How the show will go on... with a twist to make it safe

Published: Jun. 10, 2020 at 4:07 PM EDT
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Restricting gatherings to groups of 25 makes big events almost impossible. But some local entrepreneurs figured out a way to make it work and stay within social distancing guidelines. Our Ike Bendavid has the details.

"We are looking to solve a need," said Alex Crothers of Higher Ground.

With live events and concerts canceled because of coronavirus, Crothers says he worked with community partners to bring live events back while socially distancing.

"It's, in effect, a drive-in," Crothers said.

With a stage set up at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction, there will by a four-camera shoot that will be mixed live on-site and broadcast to a 40-foot-high LED screen.

"This is not a business model, this is not a pivot, this is just a bridge to do something for the community to get people back together," Crothers said.

The concept is the field will be filled with 250 cars for concerts and events six feet apart with a patio in front so everyone can see the screen.

"It could do high school graduations, it can do concert events, it can do religious worship, it can do bingo nights," Crothers said.

And, like a drive-in, the sound will come through your car radio.

With plans to stay up throughout the summer, they will charge per car, not per person, with a maximum of four people to a car. Prices will vary per event from $20 to more than $100.

There will be bathrooms and food trucks available, but they encourage you to be smart and stay in your six-foot area with the people you come with.

"There is sort of a social contract that people are going to enter when people come to this. We all need to work together in terms of making this work," Crothers said.

It cost less than $100,000 to put the stage and screen together and was paid for through donations. All the profits from the summer are being donated.

"The whole event is a charity event, that's why we are hoping to keep the costs as low as possible to make it available to arts organizations and civic organizations," Crothers said.

"It's nice to have these kinds of fun events," said Tim Shea, the executive director of the Champlain Valley Expo.

As events canceled, the expo kept busy hosting the surge hospital and pop-up testing site for COVID-19.

"It's also nice to host an event like this, a celebration, a high school graduation and then leading into the concerts for the summer," Shea said.

The first events at the venue will be this weekend as CVU, South Burlington and Essex High Schools hold their graduations there, giving some seniors a chance to walk across the stage.

"When everything started to get canceled, we thought we were not going to be able to do this," said Liva Ball, a senior at Essex.

"I feel like we are very fortunate to be able to do that in this time," said Ella Lesmy, a senior at Essex.

After the test run this weekend, the goal is to start announcing other events.

"A lot of conversations going on," Crothers said. "We wanted to get this up and running and real before we put anything out."

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