ALBEMARLE — Over the past months, local entertainment has been in short supply due to COVID-19 related precautions that have forced many businesses to stay closed.
But in a twist of fate, the drive-in movie theater industry has roared back into prominence thanks to its inherent social distancing design. Albemarle’s Badin Road Drive-In, one of only eight drive-in theaters left in North Carolina, is no exception.
And though it was built 72 years ago, it’s now taking on a bigger role in the community than it’s ever seen before.
“The drive-in has transformed from a regular movie place to a full-blown venue where we can have concerts and training events,” Tim Robertson, owner of the Badin Road Drive-In, told SCJ. “If you can do it in a convention center, now we’re able to do it at a drive-in. People are actually looking at drive-ins for things like that because we have the built-in social distancing and we can show whatever we need on the big screen.”
Last weekend, the Badin Road Drive-In was one of 300 outdoor theaters in North America that screened “Garth Brooks: A Drive-In Concert Experience,” an exclusive prerecorded performance by the Grammy Award-winning country artist.
While tickets for the first showing of the concert film quickly sold out, a midnight showing was able to accommodate another round of people.
“It was just awesome to see the lot packed out there and hear people singing and cheering,” Robertson said. “My mind has been blown by the response we’ve been getting lately. And since Hollywood has shut things down, we’ve been doing some throwback movies. People have absolutely loved seeing the old classic movies.”
Built in 1948, the Badin Road Drive-In had a capacity for 400 cars by 1955. Fourteen years ago, the capacity increased to 680 cars after a second viewing screen was built.
Robertson explained that because of COVID-19 precautions, the venue currently holds 350 cars, with designated parking spots marked by stakes that are placed six feet apart. While his venue isn’t legally obligated to limit parking spots like it’s doing, the choice to do so has allowed more freedom in other aspects.
“When we do the social distancing with the cars, that allows people to still sit outside their cars as long as they’re in their area, and we don’t have to worry as much about face masks,” Robertson said. “Our main goal is to keep everybody safe while allowing them to come out, have a sense of normalcy and have some fun.”
On July 28, the venue will host its first-ever live concert with an appearance by the Christian rock group Casting Crowns, who will set up on a stage placed in front of the projector screen. Tickets for the show are still available for purchase at Eventbrite.com.
Last week, Amazon Studios and Outlier Society (actor Michael B. Jordan’s production company) announced “A Night at the Drive-In,” a film screening series that will show 10 movies at drive-in theaters throughout the country this summer, completely free of charge.
One of the drive-ins participating is the Badin Road Drive-In.
“It’s awesome that we’ll be able to say that out of the entire country, we’re one of 20 locations doing this,” Robertson said. “We just want to contribute to the community and give people something fun to do.”
Curated by Jordan to showcase multicultural voices in cinema, the 10 films are paired by genre. The first round of double features begins in late June with “Love & Basketball” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” while the second round is slated for July 15 with “Black Panther” and “Creed.”
On July 29, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “Hook” will be screened; those films will be followed by “Do the Right Thing” and “Get Out” on Aug. 12. The final night of double-features, Aug. 26, will show “Coming to America” and “Girls Trip.”
Those interested in viewing any of the “A Night at the Drive-In” films at the Badin Road Drive-In can visit AmazonScreenings.com to download a free pass that reserves a parking spot for the movie.