It was less than two weeks after Rod and Donna Saunders attended a Harrison City Council meeting to introduce the idea of a pop-up drive-in to the reality of a virtual Garth Brooks concert happening across from Harrison City Hall. The couple was working with Encore Live. In the absence of traditional live events, Encore Live reached exclusive agreements with drive-in theaters across North America to bring fans this first-of-its-kind concert on a large scale.
The Saunders own a theater and several drive-in theaters in the Ohio area. They are not strangers to how the recent economic downturn has affected small businesses. They are new property owners in the Lake of the Pines area and wanted to see if Harrison was interested in a unique idea: a portable pop-up drive-in to show a concert series by big-name stars who cannot tour and perform during these socially-distanced and restricted times. The A-list of performers interested in the virtual venue route will be long if the country icon Garth Brooks’ concert was a success.
Mayor Stacy Stocking and Tracey Connelly, city manager, started touring the Harrison area with the Saunders for a good location. While many locations were discussed, tickets were going on sale in four days – not enough time to make decisions by committee.
The area was chosen across from city hall on Sullivan Drive and a lot of quick organization was done by the Saunders and the City of Harrison staff and Department of Public Works. The Harrison Chamber organized to sell popcorn and drinks to raise funds for the fireworks show to be held during Harrison Street Fair in August. The Bubba-Q food cart owned by Brian Baldwin was invited to serve food for the event.
The concert was held at more than 344 venues, mostly drive-in theaters across the U.S. with tickets being sold at Ticketmaster outlets. Tickets cost $100 per car, with up to six occupants per vehicle.
It was clear Saturday night that attendees were enjoying themselves. Parking began at 5 p.m. and by 8:30 about half the cars were already parked, eating, playing cornhole, laughing and talking. Ages ranged from young families with babies to the more mature country fan.
“The Pop-up Drive-in Garth Brooks Concert was a unique idea that allowed people to enjoy a concert without everyone being in an enclosed auditorium,” said Connelly. “There were excited fans in attendance from not only Harrison, but Frankenmuth, Midland, Ohio, Indiana and many other places around Central Michigan. We have received a lot of really good feedback and would like to try another concert sometime in the future.