Luke Bryan Concert Lives Up to Its Promise

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Luke Bryan delivered the goods, Mother Nature cooperated, and the first concert at Wean Park was a roaring success.

Saturday night’s show marked the three-year-old riverfront park’s first usage as a music facility, and it was transformed into a Blossom-like amphitheater

The focus was on Bryan, the country superstar with a deep catalog of hits and no shortage of good-old Georgia boy charm. Bryan’s nearly two-hour set was everything a fan could ask for.

But the real story was how well Wean Park and downtown Youngstown performed in its new role. The 20-acre green space opened amid the pandemic to little public notice. On Saturday, it  became a jewel of the city.

Credit goes to the team led by JAC Management, which operates the park and the city-owned venues that flank it – Covelli Centre and Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre – for thinking of everything. JAC promoted and staged the concert, part of the annual Y-Live series of country superstars.

Past Y-Live concerts took place at Stambaugh Stadium. 

Bryan was originally booked in the pandemic year of 2020. That concert was postponed for two years in a row, but was worth the wait.

Wean Park – like Covelli and The Amp – was built on a former stretch of industrial blight, and the transformation of the park into a massive venue was impressive. But how well it functioned before, during and after the event was something to behold.

A capacity crowd of about 20,000 turned Wean into a sea of people, stretching from the stage to the Market Street Bridge.

Yet, the crowds moved in and out with ease – before, during and after the concert. Beer lines got a little too long between sets, but that was a good problem to have.

Outside the venue, JAC and the Youngstown police developed and implemented a parking and pedestrian flow plan that never seemed out of control. Concertgoers arrived, were shown to their prepaid parking spot by police and JAC staff, and – in many cases – commenced to tailgating.

It was no small miracle, too, because of all the road construction downtown. Front Street, which runs in front of the park, is undergoing reconstruction. For the concert, the torn-up street was turned into a long pedestrian corridor – fenced in for safety – that funneled the throngs to the entrance.

It ran like clockwork, a testament to planning and know-how. JAC made it look easy.

A mild rain shower started an hour before the first opening act, Mitchell Tenpenny, took the stage, but it stopped in the nick of time. In its wake was a pleasant summer night with a hint of breeze and zero humidity.

Before the show, concertgoers partied in the parking lots and at the many bars on and around the Phelps Street plaza, creating a college football game-day ambiance.

Luke Bryan, clad in a black T-shirt and with his cap on backward, acknowledged as much when he took the stage. He popped into view from a hidden lift beneath the stage and led the crowd in a few “O-H… I-O” chants.

“Welcome to the biggest crowd ever assembled in downtown Youngstown,” he shouted to the assembled.

Bryan seemed to be in an extra good mood because it was his “birthday weekend,” as he put it. At one point, he broke down and let the crowd serenade him in a verse of “Happy Birthday.”

The singer spent much of the show on the catwalk that jutted out from the stage and into the crowd. Save for a short brawl that broke out in front of him while he was there, the good vibes in the audience were unstoppable.

Bryan played at least 22 songs that spanned his long career.

He tore into the show with a one-two punch of “I Don’t Want the Night to End” and “Kick the Dust Up.”

On “One Margarita,” he celebrated his birthday with – what else? – a margarita.

Things got serious for “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” with Bryan strapping on a well-worn Fender solid-body guitar and playing the intro. He later turned the song into an extended jam that came to a head with a banjo breakdown.

Bryan contributed on acoustic guitar throughout the show and played an electric piano on “Strip It Down” and his throwback hit, “Baby Do I.”

Halfway through the set, he called his opening acts back on stage. Tenpenny joined him in an acoustic duet by singing “Good Directions.” The song was the first No. 1 hit for Bryan, although it was Billy Currington’s version that reached that height.

After that, Bryan and Riley Green – an Alabaman with a Texas drawl –  noodled around on guitars in a fun interlude that was kind of a country-pop nostalgia session.

The concert came to an end with full-force momentum as Bryan reeled off “Crash My Party,” “Knockin Boots,” “Move,” “Play It Again” and “That’s My Kind of Night” before returning for an encore of “Country Girl (Shake It for Me).”

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Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.