They came in sedans, SUVs and even a vintage 1958 Chevy Impala convertible. They rolled down their windows to listen to live music Monday in a Fridley parking lot, and they honked their horns in appreciation after every song.
“This is the first time I’m not offended by people honking at me,” singer Joyann Parker told 43 carloads outside Crooners Supper Club, on the shores of Moore Lake.
This was the first live ticketed Twin Cities concert since March 15, when Gov. Tim Walz closed venues and ordered Minnesotans to stay at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
As with any other public gathering, it’s hard to practice social distancing at concerts. At Crooners, vehicles were situated 10 feet apart, staggered throughout the parking lot.
Other protocols were in place. No alcohol was allowed. Concertgoers had to stay in their vehicles except to use the supper club’s restroom — but only one person at a time. Food was served, drive-in style.
The music was broadcast on a FM channel that concertgoers could tune into on their car radios.
“This is like when I was a little girl at the drive-in movie in Faribault,” said Val Cohn of St. Paul. “I love it. It’s a familiar feeling. Except my dad isn’t here.”
Lloyd Larson of Coon Rapids, driver of the vintage Chevy, appreciated the resourcefulness of Crooners’ staff.
“I’ve been to drive-in movies, drive-in restaurants and this is my first drive-in concert,” he said. “It’s good to be outdoors. This is working.”
All except the scorching 90-degree sun beating down, which compelled his wife to move from shotgun to the back seat.
Some concertgoers improvised by shielding the sun with umbrellas. Crooners owner Mary Tjosvold distributed tablecloths for people to use as impromptu window sunscreens.
Concertgoers came in couples, a few foursomes and some solo, including Bette Ashcroft of Edina, who left her husband and their black Lab at home because of the heat.
“It’s wonderful to hear live music again,” she said. “This is great. The sound is good coming over my car radio. This would be better if I could be outside my car in a lawn chair.”
There were some other complaints in the first show of Crooners’ Lakeside Drive-in Concert Series.
Mike Urgo of Brooklyn Park couldn’t see the stage clearly, his view blocked by a tall Honda Pilot in the middle of the parking lot.
“They should move that behemoth,” he said during the concert.
Urgo and his wife “couldn’t wait to come for the first show. We’re so used to seeing movies. We’re starved for entertainment. We might be coming back tomorrow.”
There were two separate shows Monday, at 4 and 7 p.m. By the second, Crooners was already making changes. Parking spots were newly numbered, making food service more efficient, and taller vehicles were parked on the sides of the lot to improve sightlines down the middle.
Tjosvold was happy, especially after having to postpone the series in early May because of the governor’s directives.
“We’re glad we didn’t give up,” she said. “Even though people were in their cars, it felt like a lot of good energy out there.”
Crooners regular Steve Zenz of New Brighton admits to going “stir crazy, being cooped up for a couple of months.” So he was excited to see live music again even though he was caught up in what was happening after the death of George Floyd last week.
“Our daughter was marching Sunday. We donated to the Lake Street Council,” he said. “We needed to take a break from that.”
Cohn was torn about being at Crooners.
“There are so many things to mourn. The heart is heavy,” she said. “I was feeling guilty, sitting and listening to Joyann sing Patsy Cline songs in a breeze, and seeing an oriole fly in the trees. I’m feeling pulled in the direction of being at the governor’s residence [protesting Monday afternoon]. But musicians put things in perspective. With live music, there is love in there.”
After her afternoon performance, singer Parker said she and other people need a break from both the Floyd and COVID-19 situations.
“It’s healing for us to play music,” said the Twin Cities R&B/blues favorite, who hadn’t seen most of her band members for a few months, though she and guitarist Mark Lamoine have done live streams as a duo.
Since Monday afternoon’s show was a salute to country legend Cline filled with lots of back stories, Parker didn’t think it was appropriate to preach, other than saying “love conquers all” at show’s end.
“I’m an empath,” the often emotional Parker said backstage. “I can feel the room. It’s harder when people are in their cars. You can’t see their faces. It’s harder to emotionally connect. I felt like I’m on a movie screen.”
A global phenomenon
While maybe not yet a trend, drive-in concerts have become a thing during the pandemic.
The first was in late March in Los Angeles’ Echo Park with some underground musicians performing to about 50 cars. Drive-in shows started taking off in Denmark, the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe.
The first U.S. drive-in concert to make a splash was by country superstar Keith Urban, who performed May 14 at an actual drive-in movie theater outside Nashville for about 200 front-line medical workers.
In Miami, DJ-Nice had people dancing in the back of their pickup trucks — socially distanced at 20 feet. Shows are now scheduled everywhere from a pub’s parking lot in Lima, N.Y., to the massive space outside the Texas Rangers’ baseball stadium, with a sold-out four-night, two-shows-daily series for 400 cars, starting with country’s Eli Young Band.
With room for 74 vehicles, Crooners has 16 more drive-in concerts scheduled so far, featuring such Twin Cities mainstays as Debbie Duncan, Daisy Dillman Band and Mick Sterling. Tickets are priced from $15 to $30 per person.
Even though Monday’s inaugural show may not have been live music as usual, it felt a little bit like making lemonade out of lemons. And lemonade never tasted so sweet.