After successfully opening with popular movies, operators of the Yarmouth Drive-In are now launching live performances at the Route 28 venue.
Comedian Iliza Shlesinger will kick off the drive-in’s outdoor shows on July 31, followed by folk singer Livingston Taylor and other music and comedy acts during August and September. An Aug. 18 show with stand-up comedian Bert Kreischer has already sold out, and a second show was added Aug. 17. Find a full schedule on the Yarmouth Drive-in website.
The 22-acre drive-in theater site in West Yarmouth is owned by the town and has been used for festivals in the past. It reopened on July 12 as a pandemic-safe entertainment facility after extensive construction by Chicago-based performing arts company Innovation Arts and Entertainment (IAE). While operators say the first two weeks were promising, the coming months will bring a greater variety of programming.
“We never wanted to stick exclusively to movies because we think that the best and the biggest impact that we can have to support local businesses is to provide something that’s really not being done anywhere else,” said IAE’s founder and CEO Adam Epstein, who owns a home on Martha’s Vineyard.
Big, Bright Screens Make a Big Impact
The difference between Yarmouth Drive-In and other outdoor movie sites is the quality of the video, Epstein explained. IAE invested roughly $500,000 to develop the site, erecting three high-definition LED screens, similar to the massive digital scoreboards at Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium. Sandwiched between two 1,000-square-foot screens at the front of the venue sits a festival-sized stage, where bands will perform while IMAG video cameras capture the action and transfer it to the 40-foot by 25-foot jumbotrons. A third big screen is located farther back to ensure that everyone can see the performances clearly. High-definition audio is transmitted via low-range FM radio tuned to a local frequency (105.3).
Epstein explained that the high-definition (1080p) LED screens are bright enough for viewing in full sun, so the drive-in is capable of hosting performances day and night. The technology also makes for crystal-clear viewing at sunset, which isn’t possible at places that rely on projectors and traditional screens, he said.
Red Sox, Bruins and Celtic Games
In addition to bands and comedy acts, the summer lineup features live-streamed pro sports events, including a Red Sox Opening Day Watch Party tonight, (Friday, July 24). Because Fenway Park will be empty for the long-awaited showdown with the Orioles, this will be the largest Red Sox Opening Day spectator event “in the world,” Epstein said.
Multiple screens also permit viewing of two sporting events simultaneously, which is the plan on Sunday, Aug. 2, when the Celtics vs. the Trailblazers will be showing on one screen while the Bruins battle the Philadelphia Flyers on another. Audio will be transmitted on two frequencies. The games are scheduled for 3 p.m., in full daylight.
New Shows Mean New Jobs
Live performances will also bring more jobs to Yarmouth, Epstein said, noting that concerts require 42 employees on site, compared to the 12 to 15 staffers working at movie showings. Pricing for live performances will be different as well, depending on the artist and the position of each vehicle’s parking space.
The drive-in has three sections for its live performances, with higher prices for spaces closer to the stage. Livingston Taylor tickets, for instance, range from $70 to $90 per car with up to four occupants in each vehicle. Movies are general admission, priced at $30 per car with added fees for more than four people. IAE leases the property from the town, covers related expenses and pays Yarmouth a fee for each vehicle in attendance ($1 per car during July to $2 per in August and September). The company has applied for a license to operate through Oct. 31.
During the opening weeks, attendance at movies numbered around 110 to 130 cars per show, which Epstein said was encouraging, given that vehicles generally had two or more occupants and that most people had already seen the second-run blockbuster films being shown. Local traffic moved efficiently, Epstein said, with three lanes that split into 10, permitting up to 10 ticket-takers. When shows are over, he said, the entire place can empty out in 15 minutes.
Wide Spaces and Social Distancing
The new drive-in was designed with COVID-19 safety measures in mind, adhering to Massachusetts COVID-19 guidelines, as well as recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Each parking site is 12 feet wide, which allows ample space for social distancing. Attendance is limited to 459 vehicles, and when patrons leave their cars, they are required to wear face masks. During the movies, Epstein said customers seemed to have no problems adhering to the safety guidelines, which are published on the Yarmouth Drive-In website.
Improvements to Come
In addition to live shows, the future will bring better food and drink options, Epstein said. Current concessions are limited to standard movie fare, popcorn, drinks and candy, he explained. But IAE is seeking the right combination of vendors to “develop a great food program.” The company is also applying for a license to serve alcoholic beverages, he said.
Also in the works: a policy that would allow patrons to sit outdoors on lawn chairs inside their designated parking spaces. Those with pickup trucks are already allowed to sit outdoors — albeit inside the trucks’ beds.
You can also expect to see bigger-name acts as word spreads. “The more we do this,” Epstein said, “the more positive experiences we provide to artists and audience, bands will say: ‘Oh, it’s not just an old-time drive-in; this is an actual concert site.’ ” he said.
“We want to break free of people’s notions of what a ‘drive-in’ is,” Epstein explained, noting that he prefers to call the venue a “drive-on” because customers drive onto the site and have a great experience in their designated areas.
“Everything we’ve done here is really driven toward that goal — delivering a great audience experience,” he said. “That’s why we put the money and effort into the high-quality screens. … We really wanted to make sure that Yarmouth had something special.”
Andy Tomolonis is a nonfiction author, travel writer and multimedia journalist.