The Grand Opera House’s Concerts by Cars series in the Frawley Stadium parking lot began so it could offer live music to patrons while the theater is shut because of COVID-19.
But that successful series seems to have inspired an invitation-only drive-in viewing Thursday night at the Chase Center at the Riverfront of Joe Biden’s acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for president.
Frawley Stadium and the Chase Center sit side-by-side and share parking lots.
Organizers of Concerts by Car, which have packed hundreds of socially distanced cars into the parking lots for concerts by Wilmington’s Rock Orchestra and others, got a little sense that something was going on last weekend at its Montana Wildaxe concert.
The Riverfront Development Corp. asked if it would be alright if fireworks were shot off at the end of the concert.
“I said, ‘That’s not a problem. That would be great,’” said Mark Fields, the Grand’s executive director.
Fields was told it was “a demonstration for something that may or may not be happening next week.”
“Huh. Ok. Got it,” Fields thought. The short program of fireworks at one point included about 100 rockets going off in a minute.
Megan McGlinchey, executive director, said in an email Wednesday morning that the RDC didn’t organize or pay for those fireworks.
Some questions for The Grand started getting specific.
“The Grand was consulted by two DNC staffers to provide maps, drone footage and planning documents to support their plans to create a drive-in movie effect in Frawley Stadium’s parking lot, similar to our Concerts by Car layout,” said Andrew Truscott, the Grand’s asscociate director of marketing.
Still, nobody at The Grand knew about the drive-in viewing of Biden’s speech planned for Thursday.
The Grand staff did know before most people that part of the Democratic National Convention was heading to Wilmington because a lot of the technical people they hire to put on shows were being hired to help at the Chase Center. Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, are expected to give acceptance speeches there that will be broadcast around the world.
“It’s been a real net positive,” Fields said. “All of our stage hands who are in the local unions are getting work at a period of time that they wouldn’t otherwise be working. So seeing our friends and members of our extended family have some to do is a great thing.
“But it was still kind of funny everybody felt like they had to be coy about it.”
The Chase Center, its parking lots and even nearby streets have been turned into a gated island in the city, surrounded by tall fences and massive barricades. The noise was thunderous Tuesday morning as trucks and other equipment were placing concrete barriers. Quick drives to work for those on the riverfront had turned into chores to get around the area.
The Chase Center itself and nearby buildings have been festooned with giant American flags easily visible from Interstate 95, and the parking lots are studded with white tents of many sizes.
But the center was silent Saturday when The Grand and its contractors showed up to get the site ready for the Montana Wildaxe show. They were startled to see parking lots weren’t empty as usual, but instead were filled with all kinds of vehicles working with the DNC.
For a few brief minutes, the staff fretted they might have to cancel the show, but the DNC-related cars got moved and it started on time.
The only change the Grand had to make was moving its portable potties from the Chase Center to Frawley Stadium.
That was no big deal, Fields said.
“There’s always some kind of last-minute adjustment you have to make,” he said.
Erik Raser-Schramm. chairman of the Delaware Democratic Party, will be one of the people in the parking lot for the drive-in viewing of Biden’s speech. Raser-Schramm has been watching the convention on a bank of computer screens at his home.
“Since the very beginning, Biden campaigns have been family affairs,” Raser-Schramm said. “So while we’re sad for Joe that he’s missing out on some of the pageantry of a traditional Democratic National Convention, we’re excited and honored to have him here at home to celebrate with us.
“Most of all, though, we are proud to support a selfless and centered candidate for president; someone willing to prioritize public health over pomp and circumstance. And with the hard work of the Biden campaign, the DNCC, and our team at the State Party, I’m confident that as we make history together here in Delaware, we’ll also forge memories that will last a lifetime.”
The Grand has been spacing cars out in every other space and every other row for its concerts. That social distancing allows patrons to get out of their cars and sit in camping chairs to watch the program, which also is streamed over the radio for them to hear better. Patrons are asked to stay with their cars and to wear masks if they move around from their spots.
Fields said he’s not really involved with the logistics of the drive-in concerts.
“But I can tell you, for an institution that that’s not really our main business, we’ve actually gotten pretty good at doing drive-in concerts,” he said.
They’ve learned a lot along the way, including that they needed bigger upfront screens so the cars at the back of the parking lots could see the performers better.
The Grand organizers — forced into the concert series when Delaware’s Democratic governor shut the state down because of COVID-19 — are interested to see what happens when the Democratic candidate for president accepts his speech with drive-in viewing.
“It is great to see successful events like The Grand’s Concerts by Car create the blueprint for an event of this magnitude,” Truscott said.