There’s no doubt about it, 2020 has been a doozie so far. With this whole world still pretty well shut down, it’s hard to keep our eyes on the prize and remember what it’s like to work at concerts. Things will never be the same. With what feels like endless amounts of time before things get back to “normal”, we’re forced to deal with a Drive-In Concert Series.
Now look, I’m fortunate, I truly have the utmost level of gratitude. I’ve been Stage Managing a bit this summer on my local drive-in concert series. I know a lot of people have questions about it; the logistics, the security, and the general vibe. So, I’m hoping to provide some insight on this exclusively from (as you would expect here at Backstage Culture) the point of view from touring personnel and local production.
We’re gonna need to break it down into a couple different categories.
- What is a Drive In concert?
- What Precautions are we taking?
- What’s cool about it?
- Is this sustainable until things get normal again?
Same deal as always.
If you have something to add to this or have any questions, please email me – [email protected]
Now, Let’s get down to it.
What is a Drive-In Concert?
I keep seeing all of these articles and posts about drive-in’s all across North America, but they’re all from either the promoter trying get more people to buy tickets, or an artist promoting by showing that they’re more loyal to their fans, or even tech’s flexing for the gram and posting pictures/video’s with the #backatit
As it goes for us road dogs or local production teams, we see through the bullshit and know the game from an entirely different angle.
For those of you that don’t have these Drive-In’s where you are, it’s literally a concert, set-up like an old school drive-in movie theatre. So instead of people everywhere, everyone is spread out and locked to a designated parking spot to try and maintain social distances.
The concert series I’m at in particular is a Stageline Sam 550 in a parking lot out in front of a large club, (a little outside of downtown).
Cars line up for door time, enter and get escorted to their parking spot that they purchased in advance. Generally the cars are in staggered positions leaving an empty spot in between each car. Pretty straightforward, right?
What Precautions are we taking?
Let’s not forget we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic. Other parts of the world are in worse shape than us up here in Canada, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all cured and can go back to living normally. Here’s what we are doing to make this safe.
General Amenities for Patrons
It started pretty strict. No one was allowed out of their cars, no sitting in the back of your pick-up truck, no convertibles. But as the summer has gone on, we have now entered “Phase 3” in which the government allows us to have a bit more freedom. People are now standing outside of their cars but stuck to their designated spots.
Bathrooms and general building amenities are available inside the venue. You just gotta wear a mask when you leave your parking spot.
The event has an app that lets you order food from the food trucks on site and it gets delivered to your spot by bike messenger.
Working with Masks
It’s a little inconvenient. Not that bad to be honest. Unless you’re loading gear, there is no reason why you can’t wear a mask. If you’re huffing and puffing loading in an Ampeg 810, then it’s forgiving to let your mask slip down.
Most of the crew has been together for most of the summer, so we’re comfortably having each other in our bubble… but when outside crew comes in, we keep our distance and cover up where we can.
Right now in Ontario (The province where Toronto is) it’s mandatory that you wear a mask when you go into any establishment and suggested that you wear one whenever you’re within 2 meters (6ft) of someone else that’s not within your bubble.
Although most visiting artists and crews are being smart and are wearing masks… You know how it is being in tight quarters during a normal gig, there has been a surprising amount of people not wearing masks at all.
To be honest, All I wanna do is go back to work. If I had to wear my snow suit in the 40C heat (104F for my friends down south), I’d do it.
Which bring me to Temperature checks
At some point every day, the lead from the production company goes around and takes our temperature with a digital thermometer that takes a reading from your forehead. It’s logged and reported to the production company that hired all of us to keep the data. Wouldn’t it be funny if we were all putting old school thermometers under our tongue and completely defeating the purpose?
Wash Your Hands
Without going into the building to use running water, washing your hands isn’t an easy task. We have bottles of sanitizer on either side of the stage and a spray for the mics. Is it just me or is all sanitizer these days just tequila? Every time I sani my hands, I have a flashback to my youth and waking up with my pants down in a field somewhere.
To be honest, this frightens me a bunch. I’m not gonna drag you guys down my emotional rabbit hole here, and I could really go on for hours, but concerts are generally unsafe as it is. Even pre-pandemic during security meetings, we’re talking about evacuation plans for the touring personnel in the event of a “worse case scenario”. Right now we’re relying on the general public to do the right thing.
Anyways, there’s a lot of ways that anyone in the business can pick apart a concert or festival and say “I woulda done this differently”, but these are unprecedented times so let’s focus on something good.
