Leadership / 07.01.20
INTIX Tags Along and Reports Back on Date Night and Girls Night Out at the Garth Brooks Drive-In Concert
There was a sense of anticipation on the weekly INTIX editorial call after Garth Brooks announced his drive-in concert series. We were intrigued, hopeful and happy. This was something new, and it was something that brought folks together to share the moment and the music. And, heck yes, it was a moment to sell tickets and to inch us forward. All great journeys start with the first step, and this first step, if not exactly what we crave as audiences, is still a step. INTIX decided to “be there” and bring back the impressions of this new sociocultural pandemic creation.
There was going to be a gathering of fans to enjoy music together!
Yes, it would be different and from the car, but as our industry looks for ways to bridge the gap, we are looking for every reason we can find to celebrate.
Tiffany Kelham’s (INTIX Member Services and Executive Associate) husband Nate is a big Garth Brooks fan, so they got the assignment to buy a ticket, go to the show near their home in Indianapolis and report back on the experience.
It would be their first date night in 100+ days after isolating at home with their two young girls.
Over in Salt Lake City, Utah, Deirdre Naff, General Manager of Smith’s Tix, was planning a girls night out with three friends.
This was going to be an evening to remember!
There was no line as Tiffany and Nate were pulling in about an hour before the show was scheduled to start.
Many fans had already arrived an hour before showtime.
“It's a small town, so paying $100 to go watch a pre-recorded Garth Brooks concert at the drive-in is a lot of money,” Kelham says. “I didn’t look to see if it was sold out ahead of time, but we were in the third-to-last row when we arrived. There were six staff, all wearing black shirts and black pants, standing at the gate in 90-degree weather. They were all wearing masks, and they scanned our tickets with their smartphones. They gave us a copy of the rules, told us to park between two posts, which is usually enough space for two cars, and said ‘have fun!’”
View of the screen and spacing between cars, as seen from Tiffany and Nate's car.
A zoomed-in shot of attendees enjoying food and a chat before the show.
As a rule, attendees were asked to stay in their cars. In Indiana, masks were recommended but not required if you got out of the car. In Utah, masks had just been made mandatory, so everyone should have been wearing one. Still, Kelham and Naff said very few were, so they both made the decision to remain safely in their cars for the entire event.
“The staff had their masks on when we pulled up, and you could see them entering and exiting the concessions building wearing them, too. As for people who were attending, I only saw a handful of people with masks on while it was still light out. It looked like the vast majority of people were keeping their distance in their parking spots, but a lot of people were outside of their cars. Most of the cars were rear facing. Some of the people were sitting in the beds of their trucks, but others were sitting on the ground in their chairs. The staff didn’t really police the rule that you had to remain in your vehicle,” Kelham says.
“When I parked, there was still tons of space on the other side of me, so they were really conservative in how many tickets they sold. I actually looked to see if there were still tickets available to buy before I left, and there weren’t,” Naff says. “Everybody parked in every other spot, but all the people that came together literally piled out of their vehicles. It was basically a giant tailgate party.”
Fans before the show in Utah.
Indeed, it’s human nature to want to come together, so both the INTIX and broader entertainment communities could have quite a task on their hands to enforce safety and physical distancing.
“There were quite a few groups with big old pick-up trucks all dressed up like they were going to a country concert,” Kelham says. “There were guys in cowboy hats and cowboy boots, and some of the girls, well, you could tell who the concertgoers were. Then you had what I called the pajama people, who were dressed much more casually.”
A countdown clock appeared on the screen as the night progressed, then the show started with videos of the opener, Randall King, who co-wrote “The Road I’m On” with Garth Brooks in 2018.
The headlining show started after a 10-minute intermission.
“Garth Brooks was really putting on a performance,” Kelham says. “You could tell there was no audience, but he was pointing at the cameras, and the cameras were showing all of the musicians supporting him. He talked to the audience just like he would at a live concert. He also asked people to turn their phone lights on and stick their arms outside of their car windows, then wave them from side to side. What he didn’t know is that people did it, but a lot of them were actually outside.”
Fans showing some smartphone love for Garth.
This Garth Brooks drive-in concert wasn’t perfect. I don’t think any of us expected it would be. What it is, however, is a necessary stop gap, a social experiment that will evolve, and a creative way to sell the same number of tickets that could be sold for a single arena show.
OK, yes, the screens felt small and dated. The sound quality wasn’t great. It’s obvious that nothing replaces a live experience, but it was communal, and the fans were clearly having fun.
“You could see people standing up in the truck beds, and groups of women were dancing outside of their vehicles together. You would see a flash as people were taking group pictures or selfies facing the screen, so a lot of people treated it like it was a concert. They were out with friends, dancing, even slow dancing with husbands or boyfriends to the slow songs, singing along and yelling at the screen. It was really fascinating to watch,” Kelham says.
“I would go again just because it was fun to hang out with my friends, but I wouldn’t go for the concert. I would just be going because it was something we could do together,” says Naff, adding that improved technology — like high-definition screens and great sound outside of your vehicle — would elevate the experience.
Live Nation’s Concerts in the Lot should take things up a notch when they stage shows in St. Louis, Nashville and Indianapolis from July 10-12.
First, the shows will be live streamed, with artists including Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker and Nelly performing on stages in amphitheatre parking lots.
“Similar to what you would find inside the venue, we will have amplified music and speakers set up throughout the event space,” according to the Live Nation website. “Large LED screens will be set up to help improve the viewing experience so you can enjoy the show from your spot.”
That spot is an individual tailgating zone, which Live Nation says is “about the size of a two-car garage.” Unlike the Garth Brooks drive-in concert, fans are not being asked to remain in their cars.
As for the Garth drive-in concert? “All my friends had fun,” Naff says.
The experience was a bit different for Kelham and Naff as ticketing professionals than it was for the general public because they watched with a much more critical eye.
And while seeing Garth Brooks in a pre-recorded show at the drive-in isn’t remotely the same as a live show, where fans feed off of each other and the band’s energy, there is value in this form of entertainment as a shared experience.
So, until we can gather safely in larger groups, we must look for the silver lining — by continuing to innovate and celebrate creativity as much as we can.
Thank you to Tiffany, Nate and DeeDee’s truckload of ladies for taking us with them on this first step into pandemic events. We know that these will morph and change, and each event like this adds to the knowledge and experience. We will make sure to go to one at the end of the season and report back on what has changed. And, yes, we’re making history, too.
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Tags: Music , Venues , COVID-19 , Coronavirus