At The Drive-In
The Drive-In Experience
Drive-in concerts, while not a long-term solution, are catching on as well-received compromises for music lovers. With the general template set, we watch as promoters optimize the drive-in fan experience. Briana Purdy, an Event Producer and Staffing Manager, shared her key insights with us after getting an inside look at the Eli Young drive-in show in Arlington, TX, and the Marc Rebillet concert in Fort Collins shortly after. Her deep-dive is an extremely valuable snapshot of what works and what is still growing as we feel our way forward in the ever-changing landscape of live events.
Some drive-ins are transmitting audio through car radios, but in Purdy's experience, personal tailgating zones with a PA system is the way to go. The argument is two-fold: staying in your car to listen to a live set doesn’t quite translate to the feeling of being at a show with a crowd, and hundreds of cars blasting the same radio channel with their doors open lend itself to sound bleed and delay. Purdy explains how, "it was a typical 100-degree Texas summer day during Eli Young Band, so everyone understandably had their windows rolled up and AC blasting. From the excited horn honking after each song, you could tell that fans were enjoying the music playing from their FM transmitter." "It was a very different experience at Marc Rebillet, as everyone had their windows and doors wide open, which carried his sound and caused a ton of delays. Groups of cars had to turn their radio completely off in order to not compete with the surrounding personal sound systems that neighboring cars brought in," she says. By implementing a personal tailgating zone (like Live Nation is doing), Purdy predicts more fans will be encouraged to attend and stay throughout the entire show. Sure, certain implementations will need to be tweaked depending on the genre of music, but that’s par for the course. The real challenge will be finding a way to host shows sans PA systems without sacrificing sound quality or encouraging people to move closer to the stage.
How are other promoters approaching the drive-in model? The Nederlander-backed Drive-In OC series hopes for a completely contactless model by utilizing smartphone apps. Audio (by Mixhalo) will go from the mixing board to Bluetooth-enabled speakers and most in-car stereo systems. Concessions and merch (by TapIn2.co) will be mobile. Even restroom lines will queue virtually (via Waitwhile). The event, slated for July 10th and 11th, will be a major test for how seamless the contactless transition can be.
But what about the environment? Running a drive-in show via car radios, instead of a PA, requires people to leave their cars running for the entirety of their stay in order to control the temperature within the car. The impact is slightly reduced if fans carpool with friends or family, but the reality of having engines run for hours on end isn’t ideal for the environmentally-conscious. Not to mention, hordes of active cars will increase air and noise pollution at the local level. In Italy, Milan-based promoter Shining Production proposes "bike-in" concerts as a greener alternative to the vehicle-based parent model.
And what about money? Purdy wonders whether or not the drive-ins are lucrative. Did the Eli Young Band sell out because it was the first live show of its kind? Was it a worthwhile tradeoff for Eli Young, who technically sold out but played to a crowd pocketed with no-shows? Was it profitable for Marc, who performed out of a 10x10 tent and utilized permanent screens at the venue? Will fans be willing to pay more for personal tailgating zones that will enable them to enjoy the experience outside of their cars? Tailgating comes with more responsibility for promoters. Enforcing new rules, like making sure people don’t leave their individual zones, or don’t overcrowd bathrooms, requires hiring more eyes and ears to be on the ground. "That might be a challenge," explains Purdy, "as it costs more money to hire more staff and the laws on regulating social distancing have been very cloudy and subjective." Yet, there may be other ways to increase financial opportunities at drive-in concerts by modifying already existing profitable practices. Both concessions and merchandise can be optimized to a mobile experience, where fans order food and merch on their smartphone and it’s delivered right to their tailgating zone.