The Music Yard offers the thrill of live music — with the safety of social distancing.
by Page Leggett
About three weeks into quarantine, Preston Abernathy was on his way to Lake Tillery and passed Badin Road Drive-in in Albemarle when he had “a lightbulb moment.”
The nostalgic drive-in theater was like a ghost town, but just seeing it sparked an idea. “Cars are great for self-isolating,” says the events director at The Music Yard. Everyone has a good time at the drive-in — even though everyone keeps to themselves.
It’s the perfect form of entertainment for a pandemic.
Abernathy wasn’t originally interested in showing movies. He wanted to book musicians. “My leadership team at The Music Yard liked the idea. It would give people access to live music while also keeping our patrons safe. And we wanted to support local bands and give them a venue to perform.”
The Summer Drive-In Series was born.
The Music Yard is an outdoor, live-music venue sandwiched between Mac’s Speed Shop, the bustling barbecue spot, and Southbound, the hip taco joint, on South Blvd. The same ownership group manages all three places.
The Summer Series, for ages 21 and up, had been scheduled to run on Friday nights through the end of July. But Abernathy says they’ll likely continue as long as people are required to socially distance. “I’m already booking for August,” he told us in June, “and we’ll extend it into September if we need to.” Abernathy programs a variety of musical acts and genres, from electronica to progressive rock to jam bands.
Here’s how it works: Buy your ticket online in advance, pull in any time beginning at 7 p.m. and tune your radio to 90.5. The band usually starts playing around 8 p.m.
There’s not a bad seat in the house. No stranger is going to spoil the concert by talking too much or spilling a beer (or a Mexican Coca-Cola) on you. It’s just you and your date — or your whole posse.
As with the drive-ins of yore, you can order food and enjoy it in your car. Some people tailgate, and truck owners often set up picnic-style in the truck bed. You can also reserve a seat at a picnic table — all of which have been distanced from one another. While Southbound’s entire menu is available, Callie Murray, director of marketing for Mac’s Hospitality, recommends the simplified Taco Stand selection of tacos, burritos and build-your-own bowls.
Abernathy’s lightbulb moment has turned out to be such a success that The Music Yard added drive-in movies (comedies like Wayne’s World and Pineapple Express) to its entertainment lineup in July. They happen every Thursday and, like the music events, usually sell out in advance.
A COVID-capacity crowd at the Music Yard is 16 cars and 10 picnic tables, which seat six to eight people. When we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, the venue can hold 300 people. “People are really respecting the boundaries here,” Abernathy says. “It’s been nothing but positive.”
Adaptive reuse is working beautifully at The Music Yard during this strange summer. And it’s all because of Preston Abernathy’s “eureka” moment while passing an empty drive-in movie theater. SP
Drive-in music. The Music Yard at 2433 South Blvd. offers something few venues can — live music in the midst of our COVID summer. Enjoy the band from socially distanced picnic tables or from the comfort of your own car. Ticket prices range from $50 plus fees for a small sedan with as many as four people to $150 for a VIP picnic table that seats as many as eight. Learn more at musicyardclt.com.