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Drive-in concerts get live back on the road

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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Experience economy fuels resort festival rise

For decades, grassy and often muddy fields have been the setting for music festivals worldwide, but as the overall festival experience has crept ever higher on fans’ priority lists, different kinds of sites have begun to catch the eye of festival organisers.

From snowy slopes to golden sands, resorts offer the unique selling point and quality infrastructure desired by organisers, as well as appealing to the experiential tendencies of the millennial festivalgoer.

“People’s tastes have changed,” Gareth Cooper, CEO of Broadwick Live and director of Snowbombing festival tells IQ, adding that people in general “have more disposable income” and often view a festival as a “second holiday” nowadays.

Starting 21 years ago as an après-ski party, Snowbombing has evolved into a week-long live music event. The line-up for Snowbombing 2020, taking place from 13 to 18 April, includes Liam Gallagher, the Streets, Foals and Big Narstie.

Mainstage Festivals-promoted Snowboxx (6,000-cap.) also takes its inspiration from the traditional partying aspect of ski holidays.

“We all know that après is the real reason why people go skiing,” says Mainstage marketing manager Juan Lopez. “Sipping a cold one after a day on the slopes is the perfect way to unwind, but there is not much to do on the mountain after that.”

“People’s tastes have changed and they have more disposable income”

To counter that, Snowboxx has brought artists such as Basement Jaxx, Wilkinson and Craig David’s TS5 to Avoriaz in France for the past seven years, alongside a “jam-packed schedule of off-piste activities”. Acts confirmed for the 2020 edition, taking place from 21 to 18 March, include Andy C, Annie Mac, the Sugarhill Gang and Denis Sulta.

Anthony Diaz, CEO of cruise festival specialist Sixthman, agrees that the idea of a combined holiday and music festival is really “resonating” with fans.

In addition to its many “floating festivals”, Sixthman has recently experimented with seaside resort festivals, launching Kid Rock’s Flying High Island Jam and All the Best presented by John Prine at boutique resorts in the Dominican Republic, with further plans to replicate the model in European resorts.

“People are choosing to invest more and more in experiences, rather than in material things, including in immersive music experiences and in vacations,” Diaz tells IQ. “The combination of being on vacation with your musical heroes and with others that share that same passion, it’s unbeatable.”

Fans have also shown an eagerness to travel to new places for festivals in recent years, a fact that the Mainstage Festivals team is well aware of. The idea behind the promoter’s Kala festival, which takes place in Dhërmi, a beach resort on the Albanian Riviera, is to introduce festivalgoers to a holiday location they are unlikely to have visited before.

“The Kala crowd is looking for new experiences and new adventures, so somewhere as beautiful and off the beaten path as Albania ticks all the boxes for them,” says Lopez, who refers to Albania as “Europe’s best kept secret”.

“The combination of being on vacation with your musical heroes and with others that share that same passion, it’s unbeatable”

Since Kala started in 2017, there has been a 27% increase in foreign tourists to Albania and, although the event organisers cannot take “full credit” for that, Kala is now the “flagship event” for Albania. “It’s the country’s first and biggest overseas festival and we look forward to growing along with the broader tourism industry over there,” says Mainstage CEO Rob Tominey.

For the Mainstage boss, cooperation with tourist boards is an integral aspect to overseas festivals, “not only to promote the festivals, but also to showcase the local culture.”

Broadwick’s Snowbombing, which has taken place every April at Austria’s Mayrhofen ski resort since 2006, also collaborates closely with local tourism boards and tour operators, as well as the resort’s management.

“We turn what would traditionally be the quietest week of the season into one of the busiest,” explains Cooper. “It’s an end-of-season boost for the local economy and brings very good clientele to the resort – the kind who come to socialise and make use of bars and restaurants.”

However, a festival in a resort, by its very nature, costs more for the fan. Accommodation for five nights at Snowbombing is priced between £269 and £1,500, in addition to equipment hire, ski pass and transport to and from the festival.

“We could go cheaper and use a resort in France,” admits Cooper, but “that’s not the quality we’re looking for.”

It seems that cheap and cheerful is not what Snowbombing attendees are after either, with four-star hotels, complete with swimming pools and spas, proving the most popular accommodation choice.

“When you have the right destination, people just want to go”

Quality is key for Sixthman’s event too. Guests can choose between different suites at the resort, with all concerts, meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks included in the price, as well as unlimited use of the resort’s swimming pools and beaches.

Despite high-end prices, Sixthman does not attempt to tier pricing or up-sell fans with VIP packages or events. “All our guests are VIP,” says Diaz, which helps foment a “positive”, community-like feeling among fans.

Yet, for Mainstage, cheaper prices are one of the draws of its destination-based events.

“There are a number of benefits to attending a festival abroad vs in the UK,” says Tominey. “The costs can often be more favourable with cheaper ticket prices as well as cheaper costs while there.

Even at Snowboxx, the Mainstage team tries to keep the price low, “steering clear of all-inclusive deals” and negotiating with hotels.

“We’ve seen in the past how accommodation and transfer prices have spiked around destination festivals, after a few years of them being in the location,” says Tominey. The Snowboxx team offers seven-day accommodation and festival wristband packages for between £254 (three star) and £442 (five star).

The most important aspect of this new kind of festival, however, remains the same for all. As Cooper puts it: “When you have the right destination, people just want to go.”


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