Several hundred people who had been cooped up in their homes gathered at the Alameda County Fairgrounds on Friday at the first ticketed concert in the Bay Area during the COVID-19 era—even if the event was a drive-in affair.
The concert, which ran from 7 to 10 p.m., featured three Northern California tribute bands: Journey Revisited (Journey), Hot for Teacher (Van Halen) and Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers (ZZ Top). The show, the first of a two-night experiment by the Alameda County Fair, seemed to be a rousing success, even though some people didn’t follow stringent rules—such as staying inside cars and wearing masks outside of cars. At one point during the Hot for Teacher set, a group of eight to 10 people started dancing in front of the stage, whom the band thanked.
Still, it appeared that everyone was respecting the personal space of others.
“We needed to get out of our homes!” said Renee Ludlow of San Ramon, who drove down with her friend Michelle Wright for the concert. “We’re already talking about coming back.”
Both women said they missed going to concerts and that the drive-in show scratched that itch.
“I think it’s just adjusting to the new norm,” Wright said. “It’s almost like a backyard hang.”
The event did seem very loose and casual; almost like a 4th of July celebration at a park, but with cars and pickups replacing the standard picnic blanket. Many people brought expanded tailgating set-ups with chairs and tables, and at least one family even had their own heat lamp. According to the event’s instructions, people were to remain in their vehicles, but that was not a hard and fast rule.
Most, but not all, people outside their vehicles wore masks. Vehicles were spaced with one empty spot between them. Some backed in and then used their cargo areas and pickup beds as tailgates. Other concertgoers watched through their windshields.
There were portable toilets set up at various locations, and lines remained short all night long. Workers sanitized the toilets throughout the evening, spraying down door handles and seats.
Most attendees came in groups of three or four—admission was $100 no matter how many were in the car—but there were larger groups, and one pickup truck had, at one point, at least eight people dancing in the bed.
After each song, the bands received an avalanche of car honks to show appreciation, which replaced whoops, hollers and clapping.
If you got stuck behind an SUV with its tailgate up and blocking your view, there were a couple of large video screens to watch. And because people were getting out of their cars to watch the show, blocked views were largely not an issue.
There were no problems with the sound, either, whether windows were rolled up or down. It didn’t come across as muffled—at all.
The show was produced collaboratively by the three bands, Spider Ranch Productions from Rancho Cordova (which ran the sound and light production), the Alameda County Fair and Spectra, a food services company that oversees food services at about 10 county fairgrounds throughout the state, including in Alameda County.
Spectra’s Roger Shepherd, of San Rafael, spearheaded the idea.
“It grew out of a need. We realized we were bored. We knew the bands were bored. The production company had no shows,” Shepherd said.
Putting on the shows was about having fun and having something to do rather than making money—which wasn’t a given. He said that the producers studied how similar drive-in concerts have been staged in Europe while drawing up their plans in less than one week’s time.
“This model is working,” Shepherd said.
Journey Revisited got the evening rolling with hits like “Any Way You Want It,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Wheel in the Sky” while young kids played in the grass near their family’s vehicles. Hot for Teacher kept the energy high with “Running with the Devil,” “Jump” and the song that gave the band its name. Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers kicked off their set in the twilight and finished the night.
Throughout the evening, most people said their main reason for wanting to see a concert is they were tired of being confined to their homes at this point in the summer. Azita Feldman of Pleasanton, who went with her family, said she missed not only live music but going to the Alameda County Fair, which was canceled for the first time ever this year.
“We’re dying to get out,” said Jill Lauffer, who went with her husband, Jim Tonne, and friends Johnny and Shannon Quintal. Lauffer didn’t even know ahead of time that the show would be live. She thought she’d be watching a filmed performance on a screen. Her group’s truck was among the first to pull into the grounds on Friday.
“We want to listen to awesome rock and roll from a long time ago that nobody plays anymore,” Johnny Quintal said.
The same three bands will perform Saturday. Tickets are available here.