The global pandemic known as Covid-19 has had devastating effects on almost every facet of our daily lives. The music industry has been hit particularly hard, with jobs lost and companies that may never recover. Live music concerts are a memory, at this point.
That is about to change locally with Columbus, OH based Prime Social Group (PSG) set to launch a Drive-In concert venue on the west side of the city. On September 3, they announced the opening of their new socially distant COVID-19 compliant drive-in event venue, The Westland Mall Drive-In, in conjunction with their first-ever drive-in concert series.
Their first concert is tomorrow at 6 p.m. with the sonic neo funk of Mojoflo & the rock and soul of The Floorwalkers. Operating throughout the fall, the venue will feature local and national acts from a variety of musical genres, as well as film, and comedy. The Westland Mall Drive-In is also available to outside organizations and nonprofit organizations looking for an open-air location in the age of Covid-19.
We recently sat down (virtually) with Zach Ruben, co-founder and president of PSG, to talk about this new series of events in the time of Coronavirus.
MIMC: When Covid-19 hit, and the subsequent mandatory quarantine, what were your actions for Prime Social Group?
Zach Ruben (ZR): When it hit, we were in a pretty unique position compared to a lot of other promoters. We had about a dozen-plus club shows on the books, from March through July. Club shows are a little easier to maneuver and handle. We had our six Breakaway Festival dates and cities announced, and we had sold out our presales (tickets). We were setting up for a nice year.
We added two new cities with Washington and San Diego, expanding on what we were already doing in Columbus (OH), Grand Rapids (MI), Charlotte (NC) and Nashville (TN). But we had not announced our lineups and we had not sunk a lot of marketing dollars (into it) yet.
So right when it happened, yeah, we scrambled. At first, as a promoter, you are generally optimistic about things. Our first show wasn’t until the end of August with the Columbus and Grand Rapids Breakaway events. As long as we can get our lineups announced by July fourth weekend, it was ‘hold the course, keep trucking along’ and monitor everything very closely, not getting ahead of ourselves by announcing talent or making financial decisions or payments that we can’t get out of.
So, that was the first couple of weeks. When we saw this thing (Covid-19) getting worse and there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel, that’s when we had to regroup and make that hard decision of ‘this isn’t going to happen this year.’
First, it was the big let down of if these events were even going to happen. And then, it was like without these events we can’t afford our overhead, we can’t afford to operate and stay in business. Our progression was optimism, then realism, and then tough decisions.
As a business owner, you accept the responsibility when it’s a result of operating the business poorly or making bad decisions. But when something is out of your control and forces your hand, it’s a terrible feeling.
MIMC: How did the event in Columbus come to fruition? Would you describe the process of working with local health officials to ensure it is done correctly and safely?
ZR: I knew the first thing we needed to do was figure out what kind of compliance, what permits were needed… what we can and can’t do. We started working with our local attorney’s office (Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter) and then started talking to public health, City of Columbus, Franklin County, and the mall itself is located in Franklin Township; that’s who we’re dealing with mostly. So, it was filling out permits, getting approvals and Covid compliance.
My whole mindset of the drive-in is the simpler the better. To comply with Covid and be as responsible as possible, we have a whole list of things we’ve done and are doing. The biggest (of these), first and foremost, was I had the entire parking lot restriped. Every space is a 15’x20’ and there’s a six-foot social distancing marking between every space on both sides. We’re capping carloads at six people, so that everyone fits comfortably in their space.
We are requiring masks to be worn at all times outside of your vehicle. We will have social distance markings for restroom lines and hand sanitation stations. Food trucks will all have mobile ordering capabilities; you order on your phone, wait fifteen minutes, and then head up there to pick up your order. All restrooms and surface areas will be wiped down (sanitized) once every hour during the operation of the events.
Every car will be given a trash bag when they come in, so they can keep their space tidy and then leave it there when they leave. There’s really no reason to leave your space unless you are using the restrooms or picking up food.
We’re trying to create this environment where you bring in your own environment. And there will be plenty of security staff going around to enforce the social distancing and mask policies. We will have a zero-tolerance policy; if someone is not cooperating or abiding by the policies, they will be asked to leave the event.
