(Editor’s note: All concert details within this article are subject to change because of the coronavirus pandemic.)
By mid-summer, music lovers typically have experienced at least one live concert. This summer, though, is anything but normal.
The coronavirus pandemic forced closures and cancelations at Colorado’s best musical venues. In a scramble to keep musicians afloat, concerts went virtual — like most all other social interactions. Now, the classic drive-in theater is becoming one of the safest and best places to feel the beat.
“Everyone is trying to adapt and figure out new ways to survive,” said Greta Cornett, president of Fort Collins Musicians Association (FoCoMA), a nonprofit to support local musicians.
FoCoMA’s signature event, Fort Collins Music eXperiment (FoCoMX,) was set to release its lineup for its annual two-day April event when the novel coronavirus swept the world. The association, still hellbent on supporting local artists, is hosting Drive & Jive Tuesdays at the Holiday Twin Drive-In in Fort Collins through Sept. 29.
FoCoMA Drive & Jive Tuesdays
A covered stage sits beneath the big screen and instead of large speakers, the bands’ music is projected through an FM radio station to people’s vehicles while the concert is also displayed on the large movie screen.
“We had challenges and learning curves,” Cornett explained. She said the association is working to keep musicians and crews safe, while the drive-in offers safety through social distancing.
Space is left between each vehicle to allow room for physical distancing and for patrons to set up chairs, blankets or have room to dance.
And if you can find that old boom box, bring it along to give you a little extra sound boost.
To cut down on lines, concert goers order food through an app. When it’s ready, they get a text to come pick it up. They serve adult beverages and all the “oldies but goodies,” among them, snow cones, corndogs, popcorn, burgers and cotton candy. Masks must be worn when leaving the area of your vehicle.
Other drive-in music opportunities
Not all drive-in theaters are getting live music, but they are still bringing favorite bands to the big screens for people to get out and enjoy.
On July 25, Blake Shelton will appear at four Colorado drive-in screens: Holiday Twin Drive-In, Montrose’s Star Drive-In, Monte Vista’s Star Drive-In and Buena Vista’s Comanche Drive-In. It’s part of the Encore Live Drive-In Nights, which is continuing to offer live music after a successful Garth Brooks concert in June.
Other venues around the country are also testing this new “drive-in” idea. For example, Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway plans to create a drive-in concert setting for The Avett Brothers show on Aug. 29. And this month, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman and Mac Powell started a 10-city drive-in tour throughout the southeastern U.S.
Bands like Alan Jackson, The Eli Young Band and the Davisson Brothers Band all jumped on the drive-in concert bandwagon, holding concerts last month. And Christian bands, such as Newsboys and TobyMac, also have utilized the new outdoor venues.
Outdoor venue opportunities
For those who want to get out of their vehicles — and do it safely by maintaining physical distance and wearing masks — there are now other outdoor music opportunities.
Some establishments with outdoor seating have reopened for live music.
“Capacity is still limited, but we are seeing now a lot of local venues, if they have outdoor space, doing outdoor concerts,” Cornett said.
The historic Mishawaka Amphitheatre in the Poudre Canyon has regular “social distancing seated shows” that includes bands as well as movies, said General Manager Dan Mladenik.
People aren’t elbow-to-elbow anymore at these spots but rather book a table, and remain there except when they need to use the bathroom. At Mishawaka, there are 26 tables, which hold 128 people, much less than the venue’s usual 1,000-person capacity, Mladenik said.
“You buy the whole table — four-, six-, or eight-tops — and bring your people with you,” he said. “We are not making money with these concerts but are happy to be doing it. We have lots of sponsors helping us this year which has allowed us to be able to do it.
“For everyone, this is something we need for our souls and it’s good to have that back again.”
How to support music
“This is going to change everything, including the music industry,” Cornett said about COVID. “We were the first to shut down and we will probably be the last to open. If you can support your favorite musicians, then support them. One of the best ways to do that is buying their merchandise, as it goes directly to them.”
Besides merchandise purchases, many local venues — who also are struggling to stay alive — are offering gift certificates to support them now but can be used later when they are able to reopen.
“Music is the soundtrack of all of our lives,” Cornett said. “I can’t imagine a world without it.”