With this pandemic keeping everyone indoors, finding opportunities for outside entertainment options has been pretty limited these days. And forget about going to a concert or live music –well, almost! This native Nashvillian who lives with a bunch of musical talent knows all-too-well the power of music. Which is why when I heard a local drive-in theater in Watertown, about 40 miles east of Nashville, was sponsoring a live concert, I knew I had to get a car-full and go!
This was not my first visit to the drive-in, not by a long shot. I remember my parents taking us as kids when we went on family vacations. And in recent years, I discovered the Stardust Theater in Watertown and have been several times. My recent visit to hear Christian artists Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Mac Powell was an evening of great music, food, fun, and a life outside of quarantine. The trio’s “Drive-In Theater Tour” kicked off last week with the performance at Stardust Theater, and will visit five other Tennessee towns as well as Virginia, North Carolina and Mississippi. It was exciting being part of their first performance and I am sure future sites will be just as successful as the one in Watertown. People were wearing their masks and social distancing, and the theater was promoting health and safety along with having a good time. People were able to watch live performances from inside or around their cars, with appropriate spacing and distancing between groups. Some sat on blankets or chairs next to their vehicles, some sat inside with the A/C cranked up, some were tail-gating, and all were having a good time. It felt great being outside, participating in entertainment outside of the four walls of home, and hearing good music.
Drive-in concerts have really started to become very popular right now. In addition to the concert I attended in Watertown, Michael W. Smith performed earlier just outside of Nashville in the Williamson County Ag Expo Park in Franklin, Tennessee for an estimated 900 cars. Earlier this summer Keith Urban hosted one of the first major drive-in concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic, at my favorite theater, Stardust, just for healthcare workers who are on the front lines saving lives at Vanderbilt Medical Center. Soon to follow, the legendary Garth Brooks, County Music Association (CMA) Entertainer of the Year, announced back in June a one-night concert which was broadcast to an estimated 300 outdoor theaters across the country. Country super-star Alan Jackson performed at several drive-in shows in rural Alabama reaching over 2,000 cars in one rural Alabama town, and Brad Paisley was part of the first-ever “Live from the Drive-In” series which debuted this month. These are just a few and I am sure I have left out quite a few. Stay tuned to your local news to see when a concert may be coming to a theater near you!
While seeing an outdoor concert in a different setting was amazing, the “coolness” of the drive-in did it for me. Every time I go, I feel like I’ve gone back in time. To a place where the worries of today seem to fade away. I’m back in a simpler time and place. Away from the hectic pace of life and just enjoying the moments as they come. The first drive in was patented in 1933 in New Jersey, though drive-ins really became more popular during the 1950’s and 1960’s as a family-friendly option. According to the New York Film Academy, there are over 30 drive-ins still in operation with the most drive-ins in the states of Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania, with those states having almost 30 left. The Academy reports, that sadly, several states including Hawaii, North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Delaware, and Louisiana no longer have any that are still in business.
For those intrigued like me and would like to learn more about the history of drive-ins, this short video posted on You-Tube gives a great overview. And if you want even a bit more, take a look at this video which focuses on a drive-in theater at one of the Disney properties but also has a great look at drive-ins overall. If you are really, REALLY wanting to go way back, I loved this video of intermission ads from the 1960’s. It’s so interesting to learn more about this cultural icon and to be taken back in time if only but for a few hours whenever I get the opportunity to go.
Thank you, drive-ins across America and to our musicians for bringing the music back during this pandemic AND for taking us all back to another time and place.