How We Got To ‘Live From The Drive In’

Skyrockets In Flight:
Jane Bush / Live Nation
– Skyrockets In Flight:
El Monstero performs on July 11 at St. Louis’ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre’s parking lot as part of Live Nation’s Live From the Drive-In concert series.
Four months into an unprecedented lockdown of the touring industry, Live Nation figured out a way to do full-production U.S. live concerts, where the fans and the artists were actually in the same place: “Live from the Drive-In.” Among the artists who took part in the July 10-12 shows in St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Nashville were El Monstero (St. Louis), Nelly (St. Louis), Jon Pardi (Nashville, Indianapolis), Darius Rucker (Nashville), Yacht Rock Revue (Indianapolis), and Brad Paisley (St. Louis, Indianapolis, Nashville).
Brian O’Connell, president of Live Nation Country, says the concept was a company-wide effort and an attempt to “figure out how we could be the leader in doing something, with the caveat being we’re not going to just do something just for the sake of doing it, because the ramifications of doing it incorrectly are clearly not a good thing.” 
The challenge? “How could we pull this off and still follow the regulations from the city and the states and the CDC – talk about a laundry list – and we came up with three jurisdictions, Nashville, St Louis and Indianapolis, where we could do it,” O’Connell explains. “We spent hours and hours and days and days talking about ‘what ifs.’”
Multiple artists were considered or even asked, but Paisley, “raised his hand pretty much immediately,” says O’Connell, adding that Paisley made sense on multiple levels. “You’re doing a series of shows centered around a ‘drive-in’ experience, and Brad has a giant affinity for cars, so it just kind of made sense on my end.”

The idea that all these arena-level artists were sitting around with nothing to do this summer is a myth, O’Connell says. “For the first time in 20 years for a lot of [artists], they had a summer with their kids,” he says, “so ramping back up the machine took a pretty big commitment on [Paisley’s] side, as well. That’s the tricky part with this: if you sit back and look at it, that was the sell to Brad: if anybody can do this, you can do this, he was predisposed to doing it, let’s give it a shot and see how it goes, and maybe you can make a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the Brad Paisley fan to see him in the midst of all this, while still being safe.” Capacity was limited to about 600 cars in Nashville in the parking lot of Nissan Stadium, and about 1,000 cars in Ruoff Music Center lot in Indianapolis and the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre lot in St. Louis. 
Concessions were limited and there were no merch sales. “The idea of not encouraging people to gather at a merchandise stand and having people touching stuff and exchanging money back and forth, we just said it literally is not worth it,” O’Connell says. “We wanted to contain the fans into their overly-generous area, limiting four people to a car, and doing a bunch of math and going, ‘You’ve got a bunch of room in all these places, so you can spread out, bring your bucket of chicken or sandwiches you made at home, and your cooler, and whatever you were going to do, you’d do in that limited space you were provided that did not feel like you were crammed together.’” 
Given the shows were staged in parking lots, production and scaling challenges were considerable. Live Nation worked with Nashville-based Moo TV on creating delay video and sound and invested “a lot” into production. Even with no rake as in traditional venues, O’Connell says when he walked to the back row, he was impressed with the production values. “Could I see the stage? Kinda, but I was watching the video and listening to the sound, and it was pumping for the last row as well as it was pumping for the very first row,” he says. “We’re not in the business of putting together a half-assed show, and for the person that decided to come with their group that paid $100, $25 each, and hang out in the very last row, it was super important to us and to the artists, and Brad specifically, that they get a great experience. What does that mean? We don’t know, but we went overboard to show at least that we cared, and that’s about all you can do at this point.”
Paisley described the production and logistics of the shows as a “NASA launch,” focused on making all aspects of the highly personal business of building and presenting a concert safely. That includes getting there, with Paisley suggesting extra buses and getting creative as to who’s on which bus. “You just want to minimize the amount of people in groups, get everybody tested, and place them on buses based on who would work together,” Paisley says. “Often they wore masks on the buses, and only four or five on a bus, as opposed to 10 on a bus.”
On-site, band and crew utilized the facilities in the amphitheater, including backstage and dressing rooms, and each member of the downsized crew had their own dressing room. “We did not interact with the local crew, they had set up the stage and the PA and the video wall before we got there,” says Paisley. “Then, once we got there, they went to work with what was sitting there, with no interaction. It was literally all those guys with headsets, white shirts and black ties sitting in Houston, meanwhile the bus drivers slept in the dressing rooms so they didn’t have to interact.”
While the focus on safety for fans was “intense,” O’Connell says, the focus behind the barricade, and safety for artist and crew, was equally intense. “That was my promise to every act I put in that situation,” he says. “Just because we’re buddies, or just because it’s backstage, or just because whatever casual atmosphere we tried to make it welcoming there, nobody was ‘above the law,’ if you will, in terms of wearing masks, social distancing, congregating. We had call after call with production managers and tour managers and we had to assure them that.” 
That took more than a little effort, given backstage culture and the general laissez fair of life behind the “line of demarcation” that is the barricade. “You know how it is, it’s like, ‘we know what we’re doing back here, we don’t have to follow the rules of the other side of the barricade.’ That wasn’t the case here, and one of the big things with Brad, I promised him that the safety and health of his band members and crew members and our crew members and stage hands and security and all of the people – which was a very limited number of people, by the way – would be Priority One. I don’t care who you are, you are not getting to this area without going through the health screening, the temperature gauge, without having the appropriate paperwork that says you went through it. I’m still wearing all of the different wristbands from that weekend, just to show, ‘Hey, without doing this, we can’t do that. I think that’s one of the things that impressed Brad and Jon [Pardi] and Darius [Rucker], all three of them. It was something we made the pledge to do, and we pulled it off flawlessly.”

