PAC launching drive-in shows at Monmouth Park parking lots

The Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, N.J., is launching a drive-in series of shows at Monmouth Park racetrack in nearby Oceanport, beginning with a July 11 performance by Garden State favorite Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes.

Within two days of announcing that show, a July 12 performance by comedian Jim Gaffigan was announced. The shows are being promoted in-house by The Basie Presents.

The Drive-In Live at Monmouth Park series should provide much-needed economic relief for the Count Basie Theatre. The roughly 1,600-seat landmark has been shuttered since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

New Jersey has been one of the states hardest hit by the outbreak, with nearly 12,000 deaths, second only to the roughly 30,000 killed in neighboring New York, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Both shows will benefit the nonprofit Basie Center, with a portion of the proceeds going to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

“I think we’re all having to come up with some creative ideas for how to build a runway because we’re not sure when we’ll be able to open again,” said Adam Philipson, president and CEO of the Count Basie Center for the Arts.

He described the theater’s predicament as “pretty dire.”

“We’ve had 68 shows either canceled or postponed,” he said. “We haven’t made a dollar and earned revenue since March 12, when we had our last show, with Tony Bennett.”

The Basie received an approximately $787,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan, but the funds would only sustain the organization for “maybe” two months, Philipson told CNBC in an early May interview.

Philipson, who came to the Basie in 2012 after more than four years as managing director of the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at the College of the Canyons near Los Angeles, said his team began looking for a place to stage outdoor events and has partnered with Monmouth Park on festivals and shows in the past.

Teaming up with the shuttered horse track, home of the annual Haskell Invitational Grade I stakes, just made sense, he said.

This year’s Haskell is scheduled for July 18 and will serve as a qualifier for the Kentucky Derby, which has been postponed to Sept. 5. This year’s meet at Monmouth Park is scheduled to begin July 3. It had originally been set to start in May.

“We definitely wanted to do something, but at the caliber of the artists we wanted to bring in, we knew we needed 900-2,100 cars,” and the expansive parking lots of the racetrack were a perfect fit, Philipson said, adding that the track has hosted the Warped Tour in years past.

He said the town of Oceanport has been extremely cooperative and enthusiastically supported the shows.

Philipson believes there is a huge appetite for this kind of live entertainment, noting “the artists want it” as well as the public.

Capacity for each show is about 900 vehicles, with four people allowed in each. Tickets for the Southside Johnny gig are $150 a vehicle, with $250 and $225 gold circle options for the first two rows. The Gaffigan show tickets are $165 a car, with gold circle options at $200 and $225.

Tickets go on sale Friday, June 5, through and by phone. Only touchless, mobile tickets administered through the Ticketmaster app will be valid for the performances.

Philipson said the Basie has a long-standing relationship with Gaffigan.

“He’s done anywhere between four to six shows a year at the Basie,” he said. “We’re reaching out to artists that are in our area. We felt the platform would work really well with comedy.”

Having a show that is family friendly fits into the desire to offer a diverse range of entertainment, Philipson said.

Cars will be parked 9 feet apart and masks will be required for anyone leaving a vehicle. Portable, single-stall restrooms will be available and cleaned after each use.

In addition to stage audio, the performances will be available over FM radio.

As of now, there is no food and beverage component, but that could change if allowed by the state government, Philipson said. No alcohol will be served.

The shows are being sponsored by World Subaru of Tinton Falls, N.J.

“The Asbury Jukes and I are so excited that we can play this first of its kind live concert and help get New Jersey started on a quick and healthy return to normal,” said “Southside” Johnny Lyon in a statement.“Why sit at home when ‘We’re Havin’ A Party,’ drive-in style? We’ll safely see everyone July 11th.”