Documentary to Focus on Days ‘When Idora Rocked’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The list of rock and pop artists who played Idora Park in the 1970s and ’80s is impressive.

It includes The Eagles, Raspberries, Young Rascals, Ohio Express, David Cassidy, Badfinger, Wishbone Ash, James Gang, Looking Glass, Bay City Rollers, Mickey Dolenz and Davey Jones of The Monkees, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, The Byrds, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Michael Stanley Band and Donnie Iris.

Regional acts that made a national impact, including Human Beinz, Blue Ash, Poobah and Left End, also played the park’s ballroom and outdoor spaces, as did dozens of local bands such as Brainchild.

 A young Bob DiPiero, the Liberty Township native who would go on to become a Nashville songwriting great, played some of his earliest shows at Idora with local rock bands.

The park closed in 1984 and has been razed. All that’s left is an overgrown field, some concrete remnants, and memories.

A documentary film, “When Idora Rocked,” will bring back the glory years when it premieres at the Spring Thing concert May 26 at Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre. The concert – a revival of the annual Spring Thing at Idora – will feature the reunited Left End, plus local favorites The Houseband with several former Michael Stanley Band members.

The 30- to 45-minute film (it’s still in production) will feature interviews with rock artists, fans, radio personalities and park management who were part of the scene. It also uses old photos and some footage, and will cover the period from the mid-1960s until the park closed in 1984.

Thomas John, who was a DJ at the time for WHOT, narrates the film. WHOT was the area’s premier rock station in those days and John and other DJs emceed many concerts and record hops at Idora in that era.

The filmmakers contacted the daughter of legendary WHOT DJ Boots Bell, who supplied photos of her father at the park.

Terry Grimm is part of the team putting the film together. He recalls the concerts and the park’s importance to young people in the area.

“It was a remarkable period,” Grimm said. “Bands worked four or five gigs a week back then. There was so much live music in this area in those days.”

Not just teenagers went to the concerts.

“Idora was a key venue for young people,” Grimm said. “It was a family friendly environment. So parents would drop their kids off. Kids as young as 12 or 13 could see the bands because a lot of concerts were in the afternoon.”

The two main rock festivals each year were Spring Thing, and WHOT Day.

Grimm, John and others returned to the park site a few weeks ago to film the opening segment.

“It was a hoot since I haven’t been there in decades,” John said. “The stone staircase outside the ballroom is the only thing left.”

Among those interviewed for the film are DiPiero, who was in Youngstown last month for a concert, and former park owner Lenny Cavalier.

“He was a treasure trove of information,” John said of the 96-year-old Cavalier. “He was sharp as a tack and remembered everything right up until the fire.”

Grimm said DiPiero shared many details of his days at Idora. The film will also include interviews with Donnie Iris and Ting Markulin of Human Beinz and all members of Left End.

Newspaper advertisement for the 1989 Spring Thing concert.

The park’s end came in 1984, hastened by a massive fire in April that destroyed the Lost River ride, a section of the Wildcat roller coaster, the park office and most of the lower midway. The park still opened for that season, but 1984 would be its final year.

The Spring Thing concert, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, will start with a screening of “When Idora Rocked,” said Ray Timlin, promoter. The Houseband will then play a set that will include five Michael Stanley Band songs and  several former members of the band. Left End, the kings of Youngstown’s rock scene in the ’70s and ’80s, will close the show with a full set.

Left End headlined the Spring Thing concert 13 times, including a 1981 show that featured the Michael Stanley Band and drew a record crowd of over 10,000. A Left End reunion concert last year at Packard Music Hall drew a capacity crowd of at least 1,400.

Timlin is hoping to far surpass that number. “We’re putting up concert posters at establishments just to do it old school,” he said.

Pictured at top: This fading photo shows KC & the Sunshine Band performing at Idora Park.