The Vindicator Shaped the Arts in The Valley One Story at a Time

The Youngstown Amphitheatre during the Michael Stanley Donnie Iris concert. Photo by Guy D'Astalfo.

By Frances Clause

Large orchestral performances, theatrical productions and recitals of world-renowned artists found a home in the DeYor Performing Arts Center and Stambaugh Auditorium, two “cultural hearts of the Mahoning Valley.”

But entertainment in Youngstown has come a long way from Dec. 6, 1926, when the Monday Musical Club presented Stambaugh’s first concert, featuring humorist Will Rogers.

The opening of the Covelli Centre on Oct. 29, 2005, marked the day when Youngstown would start to experience continuous growth in its entertainment scene. The first sold-out performances were two concerts by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on Nov. 12, 2005.

The orchestra that has pushed the boundaries of rock will return this year on Nov. 15 to take the stage at the Covelli Centre.

But coverage of the event may not feel the same to those used to picking up The Vindicator and flipping to the entertainment section with their morning coffee.

With Guy D’Astolfo’s first story for The Vindicator being the opening of the Covelli Centre, his job as entertainment editor since August 2005 began when Youngstown’s entertainment world really picked up.

In recent years, D’Astolfo saw the rise of bands and musical artists that he has covered from the beginning of their careers, including The Vindys, JD Eicher and Red Wanting Blue.

Guy D’Astalfo stands in his cubicle at The Vindicator newsroom. Photo courtesy of Guy D’Astalfo.

“When I started at The Vindicator, everything changed in terms of entertainment,” he said. “I’ve kind of had a front-row seat to the renaissance, this era of national entertainment and touring acts, and it’s only gotten bigger.”

The growth was proven from the moment positive feedback was received for the Covelli Centre. Inspiring more entertainment in the Valley, the Ford Family Recital Hall opened for small theater needs.

And most recently, the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, which D’Astolfo believes to be one of the best entertainment features in the area, has already hosted several national acts.

But the reliance on D’Astolfo and other Vindicator reporters for event coverage does not end at larger venues.

The Rust Belt Theater Company feels the loss of the newspaper that reported its opening in June 2010 and that continued coverage in a recent article promoting its original musical, “Franken Fabulous,” in August.

Robert Dennick Joki, founder of The Rust Belt Theater Company, said his heart dropped when he heard about the closing because The Vindicator has been dedicated to covering local artists.

“I worked at the Oakland Center for the Arts for about 12 years downtown before I started The Rust Belt Theater Company,” he said. “When I started this company, [D’Astolfo] kind of followed me here, and he’s honestly been one of our biggest cheerleaders for the last 10 years that we’ve been doing this.”

Nicole Zayas, who has performed in numerous shows with the theater at the Calvin Center, said she immediately emailed D’Astolfo to express her condolences about The Vindicator.

“We’re a community theater, and we survive off the ticket sales of the members of our community,” she said. “So, it’s very important that the newspaper highlights the local actors so that it can encourage us to keep performing, and it also gives us publicity for all of our shows.”

Before each show, Zayas always gives a curtain speech, where she tells the audience to look in The Vindicator for the theater’s upcoming projects in their advertisements.

Zayas said the audience was deeply affected when realizing the newspaper would no longer be mentioned in these speeches.

Whether it was pictures, articles or reviews, The Vindicator contributed to the theater’s success. Zayas was concerned that information about their shows would not reach as broad of an audience without it.

“Without the newspaper, there’s really only social media, and there’s a lot of people who still don’t partake in social media,” she said.

The Youngstown Amphitheatre during the Michael Stanley Donnie Iris concert. Photo courtesy of Guy D’Astalfo.

Anyone familiar with The Rust Belt Theater Company’s shows know drag queens are featured in many performances. To raise money for the theater’s first season, a show called “Fundraising is a Drag” brought the Calvin Center to life.

As more drag performances followed, Zayas believes The Vindicator played an integral part in one of their biggest shows, “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas.”

“When we started doing this show 13 years ago, we never thought we would be accepted as a bunch of outsider drag queens in the city of Youngstown,” she said. “So for us, [The Vindicator] has helped our community to develop an understanding of a subculture of drag performers and LGBTQ people.”

Joki said he hopes other news outlets are able to pick up the slack with entertainment coverage.

As for D’Astolfo, his entertainment journey will continue with The Business Journal, and he believes the future looks bright for the Valley as other outlets begin to fill the void.

“I’m just looking forward to the future,” he said. “I think the entertainment scene in this area is going to continue to grow.”

And growth is already happening. With the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre’s continuing performances and the Robins Theatre scheduled to open January 2020 in Warren, D’Astolfo believes it’ll be a lot to take on, but it’s nothing Youngstown can’t handle.