Country star Keith Urban and his crew motored out to a drive-in theater Thursday night to put on a private concert for about 200 health care workers packed into 125 vehicles.
The show took place at the nearest drive-in to Nashville, the Stardust in rural Watertown, Tennessee, which took the night off from doing sellout business on its two screens to lease the venue out for an hour-plus concert that featured full lights and sound — both from the FM transmitters usually used for movies and from a PA set up especially for the event. Live footage of Urban and his one instrumental accompanist appeared on the screen overhead, along with photos of some of the doctors, nurses and other staff from Vanderbilt Health who were invited out for the thank-you gig.
The Stardust Drive-In has been operating at half the normal capacity to keep cars spaced out in accordance with social-distancing guidelines, and the same held true at Urban’s gig. It was the first such show by a major artist at an outdoor theater in the U.S. undertaken during the pandemic, although a number of concerts by lesser-known artists have already been announced for drive-ins in the weeks to come.
Speaking with Savannah Guthrie on “The Today Show” Friday morning, Urban described the concert as a test run for the format. “It was a lot of fun,” said the singer. “We didn’t know what to expect. So to some extent, from a performance standpoint, it was a bit of a proof-of-concept show, to figure out what works and what doesn’t. But we also really wanted to take the opportunity to not only do the first one but do it for the health care workers.” Showing their appreciation through honks as well as cheers, “they did an amazing job as an audience,” he said.
Regular patrons of the Stardust — which sits about 40 minutes east of Nashville and was built in 2003, unlike the mostly vintage drive-ins that otherwise pepper Tennessee — knew something was up, because of the cancellation of movies on what otherwise would have been another night of turn-away business. But the show was a closely guarded secret right up till showtime, and requests for coverage from media outlets that got wind of it were declined.
In a statement after the concert, Urban said, “I did this to say thanks to the health care workers who are putting their lives on the line for us every day. And performing in this environment, with everyone in their cars at a safe distance from one another, seems like an amazing opportunity for everybody to just let go and have fun. And I’m a musician — I have to play!”
Urban isn’t waiting long for his next performance. He’ll be part of Saturday night’s Grand Ole Opry show, which is being broadcast, as it has from the beginning of the lockdowns, from the Opry House in Nashville without an audience.