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Ben Ballinger
(Dave Creaney)

Ben Ballinger's first drive-in concert sold out in hours, so he plans to make it a weekly event.

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Ben Ballinger can't remember the last time he went more than two months without playing music in front of an audience.


But with venues throughout Austin closed since mid-March as part of precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the singer-songwriter said he hasn't set foot on stage since late February, when he performed at a local fundraiser for one-time presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

That hiatus came to an end May 7, however, thanks to some ingenuity—and Ballinger's instinct that Austin music fans are hungry for a chance to experience live music again.

Along with fellow songwriter David Ramirez and the duo of Kevin Curtin and Gary Lindsey, Ballinger booked a drive-in style concert in an undisclosed field in south Austin that accommodates 25 vehicles.

Once at the location, which was distributed only to ticket holders, passengers stayed inside the vehicles and listened to the live performances on the car radio via a low-power FM transmitter. Since all 25 slots, at $20 each, sold out in less than two hours, Ballinger said he's encouraged that local fans are ready to support live music again even if they have to do so in an unusual setting.

"My stir-craziness, if I have any, is not why I wanted to do this. But I did sense an overall stir-craziness in the community and that definitely played into it," he said. "I tried to do as much market research as I could because I didn't know how it would be received and everyone has different levels of precautions. As soon as they heard what I was thinking, everyone thought it was a great idea."

The do-it-yourself gusto that inspired Ballinger to organize the concert roughly two weeks after first conceiving of the idea means attendees had a far different experience than they've grown accustomed to while attending shows in any of Austin's dozens of bars and live music venues.

Performers used a cargo rack atop Ballinger's Chevrolet Suburban as their stage, with no alcohol on sale. Concert flyers acknowledged the lack of public restrooms on-site, which Ballinger said played a part in the decision to keep the concert short, at 90 minutes total, as a way to minimize discomfort.

Tickets for tomorrow are sold out, but Ballinger plans to make this a weekly event.

The quick sellout has Ballinger planning to host performances weekly and he's encouraging interested acts to contact him via email (see flyer) to take part in what he said is likely to be one of the most nontraditional concert settings he or anyone else involved have ever been a part of.

"There's definitely a heartbreaking aspect to it—that in any other situation I'd be uncomfortable with the awkward distance we're going to have between us. But given the circumstances it's the best we can do right now," he said. "It's going to be unique. Part of why I felt emboldened to try it was because if anywhere was going to have something like this, this is the place where it could happen and the people here would support it and be open to it."

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