chainsmokers hamptons

Could something like the Chainsmokers concert in the Hamptons happen in Canada?

As the live music industry in Canada continues to pivot in response to the ongoing global pandemic, drive-in concerts are becoming a viable and increasingly popular option for artists, promoters and music fans alike.

But as the warm weather presses on and people everywhere continue to combat the effects of "pandemic fatigue," we’re starting to see an influx of videos surface across social media revealing swaths of young people lapsing into some pretty dangerous and arguably irresponsible behaviour.

Case in point, The Chainsmokers "Safe & Sound" charity drive-in fundraiser in the Hamptons last weekend.

With tickets ranging between $1,250 and $25,000, the super swanky, jam-packed event raised funds for No Kid Hungry, Southampton Fresh Air Home and the Children’s Medical Fund of New York.

However, a now widely circulated video originally posted to Instagram by the duo's manager, Adam Alpert, shows a massive crowd standing shoulder-width apart and very much outside of their vehicles.

Social distancing measures were reportedly in effect and attendees were subject to mandatory temperature checks, provided complimentary masks upon arrival, asked to access clearly marked parking spots and use plenty of hand sanitizer.

But, while event organizers In the Know Experiences and Invisible Noise say the video “was taken from an angle that doesn’t properly convey how careful” they were to follow all local and state COVID-19 safety guidelines as well as those created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the two-second video clip seems to paint a different picture.

With Coronavirus cases continuing to surge in the U.S., the duo was quickly labeled "straight up irresponsible" by one person, while another tweeted "I am not ok with you risking everyone's lives just so they can watch you press a space bar all night."

The event is now being investigated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office and the New York State Department of Health.

But, at the end of the day, we’re all just mere humans, and sometimes, for better or worse, people get brave when they’ve been cooped up for a while. We’ve certainly seen some of that here in Canada already.

Just last week, police in Brampton busted a 200-person house party, while Alberta RCMP were forced to shut down a similar event in Red Dear County only to find things like human feces, empty alcohol bottles and stolen traffic signs. Classy stuff.

So, what’s to prevent something similar from taking place at a drive-in event in this country?

According to Jim Cressman, founder and CEO of one of Canada's largest independent promoters, B.C.-based Invictus Entertainment Group, it’s largely a matter of responsibility on the part of the industry itself.

Last month, Cressman and Invictus became one of the first Canadian companies to execute a successful, full-scale drive-in concert in Canada since the onset of the pandemic.

The sold-out, eight-show event, in Enoch near Edmonton over two days (June 13 and 14) featured Canadian country star Brett Kissel and raised money for the Alberta Food Bank.

“Being first out of the gate comes with a lot of responsibilities,” says Cressman.

“We integrated a member of the Alberta Health Services on our conference calls from very early on in the process because we didn't want to screw it up. We didn't want to put anybody at risk, we wanted to ensure that we were actively adhering to all safety guidelines set out for us by the province, and we didn’t want Brett to face the same kind of criticism that some other artists have faced.

"I feel like as an industry, we need to be taking responsibility on behalf of the artists we work with because unfortunately in this day and age with social media, they bare the brunt of public backlash. But, the thing is, it’s not the artist’s job to vet the regulations, their job is to get up on stage and melt faces.

"It is the job of the artist’s team, the manager, the agent, to protect them and do our due diligence to ensure that we are not setting them up to fail or find themselves in bad situations that result in public relations disasters.”

But, Cressman notes that the success of the drive-in concert concept is also dependent on our shared responsibility as individuals.

“I know it’s tough because as a society we haven’t experienced COVID before, and people are just ready to have a good time again, but there is also a level of personal responsibility on the part of the audience. And that is not a knock on fans, thank god for them because they are the only reason our industry works, but I do think people understand that we all have a role to play in that.

“Thankfully, our drive-in concert experience was really positive, and we've since been able to replicate that success in other cities, namely in Saskatchewan.

“We've found people to be really respectful; they weren’t there to break the rules, they were just grateful to be out. I think when you put people in that headspace they’re happy, they’re fulfilled, they’re definitely not looking to compromise the event at the expense of future events like it, and they’re not looking to cause trouble or get kicked out.”

Elsewhere in the country, the pop-up drive-in experience has quickly morphed into a popular summer ticket that includes everything from live music and comedy to films and sports broadcasts.

Last month, the City of Toronto announced a summer-long initiative called "DriveInTO," which is aimed at helping Torontonians re-engage with their city during COVID through "large-scale, high-value, temporary drive-in experiences.”

The initiative is taking place at four participating locations (Ontario Place, CityView Drive-In, CF Sherway Gardens, and Downsview Park), all of which have their own weekly programming and are offering something slightly different.

Industry vet Farley Flex who is co-producing Toronto Shines, which kicked off July 17 and is slated to run at Ontario Place through October, believes that active education, both prior to and during an event, is just as important when it comes to ensuring that Canadians are safe this summer and having a good time.

“For us, educating the community about the safety guidelines starts before people are even onsite,” says Flex.

“We’re making sure they can access that important information both on our website and on social media, then when they get to the grounds we have our in-house DJ, DJ Apple Scratch, who is also a co-producer of this great event, reminding them on the mic.

“Additionally, we have a super-friendly security team along with my own personal team and were walking the grounds not only advising people about staying in their vehicles but also building a bit of a rapport with our guests, so that hopefully the tendency or temptation to not comply is removed based on mutual respect and the effort that they see us providing."

Flex says communication is also a key ingredient in the success of the pop-up drive-in model in Canada.

“I’ve run and owned clubs for years and I’ve always mitigated problems by being communicative. The team at Toronto Shines is the exact same. It’s all about communication for the betterment of all not just the singular purpose of one.

"As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?”

Meanwhile, in Quebec, RBC Bluesfest and the National Arts Centre have joined forces to present #CanadaPerforms at the RBC Bluesfest Drive-In. An offshoot of RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, an annual outdoor music festival that takes place in downtown Ottawa, the multi-weekend drive-in concert series, which kicked off Friday, July 31, will feature a diverse range of emerging and established Canadian talent.

"When you went to drive-in movies as I used to, you stayed in your car," says Joe Reilly, spokesperson for RBC Bluesfest. "You didn’t get out and wander all over the place, so I think that's understood.

"In Quebec, where we are hosting our event, the rules say that if you go to a drive-in, you stay in your vehicle, so that is what we are encouraging our audience to do. We are definitely taking all necessary precautions, but we generally find that people follow the rules at our events and that they are pretty respectful.

“In Canada, we’re lucky to have a culture of collectivity. Based on what we’ve seen so far with other drive-in events in other parts of the country, Canadians seem to be grasping that concept for the most part.”

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