Is The Drive-In Concert The Future? How Tupelo Music Hall In NH Does It

For generations, the drive-in movie theater united American love of film with the automobile.But in the decades since, those lonely screens fell into disrepair and decay, eventually bulldozed into more lucrative enterprises. What a shame; the romantic aspects of a night at the drive-in should have been enough to keep the concept alive forever! These days, a few drive-in theaters still exist in New England, and some, like Mendon Drive-in, occasionally combined film with live music bands playing in front of the screen.

Well, the concept of the drive-in concert, road-tested earlier this spring in Europe, seems to be gaining favor in this era of the coronavirus. The relative isolation of being in or near your ride while separated at a safe distance from a neighbor while checking out an artist or band that hasn’t been able to work for months is a win all around!

I was dying to check out Tupelo Music Hall’s Drive-in Experience and managed to get up to Derry, NH to see guitarist Johnny A on Sunday. Tupelo was a successful nightclub with around a 300-person capacity that long served the southern New Hampshire area but fell on difficult times as the pandemic closed any place that packed patrons into tight quarters.

With the quarantine deepening and the months of concert inactivity piling up, the owners of Tupelo had the vision and foresight to build an outdoor stage looking onto their parking lot. Adhering to New Hampshire’s restrictions concerning the Covid-19 pandemic, the club is able to sell spaces for 75 cars, all within a stones throw of the stage. With two shows possible during the weekend afternoons, the capacity available can give artists a much-needed paycheck and has pumped life back into this venerable location.

Johnny A was doing two shows on Sunday June 14 at noon and 3pm. Admission was $75 a car and you could pack the front and back seats with family and friends if you wanted. After the internet delivery charge of five bucks, my total of $80 was worth it to me; I hadn’t seen a show since February and I was starving for live music!

We had tix for the later concert and got in line in front of the club at 2p. Within 15 minutes the line was moving in and cars were parked in the rows with one empty space between each. That space on each car’s driver’s side was the occupants designated viewing area and lawn chairs and blankets were set up in the warm sunshine. But, if you wanted to stay in the car and hunker down to do…uh…whatever, you could listen in on the radio because the show was broadcast live.

Tupelo has an excellent kitchen and food could be ordered online from your car, then delivered to you via speedy golf cart. Port-o-lets were spaced liberally around the perimeter, with the self-distancing honor system keeping folks apart. With car positions staggered from row to row, the views of the stage at every location were excellent, and as much as I might have preferred a nice grassy meadow to pull into, the parking with its painted lines allowed for swift organization.

Johnny A played his guitar and the sound system covered the entire space easily; it certainly wouldn’t do to skimp on the sound after all the other effort. By the end of the set the audience was hooting and hollering, which soon gave way to a chorus of blaring horns!

Is this the future of concerts in the era before a cure for Covid-19 is found? And what if a vaccine remains elusive? Those are big questions, but this solution, whether temporary or not, works just fine.I could see it utilized on a far bigger scale at Xfinity Center or Gillette Stadium where the vast parking lot could accommodate thousands of cars in front of a stage erected outside the venue. Imagine driving your wheels into a mosh pit in front of stage!

And, could this development and the threat of possible pandemics down the line lead to a rejuvenation of the classic drive-in theater? After having seen virtually every outdoor screen I ever knew demolished and forgotten, how wild would it be to actually see a new one erected? What a twist that would be - back to the future!

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