CULLMAN and FAIRHOPE, AL – For two consecutive evenings last weekend, Alan Jackson and his team set the tone for the future of outdoor shows in the “Drive-In” format of holding events. PLSN sat down with tour manager Nathan Baugh and LD/production manager Mason Felps to chat about how the artist and his organization achieved this monumental first step in bringing live concerts with full production back into the limelight.

Country music superstar Alan Jackson’s “Small Town Drive-In” concerts took place Friday, June 12 in Cullman, AL and the following evening in Fairhope, AL (near Mobile). Some 2,000 parked vehicles were allowed in the venues, which were basically fields that the artist and his team were already familiar with from past engagements. Over 5,000 people attended the first show with another 7,500 reportedly attended the second night’s performance.

Both concerts were staged in accordance with CDC and Alabama state health guidelines, with an emphasis on social distancing and other healthy practices.

General admission price per vehicle (up to two passengers) was $99.99; additional passenger tickets could be purchased for $39.99. A limited amount of VIP parking, closest to the stage, was available starting at $199.99.

Alan Jackson has maintained a rigorous touring schedule for most of his career. His touring production elements had been stuck in semis since his last show in Fort Worth on February 22. Like so many others, the artist was itching to get back in front of a live audience. As TM Baugh tells us, “Alan started up a conversation with his manager, Debbie Doebler, a simple ‘What can we do?’ This led to a bunch of us putting our heads together. We concentrated on a couple of markets that we had done some work in before and had maintained relationships there. It was up to us to make the numbers work. It took us about a week to sort out all the details and tickets went on sale three weeks prior to the event. I’ll tell you what, though. Once on stage, you could tell he was having fun. Alan is a bit of a car buff himself. You could see how happy he was looking out at that sea of vehicles stretched far and wide.”

Nathan has been with this artist for nine years, and eight years ago started up an event production company called 46 Entertainment. This company produces events and can handle the full gamut of needs, from producing and promoting an event to overseeing all production logistics. Between his job with Alan and his association with 46 Entertainment, they were able to keep everything in house to produce these two groundbreaking shows. Baugh states, “The show was promoted in house, and we called in Platform Tickets, who we’ve worked with often, to sort out the ticket sales.”

Baugh expands on coordinating these events. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to make this drive-in scenario work. Our idea was to use a standard location we knew, but set it up to look like a Drive In, as opposed to limiting ourselves to the normal space one of those actual facilities would afford. The artist wanted a true Drive-In experience model, just like the old school theaters we all grew up with.” PM Felps chimes in, “We have our own festival we do every year that we hold at the first location, so we are well informed on all the logistics of that site, the local vendors we needed, security and the rest associated. The second venue happened to be in Nathan’s hometown, so his team had the resources to pull this off.”

For these gigs, the production brought in a Stageline SL320 stage from Premier Global Production, which they were able to use for both shows due to its fast setup time. The 40-by-40-foot area was a little tight, as the full band was accompanying Jackson on stage, but as Felps notes, “we’ve played on so many Stageline stages over the years, we just adapt like usual and fit what we can.” But because of the vast sea of cars, additional delay towers were placed in each venue for audio as well as a couple LED walls for I-Mag viewing. The touring set was utilized, for the most part, including custom-made P.A. scrims for these events that added to the “drive-in” look of the stage. Of course, the large video wall that Jackson’s camp owns was upstage of the band, keeping with the theme of looking at some media while parked in one’s vehicle. Fans were not limited to the inside of their ride, as vehicles were parked over six feet from each other, allowing fans to dance in close proximity to their vehicles, or simply lean back against the windshield and relax on the hood.

Jackson played a full show for his fans, but due to the size of the stage, he couldn’t fit his entire light rig. Even so, Felps, who has worked for this act for the last three years, including stints as a backline and lighting tech before taking the reins as PM and LD, had plenty of firepower. “We normally have 160 movers on our stage. Morris Light and Sound has been providing us with our gear for the last couple of years and had the whole rig still mothballed in a semi. I chose specific amounts of the familiar fixtures to emulate our touring rig as closely as possible. For fixtures I utilized 24 Robe MegaPointes, eight Robe Spikies, 12 GLP JDC1 strobes and, most importantly, 20 Elation Protron Eclipse fixtures.

“Alan is always in need of seeing his audience and their reactions at integral parts of the show,” Felps continues. “I mounted these units on the stage as well as additional units on the delay towers to ensure he could see the cars in the back. These lights did the job for us.” They fit these fixtures into 80 feet of Tyler GT truss, and Felps ran it all from a grandMA2 Light console.

While the show was available to listen to through the use of FM transmitters, most listened to the P.A. brought in by Clair Bros. This included some 15-17 delay stacks for these events. Jackson owns most of the video gear he tours with, including the Mbox servers the tour carries to feed the screens’ content. With all the cars and social distancing, it was no brainer that video support towers were necessary. At the first site, extra LED walls were stationed at stage left and stage right, some 400 feet from the front of the stage. In Fairhope, they were closer to 500 feet away, as there were more folks in attendance. This gives one an idea of how huge the crowds were. The in-house video owned enough panels to supply 80 percent of the total LED displays, with additional LED support sourced from IPS out of Franklin, TN.

Ken Sorrell was brought in for the two shows to serve as video director, utilizing a Ross Carbonite Black switcher to cut the four cameras in use. Normally, the tour just displays media on their upstage wall, as they did on these shows. All Access Coach Leasing (Gallatin, TN) provided the tour buses for the run while 46 Logistics, a sister company to 46 Entertainment, looked after the trucking.

For labor, the crew did the best they could social distancing, including loading into the venue a day prior to the first show and utilizing no stagehands. For the out, it was imperative that they used 20 stagehands from Stage Events in Birmingham, to make the back-to-back shows happen on time. In Fairhope, they had the Mobile, AL IATSE help with labor. Security was handled like any standard event, with T-shirt employees backed by law enforcement officials.

We asked Baugh how he dealt with keeping his crew and band safe heading into these shows. “All of our crew got tested before and remained quarantined at home until we headed out. Anyone that had contracted the Covid had to have been symptom-free for ten days before they could return. Of course, we had masks and stayed well away from the attendees.”

We spoke with David Haskell from Morris about his impression of these events. “We are thrilled to be able to do a couple of shows with Alan, who we’ve had the pleasure of supplying lighting to on his tours for a while. When they called, we still had the touring system mothballed in the truck. We were able to quickly pull out all the bits Mason required and get the package together. We sure hope other artists follow suit safely, as it appears everyone had a good time and, more importantly, stayed safe while getting out to a concert.”

Wrapping up, Baugh offers, “In the end, it was very much like a tailgate atmosphere. Certainly some minor changes, but a massive success overall. We’re proud to be the torch-bearers for the industry and representing everyone trying to get back to work. I hope we can continue to do more of these soon.”

Courtesy of PLSN