Covid-19 has modernized the concert- and we’re better off for it

This article was originally published in The Sting on September 4, 2020.

Wile & Smith and Friends (now known as Copper Bets) play a rooftop show in Hanover, PA. Photo: Tony Sheaffer

Summer, for many, means live music and thriving concert venues.

In the past, outdoor venues boom during spring and summer months. Bands typically tour and pack stadiums or headline big name festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella

As concerts and festivals began to cancel and bands began to postpone (or even cancel) their tours in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, fans worried for the future of summer nights filled with live music. 

In May, venues slowly began to reopen, and I received a text from a buddy asking about my plans for that Saturday night. I had none. 

“Show up at the bar”, he said. Before March, this bar had become a regular Wednesday night hangout where we jammed to old blues songs and original material. The bar was still closed for dine-in, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t host a Beatles style concert with my friends and their band on the rooftop.

Crowd attending the rooftop show. Photo: Tony Sheaffer

After an hour drive to the bar in Hanover, PA, I pulled into the parking lot across the street. Attendees sat in front of their cars, socially distant, and relishing the opportunity to see live music for the first time in months.  

The band, Wile & Smith and Friends, played mostly country and blues, but made sure to throw in two profoundly appropriate Beatles covers (“Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down”). Despite the pandemic, live music was back.

Since then, I have seen a few local acts playing at outdoor venues like breweries with socially distant tables and mask requirements when ordering food and drinks. Mask aside, it feels like any other summer. 

But, I asked myself: If live local music is back, when would I get to see some of the big names who were forced to cancel tours again?

My answer came in late July in the form of a Facebook ad for The Struts upcoming performance in Philadelphia. In an instant, I clicked to purchase tickets and learned I only needed one ticket as the show was a drive-in concert. A single ticket covered up to four people in a single car. A new and affordable concert experience? Sign me up!

Fans getting ready for The Struts’ drive-in concert at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. Photo: Tony Sheaffer

When we arrived, we were directed to a parking spot where we rolled down our windows and enjoyed the evening breeze. We turned our radios to the specific station supplementing the sounds from on-stage.  This was my second time seeing The Struts in concert. Thankfully, they didn’t disappoint on either occasion. 

Want to get a crowd of car sitters going? Luke Spiller, frontman for The Struts, is the man for the job. He held the crowd in the palm of his hand as he split us in half, motioning for specific sides to honk their horns (the new version of clapping) when he gave the cue. Needless to say the experience was magical. 

Perhaps one of the best parts was ordering merchandise and food. We were given a QR code that we scanned before being prompted to enter our parking spot number where we could order right from our phones. No more waiting in lines. Somewhere, off in the distance, someone completed our order and delivered it via golf cart to our car.

Getting out was pretty easy too. Since we were already in the car at the show’s end, we just started driving towards I-95 taking us home. .

Maybe I’m just getting old or something, but the ease that came with this show makes me almost dread any “post-COVID era” show.

If you asked me back in April if I planned on seeing live music, it would have been a resounding no. 

Hell, I was ready to write a breakup song for the relationship between 2020 and live music. 

So what does the future look like?

Socially distant outdoor shows with big names like The Struts performing to seas of parking lots in a slight return to drive-in entertainment on par with the drive-in movie theater. Fans in Europe are able to attend concerts and music festivals while being seperated by temporary fencing limiting fans to specific areas, namely fenced-in cubicles. 

Honestly if concerts look like that after COVID, I’m sold. Gone may be the days where folks trip over you and your friends as they stumble back to their own spot – and we’d all be better off for it. 

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

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