Year filled with memorable music, theater

There was no shortage of big shows in the area in 2017, including what may have been the biggest ever.

The Zac Brown Band headlined the first concert ever at Youngstown State University’s Stambaugh Stadium. The show drew about 15,000 people, an impressive total considering that Brown already had played concerts in the Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Columbus markets earlier in the summer and the threat of rain probably hurt the potential walk-up crowd.

It was successful enough that Eric Ryan of JAC Management and Ed Muransky of the Muransky Group were talking about a 2018 event that night before Brown hit the stage.

That show was fun, but my most memorable concerts of 2017 were more intimate gatherings.

It was great to see folks pack the Hippodrome last month for a homecoming show by Warren native Dennis Drummond, making his first local appearance since appearing on NBC’s most recent season of “The Voice.” He’s back for several shows over the next week.

Leavittsburg native Jerry Douglas brought his bluegrass band The Earls of Leicester to the Kent Stage, and I watched in slack-jawed wonder at the musicianship on display that night. Douglas also has a chance to win his 15th Grammy Award after picking up a nomination last month Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for “What If” by the Jerry Douglas Band. I hope that ensemble, which combines a myriad of musical styles and influences, will make an area appearance in 2018.

The area’s other Grammy nominee — Warren native Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters — will be nearby next year, with concerts next summer at Blossom Music Center and PPG Paints Arena (Foo Fighters would be a great headliner at Stambaugh Stadium, don’t you think?)

Kelly McCracken, a regular in local clubs as the lead singer of The Kellys, brought her current Cincinnati-area band, Flying Underground, to the Mahoning Valley for a couple of shows this year. JD Eicher’s Summer Songfest continued to grow, moving to downtown Youngstown outside of the Soap Gallery and adding a national act (Will Hoge) to the lineup.

The Vindys garnered well-deserved local airplay with its full-length debut in “Keep Going.” The group played a memorable double header for the CD release, a morning show at Record Connection in McKinley Heights for Record Store Day and an impressive early-evening set in downtown Youngstown as part of Federal Frenzy. The vinyl release show in November was a stellar triple bill with the Vindys joined by Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons and Erica Blinn.

However, some of the shows that made me happiest made their promoters sad. Packard Music Hall was less than half full for Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt back in January, but watching those two master songwriters trade tunes and stories was the best show I saw in Trumbull County in 2017. Hearing Ike Reilly sing a brand new song ( “Bolt Cutter,” which sounded like Woody Guthrie and Hunter S. Thompson collaborated on a protest song) for about 60 people at Youngstown’s Calvin Center also was a highlight.

Outside of the Valley, Jason Isbell’s concert at the Goodyear Theater in Akron cemented his position among my favorites artists. And his duet with wife, Amanda Shires, on “If We Were Vampires” that night may be my single favorite musical moment of the year.

Not all the memorable moments were musical. Youngstown Playhouse has been on a great run of late. The opening shows of its 2017-18 mainstage season — the Pulitzer-winning drama “August: Osage County” and the musical comedy “Young Frankenstein” — couldn’t be more different, but both productions were steller achievements.

And Rust Belt Theater Company’s decision to move “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” out of the Calvin Center gym and into its more intimate performance space made for the most enjoyable edition of the show I’ve ever seen.

I can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring.

Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at