Thomas Turner keeps hearing the same question, one that’s on every music fan’s mind.
“People keep asking me, ‘When the fuck are festivals and concerts coming back?’” he says. “I haven’t been able to tell them much, other than, ‘We’ll see.’”
Now, the local electronic dance music promoter can give an answer. After months away, live music is slowly returning to the Valley with drive-in concerts. As traditional venues remain in limbo, shows are happening at shopping centers or drive-ins with fans in their cars listening as performances are broadcast over low-power FM transmitters.
Bob Bentley, co-owner of Digital Drive-In in Mesa, has booked a few concerts since the theater’s debut in April and says it's tapping into a substantial demand. (Case in point: The initial wave of tickets for this weekend’s show by jam-rock band Spafford at his drive-in sold out minutes after going on sale.)
“People are starving for live entertainment, and movies and livestreaming can only fill so much of that void,” Bentley says. “Everyone wants to go to concerts and we're trying to help satisfy this hunger.”
Tickets are also moving fast for Road Rave Arizona, a drive-in EDM festival on Friday, May 29, and Saturday, May 30, at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Chandler co-promoted by Turner’s company Relentless Beats along with Live Nation and DJ superstar Carnage.
Turner’s pleased with the response but was initially lukewarm to drive-in concerts because of the overly involved setup, like enforcing social distancing. (The financial risks of running a show during a pandemic also didn’t help.) It took cajoling from Carnage to get him onboard.
“It was a gamble, but that's the way everything is right now,” he says. “Carnage FaceTimed me and asked us to do it, so I decided just to test the waters, put tickets on sale, and see how viable this was.”
Musicians have been playing drive-in concerts in response to COVID-19 since early March. After a large-scale performance in April by Danish singer-songwriter Mads Langer went viral, the idea was seen as a viable workaround to pandemic-related event bans. Since then, well-known artists like Keith Urban and promoters like Live Nation have embraced the concept.
The Valley took longer to get up to speed. Digital Drive-In AZ launched a weekly daytime concert series in mid-April before canceling after one show because of a triple-digit heatwave. They’re now only having live music at night.
Turner has also endured a lot of trial and error with Road Rave, but thinks drive-in festivals could be a stopgap until everything returns to normal.
“You’ve got to try different things to get the [concert] industry functioning again. So here's where I can do something that keeps people’s jobs and keeps them getting paid, as opposed to getting furloughed,” he says. “I feel like car concerts aren’t going to last forever. We're eventually getting on to the next phase, which I imagine is concerts with huge amounts of social-distancing.”
Until then, drive-in concerts will keep bringing in crowds. Here’s where they’ll happen over the next few weekends.
Drive-In Dine-In ConcertSaturday, May 23
Uptown Plaza, 100 East Camelback Road
This upscale shopping center is getting into the drive-in concert game with a two-night affair featuring local indie rockers Vinyl Station. It's free to attend, leaving you to splurge on food and drinks from Uptown Plaza’s eateries. Huss Brewing Co. will have Schreiner’s hot dogs with bags of popcorn for $19 (serves two), $6 beer cheese nachos, $2.50 Mexican Coke products, while Scoopwell’s Dough Bar offers a family four-pack of mini ice cream sandwiches and other treats for $17. The gig goes from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
SpaffordSunday, May 24
Digital Drive-In AZ, 1901 North Alma School Road, Mesa, 480-308-1515
The popular local electro-funk/jam rock act will perform two epic sets, each going up to three hours, when they hit the stage at Digital Drive-In AZ on Sunday night. Spafford’s members also reportedly are planning a few surprises for the show, which gets going at 7 p.m.
If you’re interested in attending, the band is selling a number of “limited view” tickets in the outdoor theater’s east lot, which will allow you to see the rear of the stage only. A 24-foot-tall HD screen will broadcast everything happening on the main stage. It’s $100 per vehicle (with a maximum of four people inside) and tickets can be purchased on Spafford’s website.
Road RaveFriday, May 29, and Saturday, May 30
Wild Horse Motorsports Park, 20000 South Maricopa Road, Chandler, 480-900-1588
Sorry ravers, but Road Rave won’t have all the amenities of a typical music festival (read: no alcohol sales or vendors). You can still rage to bangers or melt into a cuddle puddle with others in your group, provided it's within your 27-foot-by-28-foot reserved space.
“It's like going to a restaurant with a small group of people,” Turner says. “You can get out and walk around, but you’ll need to be in your area with people you came with in the car.”
Ravers also can’t trade kandi with neighbors, as social distancing will be strictly enforced. (Since masks are quintessential EDM gear, we’re guessing you’re cool with wearing one, which is recommended.)
In addition to Carnage, there will be sets by SayMyName, Deorro, Hulk Gang, Paz, Bijou, Paz, and others. Concessions can be ordered online through Road Rave's website and delivered to cars. Gates open at 7 p.m. and it's a 16-and-over event. There’s a cap of 500 vehicles, each will be assigned different parking areas based on size. Admission is $90 for sedans seating five or less, and $135 to $375 for vans/SUVs with up to eight people.
Sunday Night Drive-In ConcertsSundays, June 7-28
Digital Drive-In AZ, 1901 North Alma School Road, Mesa, 480-308-1515
If you couldn't nab any of the main stage tickets to this weekend’s Spafford gig, the good news is Digital Drive-In AZ will host shows every Sunday in June. Each starts at 7:30 p.m. and has a theme – like the country night on June 14 or a jam band sesh on June 28.
Sets will be on two stages and local food trucks will be stationed nearby with contact-free delivery. Vehicle stalls will have up to 12 feet of space available, but you’re encouraged to maintain distance from your neighbors. The lineups for each show are still being finalized, but updates will be posted to the event's Facebook's page. Admission is $60 per stall (a $20 food truck credit is included) via Digital Drive-In AZ's website.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.