Most summers, Christian artists tour the country performing for packed audiences in churches, arenas and concert halls. This summer, restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic make such crowds temporarily impossible.
So three Christian music stars have found another way to reach their audience. And it’s not a new technology platform. It’s an old one.
Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman and Third Day’s Mac Powell will begin the Drive-In Theater Tour next month in Watertown, Tenn., just outside Nashville. They will move on to nine more cities from there.
With so many dates in the spring and summer canceled, Chapman said he was eager for any opportunity to play live music again.
“Everything just came to a screeching halt,” Chapman said of the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown. “That’s when this drive-in tour idea was presented to me.”
Chapman has toured with both Powell and Smith at different times in the past and is looking forward to playing together with them – and to encouraging people through his own music again.
Seeing actual faces in an audience, rather than playing to a camera or posting about music on social media, is one of his most motivating factors for the tour, he said.
“Music is a conversation,” Chapman said. “We’ve been having the conversation, but it’s’ been one sided for a while. Something happens in a live concert situation that can only happen there, and that’s part of the beauty of it. We’re coming with a renewed appreciation for this gift of live music and the opportunity to do this.”
Awakening Events, the tour’s sponsor, saw 95 shows canceled from March to May, said Dan Fife, the company’s president and founder.
Searching for ways to get artists back on the road, Fife thought about a drive-in theater near his home in Arkansas that never closed down during the pandemic. The experience naturally allows for social distancing – cars parked several feet apart, families tailgating or sitting out in lawn chairs.
Fife compared the environment of the Drive-in Theater Tour to a festival, with concertgoers spread out on the lawn and the big movie screen behind the stage showing video of the live concert. The audio will reach the entire area rather than a typical drive-in movie where the audio streams to car radios.
“We want this to be a full concert with concert production, concert quality sounds. People also get this really cool Jumbotron big screen experience behind the stage,” he said.
Combined, the three artists have 113 No. 1 hits, have sold over 35 million records and have been awarded nine Grammys. They will play all their songs together, making up their own band, adding a bass player and a drummer.
“That’s going to be the unique thing about it,” Powell said. “That basically there’s a band within itself of me, Michael and Steven.”
Smith said the trio is committed to working hard to get the details right before hitting the road.
“You have to make yourself go into a different head space,” he said. “There’s someplace you have to go on an emotional level, knowing those people out there are listening to every word, hearing every note you’re singing and in some ways it should not be any different than if they were sitting in the seats. …
“We all just need a little bit of refreshing. People just need to be encouraged, that they’re gonna be OK. These songs are just reminders of the promises of God. [Music] is still the most powerful, universal language in the entire world. A three-and-a-half-minute song can change somebody’s life and give them a whole fresh, beautiful perspective on life and the heart of God.”
Smith said his hope and the desire of all involved in the tour is that the attendees drive off encouraged, with strong reminders of the promises of God.
Fife believes the tour will meet a great need.
“Live music, live worship, is a bridge for people ultimately to Jesus, to our creator,” Fife added. “A lot of people hear music and become moved. Their eyes and ears are opened, and they’re just moved. We’re all missing that. Our country needs that live music connection. They need to hear what these artists have to say right now more than ever.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Schoonhoven is a Baptist Press staff writer.)