After the pandemic hit, it took a couple months for promoters to figure out how to stage events as a drive-in. One of the largest is at the Monmouth Park racetrack in New Jersey, partnering with the Count Basie Center for the Arts, that can accommodate 1,000 cars. Later this summer Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, with Live Nation, will host about 800 cars for concerts. This month the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Del., started hosting concerts at Frawley Stadium for about 185 cars.
This week a nationally touring variety show, Parking Lot Social, lands in Philadelphia at the Navy Yard marching grounds, for a 10-day stay. The run of events changes nightly, with comedy, movies, games, and car-a-oke singing (get it?), with a capacity of about 250 cars.
In most larger events, people are not allowed outside their cars. The live music is piped into their car stereos through an FM radio transmitter.
Smaller events, like Tupelo Music Hall in New Hampshire with about 75 cars and People’s Light in Malvern with about 65 cars, have a little more flexibility. The music is pumped out through loudspeakers just like a traditional live show.
At People’s Light, the cars are parked in every other space. People can spill out into the empty parking spot on the driver’s side with their lawn chairs and coolers, and listen to the music in the open air. The cars themselves act as distancing buffers.
The Parking Lot Social at the Navy Yard is produced by XL Event Lab, a company based in Florida. It earned its reputation, in normal times, with things like headphone dance parties and Big Bounce America, a huge inflatable bouncy-castle attraction that toured the country. The drive-in event stays on-brand with enormous inflatable elements, including two giant gorillas and a rainbow fire hydrant.
Parking Lot Social distinguishes its drive-in events by featuring games along with the movies and comedy and DJs. It’s an effort to get the audience to interact while remaining inside their cars.
“With the trivia and bingo and karaoke, it’s another aspect of the social vibe, because everyone has been locked up in their homes,” said Danielle Hodge, a event manager with XL Event Lab. “It’s a little more than going to a movie. It’s a social vibe.”
Parking Lot Social launched in Houston last month, then spent a week in Tampa. Before it opened for a weekend run here, organizers already extended the Philadelphia stop another week. It began July 22 and runs through August 2.