TobyMac, Newsboys United Set Drive-In Theater Tour For Summer

For the foreseeable future, drive-in theater concerts will continue popping up across the country, as artists including Keith Urban, Alan Jackson, Eli Young Band and more have either held or announced headlining shows as a way keeping live music going during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, two of Contemporary Christian Music’s top touring draws—TobyMac and Newsboys United— will bring 24 headlining concerts to drive-in theaters around the Southeast and Midwest, with each artist headlining 12 shows each.

Newsboys United—which includes sets led by both Newsboys co-founder Peter Furler as well as current Newsboys lead vocalist Michael Tait (who first shot to fame alongside TobyMac as a member of groundbreaking CCM group DC Talk in the ‘90s)—will launch the tour June 18 at Marshall, Arkansas’ Kenda Drive-In Theater.

“A few Saturday nights every summer my family and I head to a local drive in movie theater. We always love it” TobyMac said via a statement. “When we started discussing live shows in this quarantine season and the idea of playing drive-ins came up… I said, let’s gooooo! It feels like summer, safe for everybody, and we all get to enjoy live music again. We bout to make some memories.”

Among the venues on TobyMac’s route is a stop on June 25 at Watertown, Tennessee’s Stardust Drive-in Theater, which recently hosted a private concert from Keith Urban as a way to pay tribute to Vanderbilt Medical workers on the frontlines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Franklin, Tennessee-based promotion company Awakening Events, which handles 300+ shows per year, including tours for Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Newsboys and TobyMac, worked with First Company Management’s Dave Wagner.

“We saw where there was an artist in Denmark who did a one-off at a drive-in theater and thought that was cool,” says Awakening’s Principal Owner Dan Fife. “We were in the middle of rescheduling—we rescheduled 100 shows from spring to fall. Dave had worked with the band back in 2000-2004 or so, when the Newsboys did the Dome Tour. They carried around an inflatable dome, which could fit up to like 3,500 people, on the tour. They were creating this really cool planetarium vibe for fans. So Dave and Tony Johnsen at CAA were thinking about innovative ways to get artists back out to fans.”

Fife and his team started looking at the more than 300 drive-in theaters across the United States, ultimately landing on the nearly two dozen selected for the tour.

“At first we thought, drive-ins those are like a ‘60s and ‘70s type venue. How do we get the signal from our modern-day digital fiber optic cable connections to the screen? We quickly learned that most of these drive-ins already have digital projectors already. We are able to plug right in and those type of screens are stadium quality.”

The setup will include a mobile, covered hydraulic stage, as well as sound, lighting, and four IMAX digital cameras to be set up around the stage to project video images to the screens.

“It’s the equivalent of what we would use for a 3,000-4,000 seat theater,” Fife says.

Fife says each drive-in theater is meeting the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention’s COVID-19 guidelines. Patrons will be allowed up to six people per vehicle, and social distancing restrictions will be in place between each vehicle, allowing for attendees to bring their lawn chairs and blankets to sit outside their cars for the concert. The majority of the drive-in theaters already use apps to allow customers to order concessions.

The tour marks the first full-fledged drive-in theater tour in the CCM market, and Fife says the CCM genre also brings an added assurance to drive-in owners.

“I think to these drive-in owners who are not concert venue people, we brought a comfort zone in the fact that we are a very family-oriented type event. I think they saw that their drive-ins were able to get a lot of exposure that they don’t normally get.”

Newsboys vocalist Tait acknowledges the experience of holding a concert at a drive-in theater will be a first for both fans and the artists, but he looks forward to bringing artists and fans together again.

“People don’t get to see the big shows sometimes,” he says. “I think backstage will be different. Usually you have a venue to go to, so the bus will be the hotel for the most part, since there’s no big setup for catering and the usual amenities you have, but it’s great to visit some smaller towns that don’t always get bands through there and just to bring some joy and light and sunshine in tough times. That’s what we like to do.”

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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