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Drive-in concerts get live back on the road

IQ talks to those putting on the drive-in concerts – complete with food, drink and merch – that are allowing the live industry to step back into the driving seat

By IQ on 14 May 2020

A lifeline for live: Inside the drive-in concert boom

German band Schiller perform at D.Live's drive-in


image © D.LIVE/Kai Kuzcera

Drive-in concerts have been getting the green light from music fans in recent weeks, as former open-air cinemas, empty car parks and disused outdoor exhibition spaces are repurposed to bring vehicle-bound fans their live music fix.

“The beauty of a drive-in concert is that it is a safe place – you are in your car, you don’t get out of it and you can leave the show whenever you want. It’s all under your control,” Michael Brill, CEO of D.Live, which has so far staged 12 live drive-in shows, as well as 22 films and several weddings, tells IQ.

“This makes it a very well accepted type of event. Drive-ins seem to be the right answer to the current situation.”

D.Live, which operates five venues in the German city of Düsseldorf, was one of the first adopters of the coronavirus drive-in concert. Each summer, the company puts on open-air film screenings, so had both the experience and the equipment to quickly set up a drive-in alternative in a car park near the shuttered Messe Dusseldorf exhibition centre.

Transitioning from films to live events, the company erected a 60 metre-wide stage and built a spacious back-stage area to ensure both performers and crew were able to adhere to social distancing measures.

Fans tune in to the performance via their car radios for “crystal clear stereo sound”, adjusting the volume to personal taste. Tickets are scanned through closed car windows, food and drink re pre-ordered before the show and spaced-out queueing systems in place for those wishing to use the restrooms.

“Drive-ins seem to be the right answer to the current situation”

“The only possible obstacle was that people may not like this idea,” says Brill. “It could have been a big flop!”

However, D.Live’s drive-in events have proved to be anything but, with 40,000 people attending the drive-in during its first month of operations to see a range of performers including rapper Sido, hip-hop act Alligatoah, electronic band Schiller, DJs from the World Club Dome club night and comedians Markus Krebs, and Oliver and Amira Pocher.

Ticket prices range from €22 for a film screening up to €120 for a car of two for some concerts, with fans driving for up to six hours to attend the more popular shows. Some concerts, such as those by Sido and Alligatoah, were also livestreamed to those unable to make the drive-in.

A lot of “local and national” competition has sprung up in the past six weeks, says Brill, so shows are no longer selling out in “half an hour or so” as they did in the beginning. “It takes a bit longer now, but we still have constant interest.”

The format has indeed taken off the world over, with drive-in venues opening all over Germany, as well as in Lithuania, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United States and the UK.

In the United States, United Talent Agency (UTA) is working on one of the first-ever drive-in tours with electronic musician Marc Rebillet, in collaboration with promoter Hotbox.

“We were brainstorming out-of-the-box opportunities for artists to not only engage with their fans, but to actually provide live entertainment during this lockdown,” Adam Ogushwitz, who is part of the team representing Rebillet at UTA, tells IQ.

“We quickly deduced that the only way to make this financially viable was to string as many shows together as possible”

“We began hearing about single shows happening in Europe, but quickly deduced that the only way to make this financially viable was to string as many shows together as possible.”

Rebillet is set to play at drive-in venues in Charlotte, Kansas City, Tulsa, Fort Worth and Houston in June and July, with tickets starting from US$90 (€83) for a car of two. The planning of the tour was a far cry from that of a traditionally routed, plug-and-play tour, says Ogushwitz. As regulations across the US vary, the team had to identify open markets and then work backwards in order to find suitable venues.

“Once we found the drive-in locations, there was the process of educating the owners, the majority of whom are not in the music industry, about why they would want to host these shows versus just playing movies,” says the UTA agent.

“We enlisted a producer partner, Hotbox, to help standardise the actual production of the show to ensure continuity and uniformity across the tour.”

Rebillet, who has never relied on big production or massive stage or sound design to drive his shows, seems like the perfect candidate to trial the new drive-in format, but the UTA team is confident that “many of our artists will be able to adapt and thrive within this format”.

“Ticket sales have been fantastic,” says Christian Bernhardt, who also represents Rebillet at UTA. The team expects all shows to sell out and are in the process of adding a few more markets.

“What we’re seeing is that fans are so hungry for entertainment that they don’t need much convincing”

“What we’re seeing is that fans are so hungry for entertainment that they don’t need much convincing.”

Bernhardt adds that while “we recognise that it may not currently make sense for all large production acts to perform in this way, it’s clear to us that this is something that can work for other artists.”

Indeed, one of the pleasantly surprising factors for D.Live has been the way in which fans and artists alike have taken to the drive-in model.

Performing to a sea of steel, there was the potential for artists to feel their efforts were falling flat. However, “artists have loved it” and whether via beeping horns, flashing headlights or an applause-generating smartphone app, fans have been able to show their appreciation.

D.Live is the first venue operator in Germany to use the MeinApplaus app, which allows concertgoers to select from options including cheering, clapping, laughing or shouting. The response is then translated into audio and played back as part of the show to heighten the interaction between fans and artists.

The success of drive-in concert pioneers such as D.Live has driven the interest of other players in the live space.

Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino referenced his intention to explore alternative concert formats, such as drive-ins, in a recent earnings call. Indeed, the Danish division of Live Nation has teamed up with local partners to launch the 600-carpacity (© 2020 IQ) Drive In – Live tour, which sees acts including Danish singers Mads Langer, Claus Hempler and Annika Aakjær and rap group Malk de Koijn visit four drive-in venues in the cities of Herning, Aalborg, Odense and Aarhus.

“Drive-in shows have been a great learning experience for the restart of the real thing”

In the UK, Mainstage Festivals, which is behind events including Snowboxx and Kala, has launched the @TheDriveIn event series, bringing film screenings, stand-up comedy nights and silent car discos to 11 cities. Ten free tickets per screening, usually priced at £35 (€40), will be held back for healthcare workers. Tickets are available from 27 May.

A 100-carpacity drive-in venue is also being planned for the Jaarbeurs convention centre in Utrecht, the Netherlands, with family entertainer Juf Roos performing the first show on 13 June.

As more and more clamour for their piece of the drive-in pie, what is the key to ensuring your drive-in concerts aren’t relegated to the scrap heap?

Communication has been a key factor for the team at D.Live. “Booking a drive-in show is not like booking a normal gig,” says Brill. “Rather than everything hinging on capacity and dates, it is now about communicating to clients what they are able to do now, that they couldn’t do last week.”

To keep on top of the rules and successfully translate constantly changing regulations into reality, Brill believes event organisers must develop close relationships with local authorities and prove their credibility.

“This is the key to being ahead of the game and has been our priority so far,” says Brill. This will continue to be vital once venues begin to reopen again, adds the D.Live boss, who describes the drive-in events as “a great learning experience” for the restart of the real thing.

“We have decided we will end the drive-in at the end of July,” says Brill, “and then turn our focus to bringing business back to our venues.”

 


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