This past weekend I had a gig. Normally, that would be a completely unremarkable statement (especially in July), but in 2020 it’s a small miracle. Our last show was in March, and—as is the case throughout the industry—almost all of our summer bookings have been canceled. I’ve already lost count of how many shows fell off the calendar, and keeping tabs on it is too depressing anyway.
This show was part of the Drive-In Live series at the Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey, N.H. The promoter converted an empty field on the fairgrounds into a parking lot, arranging it so that cars were spaced 10 feet apart and parked in a staggered arrangement to facilitate social distancing. The space to the left of each vehicle was designated as an empty tailgate area, and patrons were allowed to bring lawn chairs and sit or stand in their tailgate area. Concertgoers were not required to wear masks while in their cars or in their assigned tailgate area, but were required to do so if leaving their space to use the restrooms.
Tickets were priced per-car, with a maximum of five people in a vehicle. The show was scheduled for 8:00 p.m., and the venue opened “doors” at 6:30 p.m., allowing plenty of time for patrons to park and settle in before the show started. This timeline worked pretty well. When I walked from backstage to front of house at 7:45 p.m. (with a security escort to ease my paranoia) I didn’t see any cars waiting in line to enter. There were no concessions, and all event staff wore masks, including yours truly.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had more anxiety about doing one show, and it was mostly about the tour managing aspects of the gig. Technically speaking, we were very well taken care of by Ryan Burhans and the folks from Paddle Out Productions (Medford, Mass.). All of the stage crew wore masks (most wore gloves, as well) and respected social distancing guidelines, not to mention the fact that they were on top of their game.
As with many of our shows, my work is in the logistics, and even thinking about the drive up from NYC flipped me out a little bit. Where will I stop along the way? I didn’t. Are rest areas on the interstates open? Yes, they are. What if I need to get gas? Same as buying gas at home. Silly stuff, or maybe not.
Perhaps a bit more serious was making sure that the band and crew felt secure. We insisted that the dressing room be sanitized on our arrival, and that any furnishings (chairs, tables, etc.) also be sanitized. We asked the same for the coolers that held our beverages. We trimmed the dressing room rider free of deli, fruit and veggie trays, and asked that snacks such as cookies or chips be provided in single-serving snack packs.
Dinner was a “buyout,” which on the one hand eliminated a bunch of problems and on the other hand created the issue of “what the heck are we going to eat?” This was more a problem for the crew, who were stuck on site for the duration of the day. I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of sending a runner off to fetch meals for us—not so much because we didn’t trust the runner, but because we were unfamiliar with businesses in the surrounding area. Not having a proper meal isn’t a disaster for a one-off, but it’s a long-term problem that needs to be solved, short of carrying food from home with us. I should have stopped at Papa Pasquale’s for a prosciutto and smoked mozzarella hero before I left Brooklyn.
The show itself went over very well, and along the way I learned a few things. Hands down, cue monitors at FOH beat the idea of using headphones which (a) inevitably will be laid upon a table or console that may not be clean, and (b) will mess up the loops on your mask. Many of us have already learned that eyeglasses fog up when wearing a mask, a problem that becomes worse when you walk out of an air-conditioned building into the heat. Ear fatigue is now redefined as the soreness behind your ears created by the loops. To minimize foot traffic, only working personnel were allowed backstage (no guests).
If you’ve ever attended a concert at a motorcycle rally you know that bikers don’t applaud. They sit on their bikes during the show and rev the engines as a sign of appreciation. It was great to see our lead singer/guitarist Eric Bloom coax the audience into a variation of that, getting them to honk their car horns or flash headlights as a way of blowing off some steam.
There are a lot of variables involved in determining whether the drive-in concert concept is a sustainable business model, some of which include the number of patrons that can safely fit into a venue, the weather, the ability for a promoter to cover expenses while still turning a profit, and ensuring that all audience members can see the stage and hear the P.A. The winter months in many regions won’t be friendly to such events, so it’s not a long-term solution, but those of us who are trying to scratch out a living sure do welcome the work, at least for the next few months.