And were able to sing at the top of our lungs. As a vocalist not doing that too much, it was a whole different feeling. I had to warm up more than usual.”
The concert also gave a glimpse of what to expect from a Vindys concert going forward. “We had been chewing over our new record and figuring out a new set list,” Popovec says. “We played the new songs up front and by the time we got to “Bang” and “Red Wine,” everyone was flying high. We leaned back and took it for a ride. I even sing these songs a little differently now so as not to get bored of them. Some new grooves.”
The Vindys’ upcoming album, titled “Bugs,” has been ready to go for some time. But the band has delayed indefinitely its release until the pandemic ends and touring can resume.
It’s tentatively slated to be released in the first half of 2021. The first single from the album, “If I Want,” is already on Spotify; more will follow.
But in the meantime, the band will release a live album that was recorded late last year at Westside Bowl. “The footage looks amazing and the recording sounds amazing,” Popovec says.
The vinyl album will be available before Christmas; videos from the concert should start popping up soon on The Vindys’ Patreon.com web page and elsewhere.
The show Oct. 10 at The Amp will mark the first time that JD Eicher and his full band will perform together this year.
“I’ve gotten to play a handful of small [solo] events this summer,” he says, “but [the show at The Amp] will be the first, and only, time we’ll get to bring out the full lineup this year.”
It’s a small victory in a war that is a long way from over.
“Music and events are slowly and creatively coming back here and there. But I’m still getting a couple of cancellations per week on shows late this year,” Eicher say.
“I think we’re unfortunately still a ways out from the traditional music venues being able to do their thing like in the pre-virus days.”
Pictured above: Disco Inferno performs the first concert of the year at The Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre on Sept.19.