Are Drive-In Concerts the Last, Best Hope for Live Music in 2020?

Already popular in Europe, the outdoor-ish experiences are coming to SoCal–and they might be the only IRL option for stream-fatigued fans

Even as retail, dining, and other industries rumble towards reopening, the live entertainment business lags far behind. Large concert venues and music festivals are expected to be among the very last phases of the recovery, due to the risks of having crowds gather, particularly indoors. Musicians have jumped to stage livestream concerts during quarantine, but many fans and performers crave the in-person experience–even if it comes in a modified form. Drive-in concerts appear poised to offer the next-best-thing to a traditional concert for the time being.

Drive-in concerts have already caught on in Korea and Europe as quarantine-weary audiences seek alternatives to completely staying at home. Series in Denmark and Germany bring out hundreds of cars for shows; one German dance club even staged a “drive-in rave” in its own parking lot this month, with crowd members honking horns and flashing headlights along with the music in place of dancing and applause.

Now that drive-in movie theaters cleared for operation by public health officials across Southern California, one local event producer figured it was about time for the region to see its first drive-in concert.

“My production company has been around for 12 years and we produce large-scale concerts and music festivals,” CBF Productions founder Vincenzo Giammanco says. “When you own a company that thrives off social settings, and then all of a sudden you can’t do things in social settings, we had to ask, ‘Well, what’s next?’ And we came up with this idea.”

That idea became Concerts in Your Car, an event series launching at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in June. Concerts will offer 500 carloads of fans at a time the chance to watch a live, in-person performance. Shows will take place at a pop-up venue built at the fairgrounds, that includes not only a stage and system to transmit the performance to car radios, but also an elaborate lighting rig and massive video monitors to provide visual entertainment that can be seen from any parking spot, among other high-tech tricks.

“This is a completely new experience,” Giammanco says. “You’re not a drive-in movie theatre. But it’s not your traditional concert, either. It’s something that is going to be a pretty epic experience.”

Two shows featuring Super Duper Kyle on June 12 and 13 kick off the series which, Giammanco hopes, will continue through the end of August. While the dates and headliners of upcoming shows have not yet been announced, he promises a mix of genres, perhaps also including stand-up comedy as well as music.

He says he hasn’t had trouble finding artists willing to get over the strangeness of playing a show to an audience of parked cars. “Every day my lists gets longer of artists that want to work,” he says. “And this is a historic event. This will probably go down in the history books as such a unique time, and we’re going to remember this unique thing we did to adapt to entertain during it.”

In addition to the musicians and production crews getting to ply their trades, Giammanco estimates that the series could put a million dollars into the local economy in Ventura. Much of that stimulus, he hopes, will come from concert-goers picking up food and beverage from local vendors to picnic in their cars during the show. Health rules don’t allow for any food or beverage service at the venue, but a directory of nearby partner restaurants offering takeout packages will be offered to all ticket buyers.

In addition to the Ventura Fairgrounds series, Giammanco’s company is looking at expanding to other venues around the region, pending conversations with local health officials and some other logistical challenges. But, even as his project grows, the circumstances make any success a bit bittersweet.

“I hope that what I’m creating is a temporary solution to a temporary problem,” he says. “Ultimately, we want to go back to how it used to be, 10,000 people in a venue, that’s how we thrive.”

RELATED: Legendary West Hollywood Music Venue the Troubadour Is in Trouble

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.