coronavirus pandemic

New Vt. Venue Allows for Live Concerts Again—Drive-In Style

The event space at the Champlain Valley Expo will allow crowds to gather while observing physical distancing

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A new drive-in venue launches in Vermont Friday, where crowds can gather for events—while still keeping their distance.

"We're excited," said Jeff Bartley of the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction.

The fairgrounds and its partners at the South Burlington entertainment hall Higher Ground have teamed up on the concept, which was designed to accommodate events while respecting guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of the new coronavirus.

Friday and Saturday, the venue will host graduation ceremonies for three area high schools, including South Burlington's.

"All my hard work's paid off," said Haley Brown, a graduating South Burlington senior.

Brown added that she appreciates the effort of her school's principal, Patrick Burke, and other administrators, teachers, and staff who helped make Friday's graduation ceremony happen.

"It's really, really exciting to know that we're actually able to walk across the stage," said Ashley Darling, another member of South Burlington's class of 2020.

"It's definitely going to be something that no one's ever going to forget," added Brown and Darling's classmate, Gabi Ambrosino.

After the grads from South Burlington High School, Champlain Valley Union High School, and Essex High School cross the new stage at the Expo this weekend, the venue is going to stick around for several more months.

The plan is to keep hosting a range of large gatherings that otherwise would've been off because of COVID-19 rules on crowd sizes. Examples include political rallies, weddings, large bingo games, streaming performances of special arts events, and live concerts.

Kat Wright, the Vermont soul singer, is performing June 19. Higher Ground and the Expo believe there is pent-up demand among people who want to get out and enjoy music and other events—while doing so safely.

An archival video program celebrating the Vermont-born jam band Phish was also announced for June 16, according to Higher Ground's website.

More than 250 cars can fill the field in the venue, Bartley explained and will be spaced apart to observe physical distancing. One ticket covers a family or small group of friends in each vehicle, he said.

Those folks can get out and sit in front of their car to enjoy the show, as they could for a drive-in movie, but they'll be kept to their parking space and they can't gather near the stage.

A large video wall is set up high to help everyone see, Bartley noted.

"It's not what people are used to, but in this world—this COVID world—it's the best option that we have," Bartley told NECN.

Bartley said he hopes the offering helps communities reimagine how to get together again.

Organizers with Higher Ground are promising to share any profits from the programming with the Vermont Arts Council, the Expo added.

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