While it may be a divisive issue in the live events industry, there is no denying that the drive-in concept offers a neat option for concertgoers to gather safely and adhere to COVID-19 restrictions. Adopted swiftly by event organisers in Europe and the United States, it was only a matter of time before the UK hosted its own brand of drive-in concerts and events. One of the first out of the gate was @TheDriveIn, which not only represented one of the first drive-in shows, but also presented one of the first examples of a touring production with multiple cities hosting a band of technical crew from July until October. The production was brought to life by Mainstage Festivals – the team behind such events as Snowboxx, Kala, Explorations and ION. Mere days after having to turn his trucks back on the way to prep for Snowboxx and Anjunabeats Elevations in France, with the global pandemic putting paid to the company’s entire summer schedule, Festival Director, Alan Crofton began to hatch a plan to ensure that Mainstage would still be able to host at least one event this summer. The result was Suzuki Presents @TheDriveIn – a multi-date, UK-wide tour to provide a safe and friendly event experience that offers fun, films and food. The retro-themed drive-in cinema experience brought a mixture of recent blockbusters and timeless classics to the big screen. Hosting up to 130 cars per showing, the team hopes to give up to 15,000 customers a night of entertainment by the end of the run. As well as the film, each event also featured a selection of games including Lucky Licence
Plates, silent car discos, as well as live stand-up comedy. Taking up the story was Production Manager, Giles Bristow. “It’s really great to be back out working,” he began. The PM and his team had already successfully put on three nights of @TheDriveIn at Blackheath, South London – the first stop of the tour. “We’ve got a great site here and both the crew and the audience have loved the event so far,” he stated. Winding the clocks back, the PM explained how the event came to pass. “After turning around the 17 trucks that were on their way to the French Alps for Snowboxx and Anjunabeats Elevations, I had a conversation with Alan about the idea of the drive-in show. Three weeks after saying I was interested, the website was up and running with the marketing team primed and ready to promote the event.” Preparing any multiple-date tour brings up myriad details and stumbling blocks. Factor in the number of COVID-19 lockdown regulations and suddenly this becomes a very challenging task. “Due to the lockdown, we were unable to visit all the sites, so we relied heavily on Google Maps to develop a plan for each site,” stated the PM. Key to the success of this operation has been the fact that Bristow was able to surround himself with a number of long-standing crew as well as key suppliers that Mainstage has used for a number of its other events. ADI provided its new iCONIC 60C screen, which is the largest containerised LED screen in Europe and the latest addition to the iCONIC fleet. The new offering is a 10.5m by 6m display in a container-style unit,

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which allowed maximum visibility for the audience. “It’s an incredible piece of technology,” enthused the Production Manager. During the build at Blackheath, a few of the ADI team came down to set up the system, with the goal of handing the reins over to the Mainstage team once it was up and running, with a tech from ADI also joining the crew on the road. Thomas Taylor, ADI’s Business Development Manager commented: “Our continued investment and innovation in event LED is bringing greater choice and quality to organisers across the UK and Europe. The iCONIC 60C is particularly well suited to the drive-in events that are so popular at the moment since it delivers a huge HD LED screen with secure container unit, and comparatively compact footprint. It’s great to see the new screens in action and entertaining audiences around the UK, starting with Suzuki Presents @TheDriveIn.” The audio demands for the project were handled by Bristow’s own company, Acute Audio Productions. As with many of this style of show, the audio solution selected was a transmitter that could then be tuned into by the audiences’ car radios. “I’ve personally been in touch with Ofcom
for each city to ensure we are able to broadcast at each site,” Bristow confirmed. For the transmission, the PM looked at all the various options available but, in the end, opted to purchase a brand-new system. “We purchased the system from a Dutch company called Broadcast FM. It ended up being cheaper to buy a new system than rent one for the 13-week run.” Bristow explained that this new system was “state of the art” offering both DSP and RDS. “The broadcast we have is the highest quality audio signal and all of our content is DVD Blu-ray. The quality people have got from their cars is absolutely outstanding.” Moving the conversation onto the logistics of working on the site, TPi chatted to @TheDriveIn’s Show Caller and Stage Manager, Heather McMillan. Brought in a week prior to opening night, McMillan wasted no time into throwing herself into the project. “It was nice to be back working on an event again,” she enthused. “There was a slight learning curve for the first show, working out how to make the event work for an in-car audience and what shots would work for this kind of crowd.” She went on to explain how there had been some trial and error in finding ways to engage

“The first day I sat at my desk and started to pull everything together, I had forgotten what it was like to advance something that was actually happening the following week rather than the hypothetical events that have taken up my time during lockdown. I forgot how much I like the pressure!” Show Caller and Stage Manager, Heather McMillan

the live audiences. “Our first night of stand-up comedy before the movie screening was an interesting process,” she explained. “However, we have found so far that after a few minutes of finding their feet, the comics become accustomed to the setup, and the lack of normal response for a crowd in a venue.” With a limited crew size, McMillan explained how most of the crew ended up wearing multiple hats throughout the production. “This event isn’t like a major festival where people have defined roles – it’s really just all hands-on deck,” she commented. “It’s just been such a buzz,” she concluded. “The first day I sat at my desk and started to pull everything together, I had forgotten what it was like to advance something that was actually happening the following week rather than the hypothetical events that have taken up my time during lockdown. I forgot how much I like the pressure!” Also giving her two cents on the project was Operations and Event Manager, Nat Taylor. A familiar face at a number of Mainstage Festivals’ other projects, Taylor was one of the key members responsible for ensuring the safety of crew and audiences alike. “We have an advance safety email that goes out to all ticket holders, which provides them with all the information they need for the site,” she began. “Anyone due to attend these events submits their car registration. This mean there is no need for any face-to-face interaction with audiences and our team on the doors. “During the show, the only time people need to leave their cars is when they need to go to the toilets,” explained the Operations Manager. “For the
toilets, we have put in place a 2m queueing system with hand sanitiser on the entrance and the exit.” Food could be ordered throughout the show via an app-based system with servers bringing the orders to the car in a zero-contact system similar to that adopted by delivery services throughout lockdown. “We are encouraging attendees to also take all rubbish with them to avoid any contaminating,” interjected Bristow, who joked that he hoped this habit continued when regular events returned. “It is the cleanest site I have ever seen with next to no litter.” “The crowds have been very respectful of all the rules that are in place,” mused Taylor, “Almost everyone has followed the rules to the letter and been kind to our staff throughout.” With the London dates coming to an end, @TheDriveIn is setting its sights on the rest of the UK. At the time of writing, the next stop on the itinerary is Newcastle, with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton and Brighton following close behind. TPi