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The Vindys strengthen their hometown roots while branching out beyond Youngstown

The Vindys
courtesy of The Vindys
Youngstown rockers The Vindys are looking to build up their hometown's music scene after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted touring, venues and album releases.

The city of Youngstown has been working for years to shake its “Rust Belt” image. And amid its economic revitalization has been a rebirth of its music scene.

The Vindys are a band that's putting the city on the map.

In spring of 2020, The Vindys recorded they're sophomore album, which was slated to be released three years since its debut “Keep Going.”

The COVID-19 pandemic put the record release on hold, and all scheduled supporting shows were canceled.

The Vindys
courtesy of The Vindys
The Vindys released its sophomore album, "Bugs," in July 2021 after the pandemic forced the band to shelve the release in 2020. The group will tour in support of the album this spring and summer.

In summer 2021, the group finally released “Bugs,” a 10-track rock ‘n’ roll triumph that fuses the group’s vintage jazz aesthetic with a more straightforward blues-rock sound.

The Vindys have resumed touring in 2022, performing at several local venues through May and venturing outside the state this summer.

Buzz about the nine-piece band has spread beyond the region, but lead vocalist Jackie Popovec said turning the spotlight back on Youngstown is important to the musicians.

“I'm just happy that we're able to do this as a band and do it from a city like Youngstown and have the major cities be a day's trip away from us,” she said.

Becoming The Vindys

The Vindys’ name is a nod to Youngstown’s daily newspaper, The Vindicator, further strengthening the musicians’ hometown roots.

Popovec attended Youngstown State University to study classical music. Realizing this field of study wasn’t for her, she transferred to a music school in Florida.

There, she learned the ins and outs of live performance, recording, editing and production, which were more of interest to her.

She came back to Youngstown in 2012.

“I noticed that, like, the music scene had completely basically died,” Popovec said. “I would say there was a lot of venues that had shut down or closed.”

She said the local music scene at that time consisted of mostly tribute bands and cover bands.

Upon returning home, Popovec quickly had an itch to leave Youngstown and go to bigger cities like Los Angeles and Nashville to pursue her music career.

“But you know, being here in town, I just realized that a lot more people nowadays are [making and releasing music] from their house,” she said.

Popovec had a change of heart. With her education and experience with recording and production, she decided she didn’t need to relocate to a major city to pursue her work.

She formed The Vindys with several local musicians who had also attended Youngstown State University.

“I actually found the band via a friend of mine who is a drummer, Nick Senato, and he is now a session player in Nashville. He was playing with the band downtown in Youngstown,” she said. “I came out one night. They had a different girl singer, and they were just doing cover songs. And I was like, ‘You know what? This band is absolutely fantastic.’”

Popovec knew the musicians had a talent for improvisation, which is what she was looking for in the sound she aspired to.

The band started playing together around 2013 and released its debut album in 2017.

Being recognized as staple of the Youngstown music scene

The Vindys first album, “Keep Going,” captures jazz, blues and pop sounds that are carried by Popovec’s distinct vintage vocal tone.

Sounding like a blend between Adele and Amy Winehouse, the singer’s twang and swagger are blended with old-school soul that complements her bandmates’ classically trained instrumentation.

Standouts on the band’s debut include “Classic,” a jazzy and breezy ditty that showcases Popovec’s vocal trill, as well as “Too Long,” which highlights the band’s foray into a more straightforward rock sound, a teaser into material that would be released later on.

Popovec said the band has been successful throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond because they started out playing as many events and venues as possible, from restaurants to weddings.

They performed cover songs and slowly began introducing their originals into the mix.

Performing crowd favorites and meshing in with the norm of the Youngstown music scene at the time allowed the band to gain exposure and a following.

But writing, performing and recording original material have been important to the artists.

Popovec started a songwriting group that brings together different artists in the area, some of who aren’t necessarily in bands.

“I want to get those people, you know, playing out in front of people, you know, give them a platform to play so that they are able to share their gifts,” she said. “You know, not a lot of people have bands like I do.”

She said around 30 songwriters have attended the Writer’s Night events, held at Birdfish Brewing Co. in Columbiana.

