“Live From the Drive-In” series kicked off in parking lot of Alpharetta amphitheatre

If you were among the couple of thousand people who eased back into concert-going Friday night, a word of advice: stock up on patience.

The first major show since the coronavirus pandemic obliterated the live music industry in March enticed about 500 carloads of fans (up to four people per car) to fill the VIP parking lot at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre. This “Live From the Drive-In” series produced by Live Nation will present seven additional events at the venue lot this month, including Blackberry Smoke on Saturday, the music of Led Zeppelin with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on Sunday and the Indigo Girls and Yacht Rock Revue Oct. 23-24.

ExploreMusic Notes: Live concerts, yes, actual outdoor concerts, are back in Atlanta
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit played the first major concert since the pandemic for Live Nation's "Live From the Drive-In" series, held in the parking lot of Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on Oct. 16, 2020.

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit took the festival-style stage about 8:20 p.m., but the load-in experience for fans was a bit different than our park-a-mile-away-and-trudge-into-the-venue routine.

At 7 p.m., a line of cars stretched out to Encore Parkway and the slow crawl toward the lot – which included a quick safety sweep under each vehicle – took 28 minutes. But once on site, movement was brisk and efficient, with drivers directed in first-come, first-served order to their allocated section (based on ticket price).

A laminated placard placed on each windshield includes QR codes to order food, beverages or merchandise, which is delivered to the car by an event staffer (fans can also bring their own refreshments, including alcohol).

Most attendees opted to spread out in the additional space next to each car and appreciate the cool, clear weather (masks are not required while in your space, but are if you leave for any reason) and, as noted by Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, all seemed “happy to have a reason to get out of the house on a Friday night.”

Elaine and Chris Clark, from Pine Lake, Georgia, watch the Jason Isbell concert from the back of their truck.

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Is this an ideal concert experience? Eh. It’s hard to feel collective energy from a crowd separated by tons of metal and tires; and even with a set of video screens flanking the stage and two more erected about halfway back in the lot, those parked on the far sides of the grass have a limited vantage point.

But, as Conlon said, “We’re all making compromises. This (experience) is safe for everybody and right now this is the best option we have.”

ExploreSave Our Stages Fest to include performance from Monica at Center Stage

Isbell and his stellar five-piece band also appeared grateful for the opportunity to perform in front of actual people instead of a camera in a room for yet another online performance (although the sold-out show was also available as a livestream).

“I’m glad somebody did the work to make it possible to have a live rock ‘n’ roll concert,” Isbell said.

With no lights on in the parking lot during the 19-song set, the stage glowed, casting a teal hue as Isbell and Co. dove into “Overseas” - from current album “Reunions” – as well as the bass-driven “24 Frames” and “Running With Our Eyes Closed.”

Fans gather to watch Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit play the first major concert since the pandemic for Live Nation's "Live From the Drive-In" series, held in the parking lot of Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on Oct. 16, 2020.

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Isbell is such a folksy troubadour and he sprinkled the set with casual chats with the band – whom he introduced throughout the concert – and stories for the crowd, including a sweet dedication of “Letting You Go” to his daughter with Amanda Shires, Mercy Rose.

Shires, a potent performer in her own right, joked with Isbell about having a reason to wear clothing other than sweatpants before the 400 Unit unveiled the sparse “Traveling Alone,” accentuated by her weeping fiddle.

Isbell’s songwriting – deep, poignant, captivating – took a deserved spotlight with the back-to-back beauty of “Dreamsicle” – a coming-of-age tale filled with vivid imagery – and “If We Were Vampires,” a song that marries melancholy and tenderness to perfection.

But, this band is also capable of ditching the strumming in favor of a thumping bass drum and electric guitar, which they did on the darkly humorous “Super 8,” given a rowdy kick by Isbell’s stinging guitar, and the meaty rocker “Go It Alone.”

Even the far reaches of the parking lot heard Isbell and the 400 Unit unleash what was surely a lot of pent-up energy and reveled in the adrenaline.

Of course, those who traveled home southbound on 400 felt that energy surge turn to annoyance from the miles-long construction backup, so again we say…patience. Everything these days consists of baby steps forward.

Follow the Atlanta Music Scene on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Author

In Other News