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NEWBERRY ‒ The pandemic changed the concept of live music entertainment and put many musicians in dire financial situations. To make any income, performers have come up with other ways to reach their audiences and generate revenue. Unable to perform in bars and concerts due to the pandemic, many musicians went to online performances. But part of the magic of music is the energy and sense of unity between an audience and the performers.

The band Sister Hazel is taking today’s reality of COVID-19 limitations and blending it with the public’s historic love affair with drive-in movie theaters. The band, founded by Ken Block, Drew Copeland and Jett Beres in 1993 is no stranger to the area and Newberry seemed to be an ideal location for a novel idea.

Much of the band's income comes from touring, performing live in front of large crowds, but that came to a screeching halt in April 2020 as the pandemic raged across America. All music concerts were canceled and most bands were forced onto an unexpected hiatus. The world of music was changed in a matter of weeks.

“Touring was a way of life for us,” singer/guitarist Copland said. “Not only did the pandemic affect our income, but we had a crew of about 15 that was suddenly out of work. We tried to continue to pay them, but the loss meant that most of them had to supplement their income with other jobs to provide for their families. This meant they weren't always available to go on the road even if we had gigs,” Copeland said.

“We saw other groups use stream live and online video to try and survive, but it is just not the same energy as playing to a live audience. We wanted to try and find a safe way to get concerts going again, creating a model that could also help other musicians survive monetarily and bring normalcy back to the music world for both performers and audiences” Copeland stated. “Some musicians were doing live outdoor performances but on a much smaller scale, so we decided to try the concept of a drive-in concert. The band felt that safety was the main concern and CDC rules had to be maintained to keep from spreading the virus.”

“We took a big risk setting this model up and did the first show in Tampa. There were a lot of expenses involved that we had to cover up front and hoped the event was successful enough to compensate and provide some income for the band and support staff. We learned a lot of lessons from that show,” Copeland said.

For the second show they had support from the City of Newberry, and the band set up a show at the Post Farm at 28957 W. Newberry Road. The initial date was postponed due to the resurgence of the pandemic in late summer and it was rescheduled for Oct. 23. The venue offered a large field where cars could be parked at a staggered zig zag formation that included a second spot for each car's occupants to tailgate, which allowed for social distancing in the audience.

Tickets were sold per four-person vehicle for $149, but fans could purchase limited VIP for $169 utilizing the first several rows and $25 for any additional people per car with a maximum of six people. Cars were placed by parking attendant staff with cars and trucks placed based on size with lower cars in front, bigger cars in back so everyone could have an unobstructed view of the stage. Masks were required if anyone left their assigned area. Bathrooms were available and food was provided by Woodyard Grill in Newberry. More than a hundred cars packed full of people filled the lot as the band gave a flawless and energetic performance.

“This show showed we can do this safely and get back to some normalcy with live music,” Copeland said. “We are going to do several more shows in Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte to refine the logistics and see about creating concerts with other musicians to help provide a source of income despite the current situation. It felt great to play live again.”

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