Drive-in concerts offer safe space for musicians and fans

Country artist Justin Labrash performed drive-in concerts across Saskatchewan in 2020.  | Twitter/@LiebenbergMatt photo

Live music in Canada was brought to an abrupt halt by the pandemic. Shows and festivals were cancelled, and still have not made a return more than a year later.

It sparked many creative alternatives for music lovers, including live drive-in concerts.

Country artist Justin Labrash performed drive-in concerts across Saskatchewan in 2020. Now, he’s back with the Hell or High Water Charity Tour, born from the success and joy of those previous shows.

“The thing I’m looking forward to most is just being able to get back on the stage,” Labrash said.

A portion of the proceeds from Labrash’s tour go directly to non-profits across Saskatchewan.

“We tried to work with charities that really could use the help because their regular fund-raising efforts and such are not able to happen,” Labrash said. “We decided that if we could close that gap even a little bit, we wanted to do our best.”

Labrash said the point of the tour is to bring communities together in a fun and safe manner.

“I hope they just get a night of entertainment and feel safe and kind of forget about the world for a while,” he said.

Jen Overbye went to two of Labrash’s shows during the summer of 2020, and said they were so enjoyable it inspired her to go back this year. She said the shows gave her a sense of normalcy.

“It was the only thing like this that we got to do last year,” Overbye said. “It was really like being at a normal outdoor concert, but we were just with our car.”

Now, with the pandemic still ongoing, the Hell or High Water tour is a light in the distance for people like Overbye.

“It’s something to look forward to,” she said. “It’s a safe way to enjoy music again.”

David Howard is chief executive officer of the Event Group, an organization that helps run the Grey Eagle Drive-In on Tsuut’ina Nation near Calgary.

He said they saw a need for live music.

“We hope that people come back and start to appreciate live music,” Howard said. “We just have incredible talent across this country and that has been affected dramatically. This is an opportunity to support them.”

However, Alberta, alongside Manitoba, has been put into another lockdown as COVID-19 cases surge in the provinces. This caused the Grey Eagle Drive-in to postpone all of the concerts scheduled in May to later in the summer.

Current restrictions in Alberta could ease in June as more Albertans get vaccinated, meaning the drive-in could go ahead with its season of live music.

Howard said their main goal is to keep people safe.

“People need to be staying in their cars,” he said. “And the bands are on a stage and there’s little contact at all to anybody. So that’s the biggest key, to make sure that we’re compliant, keeping the people safe so they can still have a unique experience.”

Eventually, Howard hopes cases in Alberta become low enough to allow concert-goers at the drive-in to immerse themselves in the music.

“I hope that we get to a point where people are able to get out of their cars, where people can interact a little more with the music and be able to be outside and just enjoy themselves.”

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