YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Wean Park will get its baptism as a music venue by hosting one of country music’s biggest stars.
The four-year-old riverfront green space downtown will be filled with approximately 20,000 people on July 16 when Luke Bryan comes to town.
The show is part of the Y-Live concert series, an annual showcase or country-pop superstars that took place at Stambaugh Stadium its first three years.
Moving it to Wean Park is a massive logistical undertaking, but not much different than having it at the stadium.
“We will have to bring in more than a thousand feet of fencing [to cordon off the venue and for crowd control],” says Ken Bigley, vice president of promoter JAC Live. “We’ve done large festivals before but nothing on this scale.”
Banks of portable bathrooms and other amenities will be set up at several sites in the park.
Those in the lawn will be quite a distance from the stage but will easily be able to see the band, thanks to video screens that will be placed on both sides of the stage.
“These screens are the largest you can get,” Bigley says. “Somebody made the joke that you’ll be able to see them from the Mr. Peanut bridge,” a reference to the Spring Common Bridge about a half-mile away.
The concert was originally slated for 2020. It was postponed that year and the following year because of the pandemic.
Bryan’s desire to play Youngstown never wavered despite the two-year delay, Bigley says, and the deal remained in place.
The Wean Park concert is part of the artist’s Raised Up Right tour, which started June 9. The tour will hit major amphitheaters and arenas in more than 30 cities before wrapping up at the end of October.
Ticket sales have been very strong for the Youngstown concert, Bigley says, adding he expects it will be sold out or close to it.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The stage will be set up in the parking lot behind Covelli Centre, facing west. About 7,000 chairs will be placed in front of the stage, Bigley says.
The VIP Lawn area will be immediately behind the seats, where the grass begins, and will hold about 2,500. The general Lawn seating area will comprise the remainder of the grassy expanse of Wean Park and will accommodate another 12,000 or so, Bigley says.
The Wean Park site will have roughly the same capacity as Youngstown State University’s Stambaugh Stadium.
The sole entrance to the concert will be at the corner of Front and Walnut streets, next to Covelli Centre.
JAC Live – the promotion arm of JAC Management, which operates Wean Park, Covelli Centre and the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre – decided to move the concert to Wean Park this year for several reasons.
“We had to be cognizant of time at the stadium,” Bigley says, referring to the tight window to prepare the site for a concert and then clear it out when it’s over. It’s a process that takes several days.
“They also had staffing issues there, coming out of the pandemic, that made it difficult to make it work,” he says. ‘Everyone is short staffed.”
Stambaugh Stadium, Bigley points out, was not built to be a concert venue. JAC had to load in a lot of hardware, including a stage, seating, sound system and lighting, and portable bathrooms. Having the concert in a wide-open park is not that much more difficult, he says.
Moving the concert outside of the city limits was never considered.
“If we had to move, both us and Luke [Bryan] wanted to keep it in the city,” Bigley says. “It was a big deal when we signed him. We told him that [Y-Live] is more than a show. It means a lot to this city. He knew.”
WALKING AND PARKING
The concert also will be a boon to downtown Youngstown businesses. It will be the largest single-day event to take place within easy walking distance of the bars and restaurants along Federal Street, and bar owners are preparing for a crush of business before and after the show.
Christian Rinehart, who owns Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts and O’Donold’s Irish Pub, says he will increase his staffing levels for the day.
Melanie Clarke-Penella, the city’s director of downtown events, says the proximity of Wean Park to bars, restaurants and parking makes it a great location.
“It’s exciting to have something this big in our walkable downtown,” she says. “You can’t get this in every city, and as we grow as an event destination, [visitors] will appreciate what a walkable area it is.”
The throngs who will crowd into downtown will have to deal with detours and lane restrictions.
Front Street, which is directly in front of the venue, is closed to traffic because of a reconstruction project, and there are also lane restrictions along Commerce Street.
To make things easier, JAC Live procured as many parking spaces as it could from private owners and earmarked them for concertgoers. The spaces, which are being sold in advance through Ticketmaster, are in the surface lots along Front Street between Vindicator Square and the Market Street Bridge, and the Eastern Gateway Community College parking garage.
The Youngstown State University parking garage on Wick Avenue will also be available for concert parking, although those spaces will not be sold in advance. A free shuttle bus service will make a continuous loop from all parking areas to Wean Park from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., JAC’s Bigley says.
As a safety precaution, the Market Street Bridge will be closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic from 6:30 p.m. until the concert ends, Bigley says. The bridge’s sidewalks offer a clear but distant view of the stage.
Traffic will be detoured over other bridges during those hours.
COUNTRY MUSIC KINGPIN
Booking Luke Bryan for Y-Live was an ambitious but easy choice for JAC Live, which has a reputation for landing the biggest modern-country artists. In the past, the concert series featured the Zac Brown Band, Florida Georgia Line and Blake Shelton.
Very few current artists in any popular music genre are of the same magnitude as Luke Bryan. The Georgia native is seemingly everywhere.
In May, he wrapped up shooting season 5 of ABC’s “American Idol.” Bryan is a judge on the singing competition series, along with Katy Perry and Lionel Richie.
His Amazon Freevee original docuseries, “Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary,” premiered last summer, offering a personal look at the star through home videos, interviews and backstage footage.
Bryan has logged 29 No. 1 singles in his career, with another one – his new single, “Country On,” released July 1 – showing potential to be his 30th chart-topper.
Despite his busy schedule, the artist already is well on his way to completing his next album. In a late-June interview with CMT.com, he said “Country On” is the first taste.
“[It] is the first installment of a project I’m working on,” he said. “I mean, I’ve got probably half of the project done. Hopefully, as ‘Country On’ is going up the chart, (I’ll) spend a couple more months writing a lot of music, working hard in the studio and then go in and cut some more songs and have the ability to put a full album out.”
Bryan told CMT he already has several unreleased songs that could be singles.
He hopes the message of “County On” will unite Americans. The two-word title is meant as a message of encouragement and approval.
“If feels like an anthem,” he said. “When you think about the title, ‘Country On,’ on a T-shirt, and everybody is saying ‘country on!’ when you’re having a bad day, and you know you can drink a beer and ‘country on,’ it feels pretty good,” Bryan said. “But I love what the song says. I love that it uplifts the hardworking American people out there, and it brings a lot of unity.”
Bryan’s current album, the Deluxe Edition of “Born Here Live Here Die Here,” was released last year, with a half-dozen new songs in addition to the original 2020 release’s 10 songs. The album has generated five No. 1 hits: “Knockin’ Boots,” “What She Wants Tonight,” “One Margarita,” “Down to One” and “Waves.”
Bryan’s long list of honors includes the 2021 ACM Entertainer of the Year award, his third; six recognitions as CMT Artist of the Year; and the first-ever recipient of the ACM Album of the Decade for “Crash My Party.”
He’ll take a two-week break from the Raised Up Right tour in September to mount his 13th farm tour, which takes place on farms. The tour will hit six sites, including Spring Fork Farms, near Mechanicsburg, Ohio, about 25 miles west of Columbus.
The July 16 Luke Bryan concert at Wean Park, featuring opening acts Riley Green and Mitchell Tenpenny, will start at 7 p.m. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.
Lawn tickets are $48.50 (VIP Lawn, $750), and the seated tickets are $99.50, $145.50 ($175 for stage front pit). They can be purchase at Ticketmaster.com (fees apply) and the Covelli box office.
Pictured at top: Luke Bryan’s new single, “Country On,” was released July 1. Photo by Jim Wright.