As concert venues remain closed, parking lot concerts keep live music going

As of July 1, Atlanta's live music venues can officially re-open, but most are not. Enter: the Parking Lot Concert series.

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Skooly Nobody Likes Me release party Starlight Drive In Atlanta
Cars are parked at the Skooly album release party, held at Starlight Drive-In back in May.

Photograph by Joshua Smith/E&C Photography

When Street Execs partners David Leeks and Allen Parks decided to host a parking lot concert for rapper Skooly following an album release party at Starlight Drive-In in May, they realized they might be onto something.

Artists in other cities had just started to use outdoor spaces, such as drive-in movie theaters, to host drive-in concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic. After Keith Urban hosted a drive-in show in May for medical workers in Tennessee, Variety reported Live Nation’s plans to produce a series of concerts in the parking lots of its amphitheaters this summer. Leeks and Parks, who were previously behind 2 Chainz’s Pink Trap House and other marketing successes in the city, saw an opportunity in Atlanta and launched the Parking Lot Concert series.

 

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@iamtravisporter putting on a hell of a show #parkinglotconcert

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Taking place at the Murphy Park Fairgrounds in Southwest Atlanta, the venue has space for 300 parked cars, and attendees can tune their radios to a specific station to listen to the live performance in front of them. Leeks and Parks said all four of the shows they’ve hosted so far with Atlanta-based artists—Schooly, Travis Porter, Young Dro, and Peewee Longway—have reached capacity. This weekend, they’ll host a July 4th show, “Home of the Brave: Atown Bash,” that features Crime Mob, Fabo, Kilo Ali, Pastor Troy, Dem Franchize Boyz, and more.

Parking lot concert series Atlanta
Cars line up at the Murphy Park Fairgrounds for a Parking Lot Concert.

Photograph courtesy of Parking Lot Concerts

Thanks to an executive order signed last month by Governor Brian Kemp, traditional live performance venues will be allowed to officially open their doors this week for the first time since March—as long as they adhere to more than two dozen safety requirements involving social distancing and increased sanitation efforts. Live event venues throughout the country, not just in Atlanta, have spent the past few months struggling to decide how to best navigate the pandemic. According to Billboard, concert venues in Oklahoma and Missouri have been allowed to reopen with safety guidelines in place. Concert venues in Texas have also been allowed to operate at a limited capacity since May, but increased cases in the state have led to some businesses, including bars where some concerts take place, to be shut down again.

But despite the executive order, most of Atlanta’s concert venues are still deciding when and how they will reopen. While restaurants have relied on social media to update patrons on reopening plans, the profiles of many of Atlanta’s most prominent music venues have remained largely silent, save for posting black squares to support the Black Lives Matter movement and announcing streamed events. Most have not publicly commented on when fans will be able to attend live shows again.

When contacted for this story, Live Nation, the company that books most of the concerts at the Coca-Cola Roxy, the Buckhead Theatre and the Tabernacle, directed Atlanta to its list of concert updates in lieu of a statement. At the time of publication, there were no concerts scheduled until August 8, when Desi Banks is set to perform at Buckhead Theatre. Zero Mile, the company that books shows at Terminal West, Variety Playhouse, and the Georgia Theatre in Athens, also declined to comment on future reopening plans. All of the summer events on the company’s website are postponed or cancelled. Decatur staple Eddie’s Attic did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the Fox Theatre said the venue hasn’t set a date to reopen yet, but it won’t be in July.

While the executive order is “a welcome step forward from the previous mandated closure,” Josh Antenucci, senior partner at Rival Entertainment, the company that operates Center Stage, the Loft, and Vinyl, says that social distancing guidelines still make it difficult for venues to reopen. “Until the distancing requirement is relaxed, there’s no practical and safe way to resume a business rooted in the practice of gathering people.” As such, Center Stage will remain closed, too.

Reopening venues is just one step in bringing back live performances. “It’s not just that the venues are closed,” Antenucci says. “In order for artists to ramp back up, they need to have a comfort level in their ability to do so safely and that all of the venues that they play will do so safely.”

Part of that equation—being able to host a show without fear of getting sued. A June article in Billboard examined the liability of venues and promoters in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak at one of their events. “I would have a very hard time telling my client that if you comply with what the government has said as to reopening, that you’re in the clear,” Kinsella Weitzman, Iser Kump & Aldisert partner, told the publication. “This is something that will be adjudicated with a lot of hindsight bias. It’s so difficult to predict what a court will say a year and a half from now.”

“There is no mistaking the fact that this [pandemic] is devastating for the live events industry,” Rival Enertainment’s Antenucci says. “It’s also becoming increasingly obvious that in order to operate in the new norm is going to be more expensive than in the past.” He noted that the “economic shift” will inevitably mean concerts will cost more for patrons and venues. Promoters and artists will also face an increased financial burden.

 

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Every Saturday we giving vibes #parkinglotconcert

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As traditional live music venues hold off on re-opening, the pivot to hosting concerts in parking lots allows artists who have been cut off from touring—a main source of revenue for musicians—to get on stage and connect with fans in a time of increased isolation. Still, some of these concerts have garnered critiques.

In a video shared on Twitter from Travis Porter’s Parking Lot Concert concert in June, a crowd of people are seen standing in front of the lot’s parked cars, as women twerk on car hoods to the rap group’s strip club anthem, “Bring it Back.” (Ahead of the Travis Porter concert, fans were able to purchase access to a “front row twerk section” for $15.) As with the Skooly listening party in May, few people in the video from the Travis Porter show are wearing masks.

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And with cases surging in Georgia, some are concerned that these concerts, like dining inside restaurants or packing bars, are another example of the city’s recklessness during the pandemic.

Street Execs’ Leeks and Parks say they provide free masks to everyone who enters the parking lot. They also offer an option for attendees to order food from participating vendors and have it delivered to their car. On their website, they encourage people to stay in their cars during the concerts and to wear a mask in the event that they leave their vehicle.

Leeks said they plan to continue the series throughout the summer, hosting one concert every Saturday and eventually expanding into other genres outside of hip-hop.

“I’m not really worried about what’s going on indoors until I see the temperature of the American people [change],” he said. “I think parking lot and outside car concerts are here to stay.”

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