Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, NH recently transformed its business operations and parking lot into the “Tupelo Drive-In Experience” to produce live concerts under new social distancing requirements, with UltraSound (based in Martinez, CA) providing sound reinforcement headed by Meyer Sound loudspeakers.
UltraSound’s Scott Tkachuk has been working alongside Tupelo Music Hall’ owner Scott Hayward and production manager Paul Higgins since the conception of the drive-in shows in March. “About a week or two after the shelter-in-place order was issued, we began brainstorming. When the first phase of re-opening New Hampshire included drive-in theatres, we thought why not concerts? It had to happen,” Tkachuk says.
The Tupelo Music Hall team implemented creative methods of enforcing safety measures, while Tkachuk worked on providing an audio approach that was right for the job. Each “carload” is provided with two parking spots — one for the car and an adjacent space to stand or lounge in lawn chairs.
One challenge the audio team faced was addressing delay issues between the sound system and the car’s radio frequency. Although patrons had the option to sit in their car’s adjacent parking space, it was also important that the PA system align with the local radio station’s output.
“We’re only about a mile from the radio station and are on the same network node, so we used a web browser extension, Cleanfeed, that transmits high quality digital audio,” Higgins explains. “We managed to get the roundtrip, point-to-point audio measured to around 70 milliseconds and, naturally, matched the latency to the second row of cars. It’s not possible to match exactly, but we could make it early for everyone else. So, if the radio is turned up and could make noise before the PA hits the audience, they won’t notice the latency.”
With the new format, the venue’s outdoor capacity holds about 75 vehicles. The UltraSound-provided system consisted of four flown LEOPARD compact linear line array loudspeakers per side with two 900-LFC low-frequency control elements ground-stacked per side. Two MSL-4 reinforcement loudspeakers served as L/R side hangs.
“I talked to Scott [Hayward] and said, ‘if we are doing this until the snow falls in October, we should do this right.’ LEOPARD is tight, light, and has a compact footprint, but it’s very powerful. It is the most versatile speaker enclosure out there. I call it the Swiss Army knife of PA,” Tkachuk says.
In response to a successful first weekend, the Tupelo Drive-In Experience now has events scheduled for every weekend through mid-June with more shows expected to be added. In addition to concerts, comedy performances and more are on the horizon for the summer. For those unable to attend, the venue livestreams each performance on their website.
“The shows turned out fantastic and it’s really the best-sounding outdoor concert venue,” Hayward concludes. “There is something about going out and hearing live music. People were teary-eyed because it was a stress relief to sit in the sun and enjoy live music. It gave people hope and something remotely normal, so it was a big success.”