As a child growing up in the ’60s in Indiana, few things were as sweet as a Saturday night at the drive-in. It was a cheap escape and quality family time. You didn’t have to worry about what to wear. In fact, the littlest ones often were in PJs so that as soon as we got home, they could immediately be put to b-e-d. There was something about piling into the backseat with sisters, cozy, comfortable, watching the big screen, which was way better than TV. Better still, if it was a pay week and we got to hit the concession stand. If not, the jug of Kool-Aid and homemade popcorn was just as good.
With the coronavirus, that slice of Americana so popular in the 50s and 60s, is making a comeback. “Everything old is new again,” says Michael Kilgore, who runs Carload.com and is author of Drive-Ins of Route 66.
During its peak there were some 4,000 drive-ins. As of October of 2019, there were 305, according to the United Drive-In Theater Owners Association. The vast open spaces are ideal for social distancing. The attraction isn’t only movies, but drive-ins have also become venues for concerts, graduations and business events.
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Now, there’s a boom in pop-up drive-ins. This summer Yankee Stadium’s parking lot will become home to the Uptown Drive-In Experience with live performances by local talent, car side dinner service from street vendors, drinks, movies, games, raffles, and giveaways. Tickets are sold online on a first-come, first serve basis. This is the brainchild of MASC Hospitality Group. Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins recently announced it will turn its field into a drive-in for the summer. It will showcase Miami Dolphins content from the team’s history, classic movies, host commencement ceremonies, and other events. Creative entrepreneurs like Christopher Escobar, who had to close his Plaza Theatre in Atlanta mid-March because of COVID-19, turned his theater’s parking lot and that of an improv theater’s that was closed because of the pandemic into drive-ins.
So is the resurgence of the drive-in likely to fade as soon as the pandemic becomes a memory? Brynne Moseley, who along with her dad helps run the Holiday Drive In in Rockport, Indiana that her grandmother owns says, “There are not many drive-ins left in the country. I believe the fun and uniqueness of the drive-ins will always remain. Even when people will have more choices of things to do, the drive-in will still be on their list of option.”
Here’s a look-see at the doings at some drive-ins around the U.S.
Snowmass Drive-in Concerts, Snowmass, Colorado
Keeping the spirit of the Snowmass Free Concert Series alive, drive out to Snowmass Town Park for Snowmass’ new monthly Drive-in Concerts. On July 23, August 20 and September 17, a mobile stage will activate in Snowmass Town Park, featuring live music from a variety of genres and bands. Music lovers will have to maintain social distancing, remaining within their parking space.
Plaza Theatre, Cleburne, Texas
Then there’s the “drive up” live theater experience. In Cleburne, Texas “drive-in entertainment” and “car hops” is back en vogue. The Plaza troupe closed its in-the-round live theater venue because of COVID-19. They launched a new series of “drive up” theater performances. Each Saturday night a small troupe of (socially distanced) performers take the stage erected on the facility’s parking lot for a live musical revue. Guests watch from their cars, listening to the audio via their vehicle radios. Each week is a different show. Hungry? No problem, the folks at nearby Black Sheep Baa & Grill deliver dinner to your car. Admission is free, donations are appreciated.
Terry Bison Ranch Drive In Movie Night, Cheyenne, Wyoming
The ranch recently launched a Drive In Movie Night that also features live music at 7 until the sun goes down. Prices are $25 for a parking spot. You can choose to “pay a parking spot forward” for a member of the service and hospitality industry negatively impacted by COVID-19. Purchase grub via your cell and have it delivered to your car.
Quasar Drive-In Theater, Valley, Nebraska
The story goes, Jeff and Jenny Karls grew up loving drive-ins and their honeymoon even included a night at a drive-in. They’re living the dream and will open the only drive-in theater in the Omaha area in July. Kick back under the stars in retro style and take in first-run movies on Friday and Saturday, Thursday night is all about the throwbacks.
Drive-In at Sawyer Yards, Houston, Texas
This recently opened addition to the Rooftop Cinema Club (a group of drive-in theaters) showcases modern and classic films. Think new school—get your burger, grilled chicken or veggie sandwiches and fries from a food truck, or movie fare like popcorn and candy from the contactless snack bar, order and pay online and pick up at the kiosk. Grab a beer from the Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. onsite.
Falconwood Park, Bellevue, Nebraska
Throughout the summer soak in the scenery of the rolling hills while chilling at drive-in concerts. Hang in your car and check out local talent. You bring your own goodies. The fun can be had for $20 a person.
The Holiday Twin Drive-In, Fort Collins, Colorado
Any night of the week wind your way to the Holiday Twin, found near the Horsetooth Reservoir. How’s that for setting the vibe? This drive-in has been around since the late 1960s and is the only drive-in left in the city. Lately business is booming like its heyday. Look forward to special events like the two-day Beanstalk Music festival, June 26 and 27th. Watch performers play on the two screens and listen to the music in your car via a short-range FM radio.
The Hub 30A, South Walton, Florida
It doesn’t get more nostalgic than The Hub at 30A, a massive outdoor entertainment plaza that offers outdoor movies on a mega LED Jumbotron. While not a drive-in per se, it is an outdoor movie venue with plenty of space. You’ll find elevated versions of All-American favorites like burgers, milk shakes, snowballs and penny candy to bring back memories of a sweeter time. For grown up fun, there are two bars serving craft cocktails and beer.
Go old school
Moberly Five & Drive, Moberly, Missouri
For 70 years, this has been the spot to catch a flick. It’s been drawing huge crowds during the pandemic and the owners say some folks are driving from up to an hour away for a night out of the house. You can do things your way. Don’t be surprised if you spot a kid snuggled in a sleeping bag on the roof of the family’s car.
Sunset-Ellis Drive-In, Shinnston, West Virginia
While the drive-in is celebrating it’s 73rd season. It’s changing with the times; it expanded beyond the weekend and now includes Thursday nights. You’ll get a double feature of first run movies. It will host its first wedding and country music concert this summer.
Skyway Drive-in Theatre, Fish Creek, Wisconsin
Another oldie but goodie is the Skyway Drive-In, which opened seven decades ago. If it’s summer, then it’s movie time at the longest continuously running drive-in in Wisconsin. This family-owned theatre honors the past with its 1950’s classic speakers in the first four rows, as well as sound through your car’s FM radio. For a bit of amusement there are old cartoon advertisements shown before the movie.
Silver Lake Twin Drive-In, Perry, New York
Nightly you’ll find two movies playing on each screen at the theater that’s been around since 1949. There are more than movies to entertain you. Once fully reopened, there’s an ice cream parlor, pizzeria, arcade, playground, and 18-hole miniature golf course.
Transit Drive-in, Lockport, New York
Lockport is known for being the home of the famous Flight of Five Locks on the Erie Canal, a staircase lock constructed to lift or lower a canal boat over the Niagara Escarpment in five stages. Since the 1950s, the drive-in has been a part of the community. Today, before the start of each movie, the Transit Drive-In shows a 30 second tribute clip to celebrate frontline responders and essential workers who have been working tirelessly for the community. They also ask customers to honk their horns loud and proud as a way to say thank you. Movies run nightly.
Circle Drive-in Theatre, Scranton, Pennsylvania
This is one of the longest running drive-ins in America. While around since 1949, the theatre is anything but outdated. It boasts two 5,000 square foot screens, state of the art digital projection and audio. The theatre features contemporary films April – November on Friday-Tuesday nights. In addition to movies, the space also serves as an open-air flea market. Local farmers, artisans and crafters provide a variety of fresh produce and products.