(May 22, 2020) As you know, a lot of artists/bands have at least partially canceled or postponed tour dates for this year. Many have moved them to 2021 as most authorities believe there will be a vaccine for the Corona virus by the end of this year… but what if there isn’t? President Trump firmly believes that a vaccine will be available and perhaps he is right but nothing is certain at this point. The CDC keeps changing its recommendations on just about everything so who is to say that they won’t do it again? As artists and concertgoers alike are dealing with the pandemic as best they can with live streaming and posting older concerts, at some point this will become old hat. What the artists, promoters and ticketing companies need is a contingency plan – it’s time to revive the drive-in for concerts!
The drive-in movie was an idea first conceived and brought into reality in New Jersey in the 1930s and quickly became a staple of American culture. People came by the carloads, watched a first-run movie, usually followed by two or three b-movies. Everything you needed for a night of entertainment was right there, from concession stands to playgrounds for the kiddies and even swimming pools.
I used to go with a group of friends once a week to the drive-ins that were in the area and they were everywhere. Sneaking people in became a tradition and finally the owners conceded and charged by the carload instead of per person. Sadly, the evolution of the VCR and cable TV spelled the end of the drive-in theater. There is one drive-in still operating and open for business right now in New Jersey and there are still some three hundred scattered across rural America. Although you could use an existing drive-in to make this scenario work, you wouldn’t have to – venue owners can create their own!
Submitted for your approval: many large venues used for concerts and sporting events have huge parking lots. There is enough parking to accommodate up to fifty thousand concertgoers for outdoor concerts and up to twenty thousand indoors. Doing the math, assuming twenty thousand people attend a concert and most of them come as parties of two, it is reasonable to assume that there is parking available for up to ten thousand cars!
At your typical large venue there are four sides to the building. What if we suppose for this discussion, promoters erected four large LCD screens – one for each side of the venue. Mount them up high enough so that anyone in a car facing them can see what is going on. Sound systems could be erected outside, which is what they do for stadium-sized concerts anyway. It could even be broadcast to the fan’s car radio. If you drive a convertible – even better! Not possible, you say? It’s already been done! The band could be on one side of the venue, on the stage and the video could be transmitted to the other sides of the parking lot for all to see. If the promoters really wanted to get creative they could have the stage move to one of the other sides for a period of time or make it constantly rotate around the venue – an outdoor “theater in the round.”
So what about the logistics? In my view, not much would have to change. Most large venues already provide porta-potties on the perimeter of the parking lots; they just might have to add more. Staff using ticket scanners would be moved to the entrances of the parking lot instead of inside. There would already be staff in place that collect money for parking anyway. You could still have a VIP parking section for concertgoers who wanted to park close to the stage and were willing to pay for it. These are already in place at a lot of venues and would not have to change.
Concessions are the only thing that would need to significantly change. What about food and merchandise concessions? You see lots of hot dog and soda vendors outside the venues after a show. You also see t-shirt bootleggers out there selling unlicensed t-shirts. If you brought the legitimate concessions outside you would cut down on the amount of bootleg sales being perpetrated and kill two birds with one stone. Using proper social distancing measures, you could have one central location on each lot, located in the center of the lot for both food concessions and merchandise. No one could purchase food or merchandise without wearing a mask and staying six feet apart from each person in line. Also, no one could eat their food until they returned to their car. Payment could be made electronically only, which is already being done virtually everywhere. You could also have car service, where people would remain in their cars and have food brought to them.
To those who say that parking lot concerts would never work: well folks, it’s already been done. As shown below, Metallica played an outdoor concert in the parking lot of Philadelphia’s First Union Center (now Wells Fargo) in 1997. Dubbed the “Banned in Philly” concert, it was put on by the band after a contest regarding what city had the biggest Metallica fans.
A few things would have to be changed in this scenario. All fans would be seated in their cars while security maintained a presence to make sure fans followed the rules. If the stage were at the front of each side of the venue and proper security were in place I can see no reason why this couldn’t be done. Imagine your favorite band on a stage that continually circles the perimeter of the building, up high where fans could see them, with a fence around the track to maintain security. Fans could see the band as they traveled on the track and watch them on the large LCD screen when they weren’t playing on their side of the lot.
This idea need not be limited to sports venues. Smaller acts could take advantage of this as well. With a lot big enough to provide parking for a thousand or more cars this could be done at a Target, a Walmart or even a shopping mall. You could even have these retailers co-sponsor the event.
All that this would take is for the concert promoters to do a little thinking outside of the box. It can be done and perhaps it should be done, if only to have a contingency plan. You never know what the future will hold. Not to be a fear monger, but the next pandemic or other devastating event could be just around the corner. We need to be creative in our thinking while still invoking social distancing. Thousands of support people in the entertainment industry are out of work and no one knows exactly when they will be able to return to their jobs. Hell, some of their jobs may never come back. Hopefully that won’t happen but let’s think of solutions, not hide everyone in their homes for indefinite periods of time, waiting and hoping for things to get better. Let’s revive the drive-in for concerts!
Update: 6/5/2020: Drive-In concerts are beginning to happen. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida is going to convert it’s field to a drive-in theater for up to 230 cars! Country artist Alan Jackson is performing two concerts at drive-ins in Alabama; Cullman and Fairhope. This includes higher-priced VIP parking spots, which I mentioned above. Other Country artists such as The Eli Young Band, Whiskey Myers and Toby Mac are planning shows as well. Keith Urban recently played a free drive-in concert for healthcare workers in Watertown, TN. The groundwork has been laid by Country artists. It will only be a matter of time before Rock acts follow.
What you do think of drive-in concerts? Do you like the idea? Do you think it would work? Why/why not?