Summer concert series slated to kick off today

STEUBENVILLE – The grass has been cut, the sound equipment will be in place and Jerry Barilla is prepared to welcome a large crowd to the Louis and Sandra Berkman Amphitheater tonight for the start of the eighth-annual summer concert series.

“I am extremely excited about this year’s concerts. The crowds have grown in numbers over the years and I am very appreciative of the support we have received not only from the Steubenville community but from communities up and down the Ohio River. Thursday night has become entertainment night in downtown Steubenville and we are anticipating another great year,” said Barilla, president of the Old Fort Steuben Project board of trustees.

This year’s opening concert will start at 6:30 p.m. with the One-A-Chord quartet from Barnesville followed by the Vogues.

Eight years ago, Barilla and Judy Bratten, executive director of Historic Fort Steuben, weren’t sure what to expect when they announced a series of weekly concerts.

“We had no idea what would happen. We had never did anything like this before. We really didn’t know if it would be successful or not. We are especially pleased to open this year’s season with the famous Vogues, whose performance will bring back great memories for many in our audience. These concerts have become an entertainment staple of the community and are so appreciated. I was recently at the doctor’s office and the receptionist recognized me and thanked me for bringing music to the downtown,” noted Bratten.

“We faced two immediate challenges when we started – getting sponsors to fund the concerts and bringing people to downtown Steubenville on a Thursday night to see live entertainment. We weren’t sure what the reaction would be. So we brought B.E. Taylor in for the very first concert. He is a popular local musician and that first concert turned into a major success,” Bratten said.

“The community recognizes all of the work that goes into planning and producing these concerts and has shown its support when we pass the bucket every Thursday evening. It is not just music and entertainment offered here. There is a sense of camaraderie, people seeing friends and having conversations. That is why the amphitheater is so nice. You can step back and have a conversation and not disturb other people. This has become a social event for many people,” Bratten explained.

Bratten said the amphitheater has seating for 300 visitors, “but people are also allowed to bring blankets and lawn chairs. We can seat another 500 patrons after the regular seats are filled,” Bratten said.

“The original thought for the amphitheater was to have a few events every year on a small scale. But then we started thinking about holding summer concerts in the park. The amphitheater is a perfect setting for the concerts and people have responded in a good way. More and more folks come to the park on a Thursday afternoon to enjoy the music, socialize with friends and just have a relaxing evening,” remarked Barilla.

“When we were planning that first year we met with the city police department to discuss security for the concerts. But we have never had a problem at our events. The crowds find a seat or bring their own lawn chairs and just sit back to enjoy the music. And we see all ages here as well as people from all walks of life. Thursday evenings are such an uplifting experience for the people at the concerts as well as Steubenville,” Barilla declared.

“I have also been thrilled to see children dancing to the music during the concerts. We have become a social event during the summer in Steubenville,” Barilla said.

According to Bratten, the summer concerts have filled a need in the community.

“The concerts are no longer a Fort Steuben event. They are now a community event that brings people back to the downtown. The concerts bring back memories of past years and hope for what can be here again,” observed Bratten.

One of the keys to the successful concert series has been the involvement of Deb and Rick Witkowski of Studio L.

“I am thrilled to serve as the master of ceremonies for the weekly concerts. This is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a variety of free entertainment in a beautiful, relaxed setting,” commented Deb Witkowski.