Drive-in concerts map the pandemic way forward for live entertainment

Sudbury’s own Andrew Hyatt opened the mainstage event at Flat Rock Entertainment Centre earlier this month. photos by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT – Flat Rock Entertainment Centre (FREC) host KT Timmermans doesn’t mind admitting that she was a little bit nervous when she and her husband Craig agreed to rent their venue for a pair of back to back concerts recently—but the results not only allayed her concerns in spades, but provided some badly needed inspiration for the future, should the pandemic not subside before next year’s season.

“It was pretty good,” said Ms. Timmermans. “It was the first time we had done something like this so there were some concerns going in.” As it turned out, those concerns were quickly allayed. 

“Everyone was respectful of the rules, didn’t question them and that was a big relief,” she said. “I didn’t want to be having to enforce them.” Being the heavy is not her forte, admitted the radio host and concert organizer more used to pumping up the crowd and providing hugs and handshakes aplenty during the popular Manitoulin Country Fest and Rockin the Rock festivals.

“It worked well,” said Ms. Timmermans. “From a pilot perspective, I was happy to be able to do this.”

The country and rock musical productions were not a FREC event, but put on by a promoter out of Sudbury. “We didn’t do the tickets or anything, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect or where people would be coming from,” she said. “That was a particular concern since we have been doing so well on the Island in keeping the virus out.”

Normally, Ms. Timmermans would know where the tickets for an event were being sold, but the crowd adhered well to all of the rules and regulations in place without question.

Manitoulin Country Fest and Rockin the Rock were cancelled this year due to the pandemic regulations.

“I like to remain optimistic,” said Ms. Timmermans, “but you have to be realistic too. If we have to pivot in 2021 there was definitely a lot to look at as to how and what it would be like. A drive-in country music festival is definitely a doable thing.”

In fact, with this being more of a venue rental, the event was “easy peasy” compared to a normal festival weekend. “We were very happy with the event and would be delighted to do it again if the opportunity were to present itself,” she said. 

There were around 160 cars on the Friday night and about 110 on the Saturday, with most cars holding four people. Tickets were sold on a per car basis, with a maximum of five passengers allowed in each.

Sudbury’s up-and-coming country musician Andrew Hyatt stopped for a chat with The Expositor after opening the Friday night schedule.

“Probably the most unique season I’ve had since I’ve been in music,” he said. “We’ve been joking that it is like the summer of Grade 7, like the last summer before responsibility actually sets in. Just enough shows to sustain you and you are actually able to work on new music, it has been good for me. We just bought a house in Sudbury and we are renovating, so it’s given me time to do the things I normally wouldn’t have time to do.”

One hundred and sixty cars lined up, six feet apart, on the Friday night of the weekend concert series.

This is the third drive-in show Mr. Hyatt has performed at. “I also got to do some backyard sessions,” he said. “We started doing those sessions with some Canadian artists.” Like a house concert outside? “Yeah, but with a proper sound system brought in,” he said.

“We have a single out today called ‘Neverland,’ it is being officially released around mid-October,” he said. “We have to get back into the studio to record new material.”

Luckily for Mr. Hyatt, his steady band hails largely from Toronto, so there have been no cross-border challenges.

“The pandemic has been hard on musicians, but I really feel for the back-up crews,” he said. 

The folks who haul equipment and set up lighting also depend on the concert venues throughout the summer season, but they don’t usually get the recognition and fame to propel other avenues for revenue. “The musicians have royalties and we can get by on stripped down shows for the time being, but it has been a long hard go for the backstage guys. Their work has really all but dried up.”

But as for now, the drive-in concert venue has proven itself as a viable, if somewhat downscaled, alternative.

“We just have to come to terms with it,” said Ms. Timmermans, “we have to keep our community safe. That always has to be job one.”