One good thing about Jimmy Buffett’s “Drive-Ins Nationwide” concert is how much easier it will be to get in and out of the parking lot than at Alpine Valley, Wis. or the First Midwest Bank Ampitheatre in Tinley Park, Ill.
Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band appear at 8:45 p.m. (CST) June 19 at the Coyote Drive-In at Panther Island in Fort Worth, Tx. The concert will be broadcast live to 87 drive-ins across America. It is also a test run for the new Margaritaville TV station Buffett launched a couple of weeks ago. He may plug the station tonight on television with Jimmy Fallon.
No music act has ever synched up a concert with drive-ins.
Not even the Cars.
The closest Buffett concert venue to Chicago is the beautiful 49er Drive-In, 675 N. Calumet in Valparaiso, Ind. The ‘49er was built in 1956 and has nearly 600 parking spots.
Beginning at 4 p.m. June 19, those 21 and older can enjoy food, drinks and the live Island 49 band play from 5 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at the ’49er. Tickets are $18 each and can be purchased by visiting Live at the Drive-In.
I’m for anything that brings attention to the plight of the American drive-in. And with so many people talking at concerts these days, here’s a concert where you can gab loudly in the privacy of your own car.
In his 1973 hit “Grapefruit/Juicy Fruit” Buffett sings: “Grapefruit, a bathin’ suit, chew a little juicy fruit/ Wash away the night. Drive in, you guzzle gin, commit a little mortal sin/ It’s good for the soul.”
That song was inspired by the Islander Drive-In on Stock Island, adjacent to Key West, Fla. The Islander opened in 1953 and closed in 1984.
According to his live album “You Had To Be There,” Buffett took a date to see the 1972 Rip Torn movie “Payday” (about a country singer who tours around the country in a Cadillac that amplifies his tendency for extreme behavior), where they mixed up cheap Gilbey’s Gin with Welch’s Grape Juice to create Purple Passions, and then “had a good go at it.”
Music on the film was provided by Ian and Sylvia Tyson as well as late Key West/Chicago resident Shel Silverstein.
The drive-in theater debuted in 1933 when tinkering chemist Richard Hollingshead erected a 30-by-40-foot screen behind his shop in Camden, N.J. The Chicago area’s first drive-theater was built in 1941 in Morton Grove.
By the late 1950s more than 4,000 drive-in movies were part of America’s landscape.
Today there are less than 350 drive-in movie theaters.
The drive-in theater took on television, VCR’s and DVD’s, but the death knell came as movie distributors transitioned from 35 mm to digital film. Many operators cannot afford the conversion which can cost between $80,000 and $100,000.
Proceeds from the Buffett concert will be used to help drive-in theaters make the change.
I have a place in my heart for the Theater Historical Society of America in Elmhurst, Ill.
I grew up in the long shadow of the Skylark Drive-In on the border of Aurora and Naperville, Ill. The Skylark opened in 1962 as the wonderfully-named Tee & See because it was adjacent to a golf course.
As the Skylark in the mid-1970s I remember watching mainstream porn while drinking Sloe Gin Fizz’s in Row 5. Ironically, I would see half of the varsity golf team in Row 5. The Skylark closed in 1987.
What happened to the Skylark happened to many drive-in theaters. The land value became too much to support the theater. Unbeknownst to me, in May of 1988 my father wandered around the weedy parking lot to take pictures (the dates are marked on the back of the photos) and to salvage a couple of drive-in car speakers.
That is the curator in his soul.
Those Skylark car speakers are now in the Theater Historical Society of America museum. The museum also has drive-in signage, drive-in movie blueprints and digital copies of intermission drive-in reels.
“Drive-ins are getting even closer to extinction,” Richard Fosbrink, Theatre Historical Society Executive Director told me on Monday. “The studios are stopping all print releases very soon. If people have not converted to digital now, they won’t be able to. Converting to digital was a cost saving measure for the film studios. It is much easier for them to ship a plastic box with a digital hard drive than an actual film print. And then there’s the decaying issue with film. When drive-ins closed at the end of last season many have not reopened in the last six weeks.”
Last year Honda launched Project Drive-In, which awarded nine digital projectors to vintage drive-ins based on over 2 million votes. Drive-in lovers Maroon 5 contributed an autographed license plate as part of the fund raising drive.
Visit Project Drive-In to see the interactive map of drive-ins across the country.
To make a real event out of the Buffett concert, fans can also trek to the Midway Drive-In in Dixon, Ill. or the Field of Scenes in Freedom, Wis. And should you miss the Buffett show, America’s greatest rock n’ roll band NRBQ with Chicagoans Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough will be at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn at 9 p.m. June 21.
No one has recorded a better drive-in song than NRBQ’s 1983 pop hit “Rain at the Drive-In.”