Socially distant concerts signal a reopening for live music

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FILE - This Oct. 9, 2014 file photo shows The Eli Young Band performing during halftime of an NFL football game in Houston. The band will perform as part of the Concert in Your Car series at the new Texas Rangers stadium ,Globe Life Field, in Arlington, Texas starting June 4. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The last time bassist Jon Jones played a concert with his country group Eli Young Band was March 8. He hopes to hit the stage again in June to launch a new drive-in concert series in his first return to live music with fans since the devastating coronavirus.

“This is going to be a surreal kind of setting,” Jones said of plans to play acoustically to 400 cars full of people at the new Texas Rangers stadium in Arlington, Texas.

As states start to let businesses reopen under limitations, music industry organizers are testing out new models of smaller, socially distant concerts. Jones is cautiously optimistic that drive-in concerts might help crack open a door for musicians that slammed shut so quickly in March.

“We’re going to be one of those last industries, those last segments that opens up, unfortunately,” Jones said. “I do hope that everybody is cautious and opens up appropriately and slowly.”

George Couri, of artist management company Triple 8 Management, teamed up with the Rangers to put on the four-night concert series called Concert in Your Car starting June 4. The interest was so high that tickets sold out quickly and additional shows were added. In all 3,200 tickets have been sold.

“It’s about creating an experience for live music again,” said Couri. “The big driver for me is to prove it can work. It would give people hope that this can be repeated again and again in many different places.”

But the path ahead for live concerts hasn’t been easy. A venue in Arkansas initially had to postpone an indoor concert that would have defied the state’s ban on large gatherings after health officials ordered the show shut down. The concert featuring singer Travis McCready went on Monday night.

Drive-in concerts aren’t new, but in the wake of the pandemic, the idea hit in Europe and now the United States. Country star Keith Urban played a drive-in theater in Tennessee last week with scaled back production and crew, but he said that he thinks the concert industry in the near future will pivot to a drive-in style, but with larger capacity.