Attendees come from Akron to Youngstown and beyond.

“I'm just so proud of all the talent we have here and I want to cultivate that,” she said. “I don't see a ton of girls in music right now. So, you know, if I if I see other girls, I just want to help them as much as I can. I see more of a community now, but back in the day, I was the one the one only girl among, you know, 20 musicians on stage for a Christmas show or whatever. And I would be like, ‘What? Why is it this way?’”

At these songwriting nights, attendees perform two-to-three original songs each and talk about the stories behind the songs.

The evening consists of stripped-down performances held in a creative space.

“I'm just so proud of all the talent we have here and I want to cultivate that."
Jackie Popovec

Popovec said these songwriting nights are important for artists to dust off old songs they haven’t performed in a while or workshop new material.

“I mean, we have a nine-piece band and like, I don't even know what to do with all of them. I have to feed all of them on the road. But some people are just by themselves, and they just bring their keyboard, and they are fantastic musicians,” she said.

Gaining exposure beyond the region

The band has been active for nearly a decade and has performed in cities, such as Pittsburgh, Montreal, Nashville, Tenn., and New York.

Popovec said gaining recognition outside the local area took a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.

“But really, this band, you know, I have a band full of teachers and professors in music, and they're very well-organized. I have someone doing emails. I have someone doing promotions. I have someone, you know, someone's taking care of the merchandise. Someone's taking care of contacting people,” she said.

It’s this teamwork and group effort that have helped the band persevere.

“We have a network of friends and musicians in this area, which, you know, it's important to me to support our community of musicians,” she said. “I love seeing more and more of that happen in this town.”

She said she’d like to see Youngstown continue its steady growth and come together more to lift up the city and its music scene.

She said there’s a thriving music community around Youngstown State, and venues like Westside Bowl have helped propel live music in the area, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic stalled many concerts, tours and album releases.

“You can be a small band. You could be a soloist. You can just [be] singer, a guitar player, at a restaurant, to growing to the amphitheater to the Covelli Centre opening up for a bigger act,” she said. “So there's room to grow.”

The Vindys have been gearing up to tour in support of their 2021 album “Bugs” throughout Northeast Ohio and into other states.

Popovec said they’ve been playing the songs that appear on the album for a few years now.

Because of the lockdown in 2020, they had to sit on this new material for longer than intended.

“For us to, you know, sit tight and hold on to this album for four years is a long time,” she said.

The band released some singles leading up to the album.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Pittsburgh Pirates used the song “Are You Ready?” which has a sound reminiscent of The Black Keys.

“Bugs” takes the sound The Vindys are known for and introduces more rock and blues elements, which listeners can hear prominently in tracks like “Don’t Tell Me Just Love Me” and “Judas.”

The album is called “Bugs” to symbolize the little moments in time that “bug” Popovec. The songs allow her to get those things off her chest and let them go.

Touring their long-awaited second album

Two months after “Bugs” was released, The Vindys played a special unplugged set at MGM Northfield Park, opening for Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo.

The show was unplanned. Benatar’s camp reached out to The Vindys to perform, and Popovec said it was surreal to meet her.

“I remember singing her songs as a kid, so it was really special,” Popovec said.

She said The Vindys first album release in Youngstown was another standout in her music career because of the hometown crowd.

She said there are pockets around the country that are begging to have a vibrant music scene, and support among the local community and artists there is more important than ever.

“I think that it's important to cultivate their music communities in their own community,” she said. “I think it's important now more than ever to, you know, look at our communities anywhere in the country, especially with music and musicians right now who are able to do a lot at home.”

“For us to, you know, sit tight and hold on to this album for four years is a long time."
Jackie Popovec

The Vindys are finally performing their “Bugs” material live throughout 2022 and are already working on their third album.

The band will perform at the Won’t Back Down: N.E.O. Celebrates the Music of Tom Petty tribute concert at the Goodyear Theater in Akron May 21.

They’ll return to the Goodyear Theater May 28, followed by a stop at Robins Theatre in Warren May 29.

For a full list of 2022 tour dates, visit TheVindys.com.

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.