When the Beach Boys wrote the song “Drive-in” in 1964, there were thousands of drive-in theaters across the country. According to a recent Washington Post article, there are just over 300 left today, mainly due to their inability to compete with traditional multiplexes.
But that was before the pandemic hit. With social distancing the new normal, the appeal of watching a film from the safety of a car has ballooned. And if it’s safe to watch a movie from a parking lot, why not watch a live concert the same way?
That was the thinking at the Broadberry, the Broad Street music venue that switched to streaming live performances rather than playing to host live acts due to safety concerns. In mid-June, organizers debuted the city’s inaugural drive-in concert featuring yacht rockers Three Sheets to the Wind. The strong turnout seemed to prove that Richmonders were eager to experience live music again, even if sitting inside or just outside of their vehicles.
The next concert in the series will feature local favorites Carbon Leaf performing at the Diamond parking lot on Friday, July 31. Tickets are available by the vehicle with a limit of four occupants, including children.
“Carbon Leaf is a well-known and established band who’s toured extensively at a national level,” says Broadberry co-owner Jessica Gordon. “We’re incredibly fortunate that such a talented band lives in Virginia and can play this show and return home safely the same night.”
Like the rest of the country, Carbon Leaf had been getting restless, but members didn’t want to risk making things worse.
“So the idea of getting to play a hometown show outside in a safe environment is incredible,” singer Barry Privett says. “This gives us the chance to get back onstage to do what we love and connect with other humans in a way that just isn’t possible on a screen.”
The band was luckier than many because by March, when everything began closing down, it had only three shows left on tour. It was optimistic that a summer tour, which was already booked, would be fine. Now it’s looking out even further into the fall – with some live music promoters have written off 2020 completely.
To best maximize the Diamond’s parking lot, Broadberry staff measured it and created a detailed parking map to allow for ample distancing between vehicles, as well as in-and-out lanes for traffic. Parking is first-come, first-served and attendants will direct vehicles to specific parking spots.
“Concertgoers are invited to sit outside their vehicles in lawn chairs or on picnic blankets,” Gordon says. “Event security will ensure that attendees stay in their designated pods.”
While the concept of a parking lot show may sound new, the band begs to differ.
“We’ve played our fair share of parking lots,” Privett says, noting members have discussed what tone or mood they want to set. Guitarist Terry Clark thought they should just hit people over the head with their songs and rock out – not overthink things.
“Let’s focus on what it feels like to jump up on a Friday night in front of the home team and play songs that people sing along to,” Clark says.
For their part, Gordon and co-owner Lucas Fritz will be applying the lessons they learned from the first concert about the flow of traffic, the general tendencies of concertgoers and how to position staff throughout the lot. Booze and illegal substances aren’t allowed, but ticket holders are welcome to bring food from home. Portable toilets and hand sanitizer stations will be set up on-site and masks will be required when visiting the restroom. For safety, guests aren’t allowed to leave their designated pod except for restroom visits.
Drawing the lines to designate where each car will park was not only time-intensive, it also involved a lot of walking. Fritz racked up 33,427 steps that day, the equivalent of 19 miles, marking the spaces.
During a time when many people don’t feel comfortable going to an indoor venue – and most aren’t open anyway – developing the drive-in concept safely felt paramount to Gordon and Fritz, but they also recognize the personal benefits.
“There’s something about seeing a band you love play live that is rejuvenating,” Gordon says, citing how it lifts spirits and makes people feel whole again. “People have suffered tremendously in so many ways. Singing along while sitting in the sunshine offers a temporary reprieve that I’m glad we can give people.”
Carbon Leaf is just as excited about the opportunity.
“From our perspective, we won’t have been together for four and a half months,” Privett says. “So sharing the stage to plug in and play music will hopefully make us feel like when we were 22.”
The Carbon Leaf drive-in concert will be held on Friday, July 31, at the Diamond, 3001 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd. The lot opens at 8 p.m., show runs from 8:45 to 10 p.m. Tickets cost $100 to $150. thebroadberry.com.