The Warren Community Amphitheatre is one of the true gems in the city.
I realized that before now, but last week only confirmed the idea.
The River Rock at the Amp series brings big crowds to the outdoor venue most Saturdays, and it's a great addition to the area's entertainment options. But it's not the only thing happening at the amp.
Last Thursday, we went to see Warren native Sean Jones perform with the Top Notes, part of the Thursday Night Specials series presented by the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County.
If you don't know who Jones is, this must be your first time reading the Tribune Chronicle, since we've published several stories on him over the years. Suffice to say, the Warren G. Harding High School / Dana School of Music grad is one of the top jazz trumpet players in the country. Wynton Marsalis hired him as lead trumpet of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which is kind of like Leonardo da Vinci hiring you to paint a portrait of his kid.
Jones was astounding on those big band and jazz standards, playing countless solos and frequently slipping into the trumpet section to play as part of the ensemble.
The concert was a celebration of the Valley's musical past, present and future. The band got its start more than 50 years ago as the Dixie Docs, and Dr. John Vlad has been a constant with the group since it started in 1960. Some of the teachers who were influential in Jones' career were playing alongside him in the band, and at one point, Vlad talked about the importance of music education in the schools.
One has to wonder whether Jones would be where he is today without the strong instrumental music program at Harding, and how many future Jones could be lost as arts programs are the first to go in budget-cutting school districts.
Also sitting in with the Top Notes that night were several area high school musicians, an encouraging sign that there are more chapters to write in the Valley's musical history.
The show drew a good crowd; the bowl essentially was full. But admission was free. There's no reason it shouldn't have been as crowded as it is on Saturdays. As someone who will have two daughters in college in the fall, free entertainment has a real strong appeal these days.
Tonight Jones is performing in Paris, France, as part of a week-long tour. And I bet those shows aren't free.
We returned the following night for the first offering in the Friday Night Flicks series, also presented by the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County.
I'm surprised more folks don't take advantage of the movies at the amphitheater. I didn't count heads, but let's just say there was plenty of room to stretch out.
It was warm but comfortable, a perfect night for baseball - or a baseball movie. We picked up a late dinner at Hot Dog Shoppe (seemed an appropriate choice for watching "The Natural"), bought some popcorn there and enjoyed a wonderful evening.
Maybe it was the choice of the movie. I love "The Natural," but you have to be willing to accept Robert Redford (who was 47 when the movie was released) playing a teenager in the opening scenes and that it treats baseball as if it's Greek mythology.
This Friday's movie is another baseball film, "A League of Their Own." I prefer "The Natural," but "League" is OK.
Give it a chance because, remember, just as there's no crying in baseball, there's no crying when free entertainment options disappear because you didn't support them.
Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org