NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — On a breezy, 80-degree summer night, more than a thousand, mostly middle-age smooth rock fans, many of them sporting cargo shorts and captain’s hats, danced for two hours to tunes from the 1970s and ’80s by Yacht Rock Revue, who were performing in an Indiana parking lot.
A couple who looked to be in their 50s twirled like two young lovers around a camper van to a rendition of Toto’s “Africa.” Dads in polo shirts and shorts decorated with palm trees clutched cans of Coors Light as they took group selfies in front of SUVs and pickups bearing “Hall/Oates ’20” stickers.
The drive-in concert in the grassy parking area west of Ruoff Music Center, an outdoor amphitheater approximately 30 miles northeast of downtown Indianapolis, kicked off the first night of Live Nation’s “Live From the Drive-In” series, which includes nine performances this weekend by artists like Brad Paisley and Darius Rucker at three venues in the Midwest and Southeast. (Nashville and Maryland Heights, Mo., near St. Louis, are the other two host cities.)
The coronavirus caseload in Indiana increased on Friday, with the state reporting 748 new infections, the highest daily total since May 6. But Dan Murphy, a self-described Yacht Rock Revue groupie who follows the band around the country and has seen them play more than 20 times, said he wasn’t worried. Murphy, a 53-year-old father from Carmel, Ind., said he felt safe attending with his wife and 23-year-old daughter because he believes outdoor activities are low risk. “I feel like it’s safe as long as you’re wearing the mask when you’re near other people,” he said.
Sarah Gaspary, 37, who was attending with her husband and neighbors and wearing a white captain’s hat with gold trim, an accessory wildly popular among the group’s fans, said it was hard to know what to believe because she was hearing conflicting information from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I don’t want to be insensitive, but everyone’s going to die at some point,” she said. “At some point, you have to live your life.”
Live Nation instituted safety measures for the series: All tickets had to be purchased in advance and were scanned through car windows by staff members in masks who were careful not to make physical contact. There were about 400 cars gathered on Friday night, and each was capped at four occupants and allotted three spaces: one for the vehicle, one for tailgating and one that acted as a buffer space, allowing cars to remain about 18 feet apart.
Attendees were told to wear face coverings upon arrival, but they weren’t required to do so within the tailgating areas. (People were asked to wear them when they walked to the portable toilets — some did; some didn’t.) And to make up for the distance, LED screens were set up facing the temporary stage, giving attendees up-close shots of the lead singer Nick Niespodziani’s shaggy hair and form-fitting boot-cut jeans.
At around 7:45 p.m., Niespodziani’s call to arms rang out through the lot: “Indiana, it’s time to yacht rock!” The band then began a set that saw dads in rainbow shark shorts and boat shoes boogeying to Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” and “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates.
Martha Harms, 54, was bopping to strains of the Doobie Brothers’ “Takin’ it to the Streets” in a designated “gold zone” closest to the stage. “Aren’t they just so cute?” she said, motioning toward the band’s line of real-life dads (well, one cat dad) shaking a tambourine and soloing on the sax while standing six feet apart.
Harms had been worried attendees would be confined to their cars, but was glad to see that wasn’t the case. She said the night felt like a mix of a tailgate — though grills and open fires were prohibited, fans set coolers full of fruit salads, ranch dip and hot dog condiments on red-and-white-checked tablecloths — and a concert at The Lawn, the outdoor amphitheater in downtown Indianapolis. “It’s still a party,” she said. “It’s just separate parties.” She said it was the first concert she and her husband had attended all year because of “this stupid virus.”
Yacht Rock Revue, a tribute band that covers soft-rock hits from acts like Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac and the Bee Gees, and that released its first album of original music, “Hot Dads in Tight Jeans,” in February, was also shaking off the cobwebs. Niespodziani told the crowd it was the first time the band had played together since March. “It’s been four months since we’ve done karate kicks,” he said. “So it’s a good thing nobody busted their ass.”
Niespodziani said in a phone conversation on Wednesday that he hoped the performance would give people a safe way to escape. “If 300 or 400 cars are at our show instead of going out to the bars in Broad Ripple in Indianapolis, that’s probably a net win against the virus,” he said.
While many of the light-rock-loving attendees were in their 40s and 50s, Isabel Murphy, Dan Murphy’s 23-year-old daughter, said it was her first time seeing the group perform live. She discovered the dad rockers through her parents’ “playing their music nonstop on Pandora,” but has since become a fan. (As it turns out, other young women across the country have also recently found themselves in a Steely Dan phase.)
Isabel Murphy, a fifth-year student in the pharmacy program at Butler University in Indianapolis, works as an intern at CVS. “I come into contact with people every day, and I haven’t gotten sick,” she said. “So it’s this weird duality of knowing I have to be safe and social distance, but also not having been affected by it personally.”
Niespodziani said that he had been feeling anxious as case numbers were increasing in other areas of the country. But after talking to Live Nation in the weeks leading up to the event, he felt reassured. “I feel like this setup is safer than going to the grocery store,” he said.
But some attendees were ready for much more than a trip down the cereal aisle. Michael Gaspary, who is married to Sarah Gaspary, said he and his wife had tickets for the Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23, which, even at half capacity, could attract as many as 175,000 fans. “The information we’re getting is coming in cycles of three to four days,” he said. “So it’s very difficult to say what those numbers are going to be in two weeks, much less six to eight weeks.”
As the Yacht Rock Revue concert drew to a close, the sun sank to the left of the stage and a chorus of car horns clamored for an encore. Niespodziani led one last round of jean-straining jams, and “We’ll Meet Again” played over the loudspeakers as the crew closed up shop. Attendees returned hot dog buns and watermelon slices to Tupperware containers, and masked staff members waved as cars snaked back through the maze of orange cones and metal barriers to the 146th Street exit.