Parking Lot Sunset:
Kenny Williamson / Live Nation
– Parking Lot Sunset:
Parking Lot Sunset: Expansive view from the stage of the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater parking lot where Brad Paisley, Nelly and El Monstero performed July 10-12.
Live Nation didn’t “push a bunch of buttons and force our way into this,” O’Connell stresses. “The conditions in these markets were, at the time, appropriate and welcomed by governmental agencies, and our job was to show that we could do this in a socially responsible way, given the circumstances, and bring people a sense of hope and normalcy where they were safe,” he says. 
So will Live Nation do more of these? O’Connell says, “We’re going to try,” and notes that Live Nation checked all the boxes in what they were going for with these concerts, including staging the first major multiple-market live music event in the country since the shutdown, keeping it affordable (as low as $100 for a carload of four), high production values, and, “the artist actually performed live, in person, which was a big key for me.”
Still, weather will soon become a factor as fall gets closer, and the pandemic rages on. 
“We’re not in charge of the current situation, so we can’t go, ‘Oh, we did it in Nashville, St. Louis and Indianapolis, so we should immediately look at X, Y, and Z as the next [markets],’ because – as you know, you have cable – this thing is unpredictable,” O’Connell says. “So … as each market enters a different phase of re-opening, we’re going to try and figure out what’s the next right move, whether it’s inside of the amphitheater, or in the parking lot, or on the hill. We’ve got a bunch of really smart people that work for this company, and I think the drive-in was the first step of innovation, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the only step of innovation. We saw that window, we did it, we know we can do that, the fans had a great time, so that’s a win for us and a win for Brad, and we’re going to continue to look at ways of bringing the live experience to fans in a safe and responsible way.”

Whether or not we see more of these from Live Nation (others are also producing drive-in styled shows), those involved with Live From The Drive-In that Pollstar spoke with seem to unanimously agree they were well worth doing, if not the new normal, especially at 4,000 fans for those accustomed to playing for 20,000.

“Do I think it’s the way of life? I don’t think so,” says Paisley manager Bill Simmons. “You just can’t do enough people, I don’t know if it’s practical. It’s one thing to run up the road to St. Louis or Indianapolis, but I don’t know about big tours, where they’re trapped on buses. We need to get back to the full thing, not just for the artists, but everything that it supports, the ticket takers, the ushers, security, sound, lights and video, it goes on and on. There are so many people dependent on the entertainment industry for their way of life. I hope we can get back to normal as soon as possible.”
That said, Paisley believes the concept might be fun as a festival-styled event when things are back to normal. “The concept is fantastic, and it might be really fun when this [pandemic] is over, if you could do it in such a way that the barriers are lifted, where you don’t have to go in shifts to the restrooms and sanitize them every 20 minutes, and also where you can mingle with your buddies on their truck. It would be fun to do one of these like that, that’s almost a festival setting, almost a ‘car fest meets music fest.’” 
To watch Brad Paisley’s conversation with Ray Waddell, go to at 12 p.m. ET/9 am PT.