What’s cool about it?
First things first. When the sun starts to set, the PA is bumpin (at a moderate volume due to noise curfews), breeze is coming in off the water, it smells like weed in the air. Fuck… It almost feels normal for a second. Especially when I’m down on the ground side stage. The backstage area is covered with black mesh so people can’t see what’s going on, and I can’t see them so I don’t realize the crowd is filled with cars… Until the song finishes and everyone honks their horns…
The tech aspect is a little trickier but also pretty dope. Audio is passed through FM transmitters… Just like the drive-in. The stage I’m working at has a PA as well, but everyone has the ability to tune into the radio station for their car. I know what you’re thinking… “How does that stay in phase/align with the PA?” The short answer is, It doesn’t. Each row would need to have its own FM channel and every dashboard in every car would have to be perfectly aligned on the marker. It’s hard enough to get MF’s to wear masks… let’s not get too ahead of ourselves in terms of relying on the general public to follow basic instruction.
Plus, we’re learning that some cars have different time delays from the radio to audio coming out of their speakers. Which is also pretty cool and something we’d never notice until this exact application.
What’s happening here is the 3 different FM stations are displayed on the video walls during walk-in… or uhh… drive-in? Then a voice of god tells people to go through the stations and find whichever one sounds the best in their car.
It’s suggested that you turn on your car every 30-40 mins to make sure your battery doesn’t die. Although boost teams are on site.
Ok, bear with me for a minute while I get super nerdy. Our FOH engineer asked me to jump in my car during the set and have a listen to the feed. He’s listening through headphones at FOH, but with the bleed from the PA and it being the board mix before any of the FM processing, it doesn’t give him the clearest of references. Anyway, I jump in my car and fire it up. First frequency, clear but quiet. I had to really crank the volume. Either way, I listened for 20-30 secs, everything seemed fine. Next frequency. Same thing. Clear but quiet.
I flip to the 3rd frequency and BOOOM. It came in so god damn loud that I thought someone had jumped on the back of my car. So naturally, I dipped and leaned to try and sneak out before noticing that I wasn’t in fact, in danger. I guess wherever my car was parked, perfectly aligned the phase with the PA giving me all of the subs. It sounded as if they loaded the PA into my back seat. It was awesome.
The day feels kinda normal, minus the fact that everyone is super rusty and it feels like you’ve been hibernating for the winter. Wait… non-Canadians don’t hibernate all winter?
The most notable change so far is that everyone is showing up with minimal gear. Outside of backline, we’ve only had 1 artist bring in a console. So the load-ins have been light. If there is even an opening act, it’s only been DJs, so the days have been relatively smooth and easy. (Weather dependant of coarse).
All in all, it’s kinda cool CONSIDERING the circumstances. Let’s not get it twisted, it’s DEFinitely weird. But at this point, it’s better than nothing.
Which brings us to the next topic.
Is This Sustainable Until Things Get Normal Again?
Short answer here… I’m unsure. This is a Band-aid solution. If people were excited about doing this, it woulda been a thing long before a pandemic hit. But here are the factors that would control the future of these events:
Up here in the great white north, we’re on a timer as to when we start getting punished by winter.
I’m curious to see how this evolves as the weather starts to change. At night time we’re starting to wear light jackets. Awful weather will be here before we know it. I don’t imagine many people wanting to be doing outdoor concerts deeper into the fall when it’s 10C (50F) and rainy. But I guess we do outdoor shows in the dead of winter, so who knows?
Let me flip back into Tour Manager mode again. Something I’m a little more comfortable with anyways. This big ol’ parking lot can only fit 250 cars with the current social distancing spec. Even if there are 4 people in a car, that’s only 1000 people at a sellout. I’m not involved with the money on these shows, but I don’t see how it can survive on those kinds of ticket sales. Sponsors are the key. Now that we’ve been through like 15 shows, people are starting to see it’s not so scary in terms of liability, we’re starting to see ads up on the screens. That will help.
As long as people are being smart, I think it’ll continue. But everyone knows, it only takes 1 asshole to ruin it for everyone.
To wrap this up, I think the point is clear. It’s better than nothing and it’s nice to see people finding a way to make it work while times are tough. I’ve seen a couple of different versions of distanced concerts in the UK and such. I’m excited about these and curious about how they’ve panned out. If you or anyone you know has worked on any of these, please, send me a message and let me know what’s up! [email protected]
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