Bounceback for drive-in cinemas sees some look beyond the silver screen

Tim Kridel speaks with Jonny ‘Tosar’ Tosarello, partner and event producer at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Drive-In (RnR), a recently revived drive-in theatre in Missouri, USA.

TK: After the pandemic is over, do you see tours adding drive-ins alongside traditional venues such as amphitheatres? John Schneider said: “A lot of my traveling music friends, they say they’re coming to the drive-in, but they’re really not. They’re doing a concert on the screen from somewhere else. To me, that’s not really coming to your drive-in, your town. That’s campaigning from your basement.” I thought that was a really interesting way to describe the difference from the traditional model of concerts streamed to theatres and drive-ins. Considering your extensive tour experience, I think you’d probably have some insights into this business opportunity for drive-ins.  

JT: I think it depends a lot on what artist it is and what their production requirements are, not to mention capacity of the venue. Obviously your typical drive-in’s capacity is going to be much less than your average amphitheatre and/or arena so depending on who it is and what size venue that production is programming and routing really makes those decisions. It all comes down to math. How many cars can the drive-in hold? How much can you afford the ticket price per car/person/market? How much does the artist and its production cost?

Now who knows, maybe Skynyrd will stop and play a few drive-in’s this year. I can recommend a killer one in Missouri. Lol. But there lies another issue. Most drive-in’s won’t have the infrastructure to handle a “tour” system. So what does the tour do with all of their sound and lighting equipment just sitting in their trucks, being paid for? Is the tour only running the festival circuit and is using house sound and lighting systems that most drive-ins don’t have? So someone needs to provide a mobile or festival stage, sound and lighting. If so, who? The promoter, the venue or the production?

Before 2020 these were much easier questions to answer since nobody was really looking to play drive-in’s. I guess what I’m saying is there are so many different factors, it’s hard to answer the main question: Do I see tours adding drive-ins alongside traditional venues? All depends on the production.

Now I will tell you that we are hosting a live music event at Rock’n’Roll Drive-In this May. This particular event is carrying all of its own production from the mobile stage, sound and lighting to cameras, backline and crew. They need a feed to the house projector and a few other things here and there but nothing major. They have designed a tour around drive-ins theatres knowing that they aren’t set up to properly host live entertainment.

Now I must say I think most tours will enjoy their experience at Rock’n’Roll Drive-In as we have some extra bells and whistles most drive-ins don’t. We have a fibre optic/Dante network that ties our laser projector, stadium sound and DMX lighting together making it quite easy for tours to incorporate any of these into their production.  


TK: Does a drive-in need to have any additional types of AV gear, or live event infrastructure, to support tours? Or do they bring their own PA, lights and everything else they need? I ask because our readers would be interested in whether more live events would prompt some drive-ins to make upgrades.  

JT: In short, yes. Depending on the production and their production rider, the venue would need to have or have access to any necessary “house” production elements (i.e., stage, sound, lighting and projector feed) but I would think that would also include local crew/stagehands, dressing rooms, catering, security, etc.

It’s kind of funny you ask this because we at RnR, plan on building a permanent stage (with retractable roof) and basic house production elements (sound and lighting systems, etc.) in the not-so-distant future. 


TK: Anything else you’d like to add about drive-ins or the cinema market overall?

JT: I would just add that some people have asked me if I think the drive-in is a trend that will disappear after things settle down with the virus. I honestly don’t think they will. In fact, I think drive-ins are here to stay, more now than ever. It’s a place to go and still socially distance and create memories with family and friends.

And I think the cooler the drive-in is and the more bells, whistles and amenities it has, the longer it will be around! Our team has really put our hearts and souls into this project and will continue to do so. We are building this for our families and our community.

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