This is What It’s Actually Like to See a Drive-In Concert in the Bay Area

Thundercat performs at the Bayshore Drive-in in Burlingame on Oct. 22.  (Nastia Voynovskaya)

After months of sheltering in place, being outside and around people feels strange—even for Thundercat, who played his first show since the COVID-19 shutdown at the Bayshore Drive-In in Burlingame last night. “This has been a weird year,” he told the audience. “Anybody struggle through the debate before this to make it worse?”

“Well, we’ll be alright—or not,” he continued with an ambivalent laugh, basically personifying the “this is fine” meme, before recommending that his audience tune into the new Inuyasha sequel.

In an oversized Dragon Ball t-shirt, with his dyed hair grown out and showing roots, it was clear that the celebrated jazz-pop bassist and singer has been just as affected by the cooped-up boredom, isolation and political malaise of 2020 as the rest of us. Between the airy, falsetto choruses of tracks from his new album, It Is What It Is—the title of which unintentionally echoes a dismal Trump quote about the pandemic, appropriate for a year of dark nihilism—Thundercat seemed to go from awkward to alive while shredding on his six-string bass, making the “ooh” faces of an impassioned rock star in sync with his instrument.

Like the audience, he looked at once thrilled and confused to experience the first fully fledged concert in ages in what basically amounted to a parking lot. At one point, he joked that our honks of approval sounded like road rage, calling it triggering, but he thanked us for our enthusiasm anyway.

The audience at the Bayshore Drive-In in Burlingame on Oct. 22. (Nastia Voynovskaya)

The Thundercat show was the first of a new concert series at the Bayshore Drive-In. It’s a golf course near the San Francisco International Airport that local sound company HUSHconcerts converted into a venue, with booking help from promoter Hotbox, which puts on these types of concerts across the country—a new trend thanks to the pandemic. It’s admittedly an odd place to see live music, but few Bay Area locations have enough space to meet COVID-19 safety requirements for a drive-in show, so I’m not complaining.

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Low-flying planes zoomed by and a community soccer game went on in the field behind the stage while DJ Umami played a bouncy and eclectic opening set with remixes of Cardi B’s “WAP” and “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac.

Mostly young groups of friends, people who probably would have been at Outside Lands or Coachella had they happened this year, danced around their cars. When Umami dropped the Trackademicks remix of E-40’s “Tell Me When To Go,” a few posses moshed and headbanged. The group next to me brought their own drinks in Solo cups. Witnessing the joy and seeing everyone’s crisp sneakers and colorful windbreakers made me feel, for a second, like I was in the “before times”; it was almost like the club, except for there was over 30 feet of distance between the performers and the audience, and we were in masks and not allowed to mingle. (I snuck a quick wave to my friend in another car on the way to the port-a-potty.)

All things considered, Thundercat’s performance was a promising start for the Bayshore Drive-In. The audience was flexible and respectful of the rules; everyone wore their masks and stuck to their group. (“Don’t let us end up on Fox News,” event organizer Robbie Kowal implored from the stage during one of his reminders to socially distance.) There was a bit of a traffic jam coming in, but getting out was impressively swift.

Drive-in concerts aren’t ideal by any means, but if this is the way to safely see live music as our country struggles to contain the pandemic, I’ll definitely take it.

Concerts at the Bayshore Drive-In continue with Pink Martini, Major Lazer and more. Details here