Drive-In Show at McHenry Outdoor Theater

Like many across the country, I miss live music more than most things I have had to do without during the Covid-19 pandemic. The experience of seeing an artist perform live on stage to an expecting audience is one of the great thrills in life that never gets old.

As the music industry looks ahead to 2021 and the hopeful return of touring and large events, we at Advantage Trailer want to help be part of the solution.

According to a Dec.15 article in Pollstar, “Live Nation president Joe Berchtold recently told CNBC he expects ‘major outdoor shows’ to return to the U.S. by summer and AEG Presidents Chairman and CEO Jay Marciano was recently quoted in Rolling Stone saying he expects a reopening by fall.”

I hope they are right because everyone in the industry – from the artists themselves to their tour staff to agents, promoters, and venues – has been decimated by the shutdown of live events over the past nine months.

While streaming shows have played a small part in keeping artists going and connected to their fans, and helping to support out-of-work crews or local venues, they have their limits. Over the first few months of the pandemic, I was gobbling up every live stream I could from artists I liked, but when combined with all the other virtual commitments – Zoom meetings, virtual trade shows and conferences, online church, virtual family get-togethers – I quickly found myself suffering from virtual fatigue. Now, more than ever, I try to unplug from the ever increasing online noise during my free time.

And I know I’m not alone. People can’t wait to get back out to live events.

The week before the pandemic officially hit, I traveled to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for Avetts at the Beach, a 5-day, 4-night all-inclusive concert vacation featuring The Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, Dawes, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Mandolin Orange, The Wood Brothers, Emmylou Harris, and more. Little did we know how much would change barely a week later.

After several months without live music, I was ecstatic to find out a local cover band was performing in the parking lot outside a local pizza joint. Even with masks and social distancing, it was so good for the soul to see live music again, even in its most basic form.

Then, in September, a model for how to move forward – at least in the short term – was presented. Chicago-based production agency Collectiv Presents put on a series of live shows at drive-in theaters. I went to the Trampled by Turtles show at the McHenry Outdoor Theater and it was a great experience. It was certainly different – attendees had to stay in the small area surrounding their cars, couldn’t congregate with others outside their group, had to wear masks at all times unless eating or drinking, and had to order merch online and receive a text notification when it was ready to pick up – but it felt great to be at a live event once again. If there are others, I would absolutely go to them.

“The appetite is absolutely there on the fan side, and the more that happen successfully and, the more comfortable people are that they’re going to be safe at an event we’re doing, they’ll be more willing to take that customer journey with us – but they are expensive tickets compared to a regular four-wall situation,” said Collectiv partner Michael Berg.

Innovation Arts & Entertainment CEO Adam Epstein is also fully on board with outdoor “drive-in” type shows. Per Pollstar, his agency has been opening outdoor theaters such as the Yarmouth Drive-In in Cape Cod, which hosted shows by Goose, Marcus King Trio, Allman Betts, Mt. Joy, and Disco Biscuits.

“We are definitely not done, we got the site in Columbia (S.C.) that will be opening the first week in November, and we got two in Texas,” Epstein said. “We are actively investing and finding opportunities because we do believe this will be with us through next summer. We can’t sit on the sidelines.

“…We’ve committed to make sure it is the best of what is out there right now,” he continued. “And we’re always improving on it. We want people to feel like they got a little bit back of that thing they lost.”

So where does Advantage Trailer come in? Well, we can help in a few ways.

First, we can offer smaller artists a safe way to tour. It’s certainly outside-the-box thinking, but that’s what is needed during these times. It also won't work for larger, more established artists, but according to Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, emerging artists are going to be hit the hardest when touring does resume.

"The next crisis is going to be that every band in the world will be touring at once, and there will not be the resources or the venue space to accommodate that. And, even more important, that means we’re going to lose the developmental periods of some great young bands and artists that are just getting started. There are going to be young artists waiting for their moment to be in front of an audience, and to get that affirmation that feeds the fire to keep going, and that opportunity may not exist. That period is so important in putting you on a trajectory, so I predict that it’s going to negatively affect a lot of young and upcoming artists."

New Holland Stage Trailer

This could be a short-term solution.

An artist could pull a stage trailer behind their truck or van, complete with all their gear, and arrange a set of shows at outdoor spaces. It wouldn’t need to be a big drive-in theater; it could be a public park, because they would have their own stage with them. The stage trailer allows them to still utilize lighting, sound, and backdrops, while performing on a stage, and when the show is over, they can strap everything down, close it up, and head to the next destination.

It would require a grassroots, by-your-bootstraps effort, but it would ease the demand for small venue space and give smaller and emerging artists a playing field on the road.

Another way we can help is by offering concession trailers to drive-in venues for food or merch. Most drive-in venues likely aren’t set up to host modern drive-in shows without outside assets being brought in, and we can provide some of those assets.

A concession trailer can be placed at various points around the perimeter of the venue, offering attendees the ability to purchase food or merchandise without congregating at one central location.

Similarly, we can provide bathroom trailers – which are cleaner and nicer than port-a-potties – for attendees to use, as well as studio trailers for the artists to lounge in before and after their performance.

Finally, we can offer venues thermal testing trailers to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved. As fans enter the venue, they filter through the trailer to have their temperature taken with a free-standing instant-read thermal monitor.

If you work for a production agency, venue, or artist management that is looking for solutions to get live events back up and running, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. You can contact me at 630-524-2029 or justin@advantagetrailer.com