I think, and hope, that the people coming will respect that and look at that we are taking on significant risk to create an opportunity to get a small piece of live music and entertainment back.
MIMC: Was it a long search to find the right fit (venue) for the event?
It kind of came up early, this natural synergy with the mall and the redevelopment plan that we’ve been a part of. So, this is a good introduction to that. Going somewhere new is part of a drive-in experience. You have to take your car in, no matter what, so why not create that experience in the lead-up on the way there.
Even though the mall is not the most beautiful sight in Columbus and the west side has the stigma of not being the best area, the experience of doing those things and going to that area adds to what we’re trying to do.
MIMC: What will the event production (lights, sound, etc.) be like?
ZR: The production will be ten times greater than what it needs to be, that’s just what we do. Our reputation is for Class A production; it’s going to be like a mini-festival setup with full video capabilities, moving lights, festival-style stage (40’x40’), two scaffolding structures with video screens, a P.A. system and FM transmitter, so you have the option for either.
To me, a lot of the drive-in concerts around the country are shortcutting the P.A. cost and just going with the FM transmitter, using your car stereo… and that just didn’t feel right to me. If you’re going to charge people to come out to a live show, there should be live music with live audio through speakers. That is important to us, in that there will be live P.A.
MIMC: The drive-in schedule looks to be rather busy…
ZR: Yeah, I’m trying to do twenty events between now and October.
MIMC: Depending on how our country deals with Covid-19 moving forward, are there plans to continue this in 2021?
ZR: Yeah, I think that’s on the table, and we’re open-minded about the concept. It all depends on how successful it is across the three main factors of, is it financially stable? Is it safe? And does it provide the experience that we are trying to create?
MIMC: With ticket prices ranging $50-$125 per car for the first event, what factors determined your ticket prices?
ZR: They fluctuate by the size of the artist and the size of the show, first and foremost. Every ticket includes four patrons, so if you break up the ticket price by four, we don’t feel that the price is too significant compared to what a regular concert (ticket price) would be. However, we have such increased expenses to do this. We’re basically setting up a temporary venue for two months. Plus, there is such increased expense due to Covid-19 compliance; everything from legal and permitting down to masks, gloves and sanitation, including restriping the parking to increase social distancing.
So unfortunately, it’s expensive to produce a premium experience given what is available to do for consumers of live entertainment right now.
The Westland Mall Drive-In schedule (with additional concerts and events to be added):
9/10: Mojoflo & The Floorwalkers
Vehicle passes run between $50-125
9/17: Parker Louis and Honey & Blue
Vehicle passes run between $50-125
Columbus’ own Parker Louis takes the stage with their sound they describe as “an amalgamation of groove and color.” Honey and Blue is a self-described mix of pop, blues, and soul fronted by singer/songwriters Adam Darling and Stephanie Amber.
9/18: Hippie Sabotage
Vehicle passes run between $120-280
Brothers Kevin and Jeff Saurer make up the EDM duo Hippie Sabotage. Hailing from Sacramento, California, they hit #1 on Billboard’s Next Big Sound chart and have performed with Ellie Goulding and Tove Lo and have worked with Cubic Z.
9/19: Musiq Soulchild & Raheem DaVaughn
Vehicle passes run between $150-225
Musiq Soulchild is an American singer and songwriter whose style blends a variety of genres including R&B, funk, blues, jazz, gospel, and hip hop. American Singer/Songwriter Raheem DaVaughn is a Grammy-nominated performer and released his seventh studio album in 2019, The Love Reunion featuring the popular single Just Right.
10/2: Subtronics with HE$H, Al Ross, & LEVEL UP
Vehicle passes run between $130-360
Subtronics, aka Jesse Kardon, is a popular American dubstep and riddim DJ and producer and will be performing with dubstep producer Joey Verrando better known as HE$H. Los Angelos based dubstep DJ and producer, Al Ross is joining the line-up as well as talented scratch-battle DJ and producer Level Up.
To purchase tickets or for more information about the series, the drive-in venue, rentals, or the COVID-19 safety measures in place, please visit WestlandDriveIn.com.