By Frances Clause
“I came here for two reasons — to drink and play country music. Let’s get this started,” Blake Shelton said to a sold-out crowd of more than 20,000 people at Stambaugh Stadium Saturday night.
“Neon Lights,” one of Shelton’s hit singles, had the cowboy hat, flannel shirt and boot-wearing audience on its feet right away.
Although he’s not currently on tour, Shelton made an exception to headline this year’s Y Live concert with Tyler Farr and Justin Moore as the opening acts.
In its third year, JAC Live, the organizer of the event, decided to continue with the country theme, which proved to make another successful sellout.
“We have always looked to produce a show that will be as widely popular as possible,” Phoebe Breckenridge, marketing and sales assistant and personal seat coordinator of JAC Live, said.
“We look for an artist who is widely loved by our community and who we think has a style of music that fits the atmosphere of a large outdoor concert,” she added.
Breckenridge said the Youngstown community has continued to show tremendous support toward artists like Shelton, so she knew he would be welcomed by the crowd at this show.
“[An] entertaining collection of music is just as important as the personality and style of the artist,” she said.
And with Shelton’s entertaining collection of more than 25 chart-topping country hits, the concert’s set list had the crowd energized all night.
What some people may not know is that a valley native and Dana School of Music graduate co-wrote one of Shelton’s first hit songs, “Austin,” which was released in April 2001.
Kirsti Manna, songwriter, keynote performer and educator, said she is a strong believer in the idea that people can contribute their musical talent wherever they are.
“Creativity really builds passion in people. When people are being creative in a town, it can uplift other people around them,” she said. “There’s a lot of outlets in Youngstown where you can perpetuate what you want to do with your craft.”
Her craft and one idea paid off when writing “Austin” introduced Shelton to country radio and the world.
“I heard the idea [for the song] on someone’s answering machine: ‘If this is Austin, I still love you.’ That’s what was left on their answering machine for their girlfriend who had moved to Austin,” Manna said.
Manna brought the idea to David Kent, an Akron native, and they co-wrote what would be a multi-week No. 1 smash on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
The message on the answering machine and the broken-up couple playing “phone tag” even resonated with pop lovers, as it peaked at No. 18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“Knowing that David and I wrote a song that launched Blake’s career — it was what broke him to country radio — that is a real thrill,” she said.
Although Manna could not be at Y Live to watch Shelton sing “Austin,” she said it was a special moment when people she knew attending the concert sent her videos of the performance.
“It’s always an honor when an artist plays your song,” she said. “I’m so glad Blake got to stop through Youngstown and that people are passionate about the roots of ‘Austin.’”