NEW YORK — For country star Brad Paisley, who has spent the last two decades performing live concerts for feverish fans, the thought of touring being taken away never crossed his mind.
“Even as recorded music went through transitions where it was less lucrative and people were (dealing with) illegal piracy, or streaming was taking revenue away from record companies, I’m like, ‘Well at least we’ve got the live music. They can’t ever take that away.'”
And then the coronavirus pandemic hit — or as Paisley puts in: “COVID-19 was like, ‘Watch me.'”
That’s why the three-time Grammy-winner is so excited to be part of Live Nation’s first-ever “Live from the Drive-In” concert series, debuting next month, where fans can watch live performances from inside or around their cars with enough space in between groups.
Paisley, who will headline three of the nine shows, said he’s eager to perform “No I In Beer,” a song he wrote in 2018 about “having a beer in spite of everything” but released during the pandemic to help fans cope.
“(It) is perfect for these times,” he said.
Speaking of beer, Paisley is encouraging that concertgoers assign a designated driver before getting to the concerts, which also includes performers like Nelly, Darius Rucker and Jon Pardi.
“(It’s) literally a better situation than at my concerts,” Paisley said of the drive-in format, where ticket holders can bring their own food and drinks. “I look at that blasted lawn, they are so hammered. I’m like, ‘I don’t know who drove the 10,000 of you in the back that I see, but I hope they’re not back there because there’s nobody that needs to be driving.’ In some ways this is a safer setup in that sense, too. It’s like you can be sure they came in a vehicle and they didn’t leave their vehicle. They’re beside it.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Paisley discusses the upcoming live shows and more.
AP: How have you dealt with not being able to perform live shows like usual?
Paisley: You start to realize though that this (touring) thing that’s been a part of my identity as a performer since 1999, which is summers spent seeing faces and playing live music, is gone. This is such a blessing to be able to sort of get one past the goalie here, or three past the goalie, I guess, and play these. To get these shows and say, ‘All right, we can do a few shows like this and reach some people’ — I think it’s going to be really important for me, for my band, for the fans themselves. It’s a way of sort of letting each other know — we’re still here. We still care. Someday this will be over. There’s a glimpse of life again.
It’s going to be nuts. It’s going to be like a total return to life in some weird way and we’re all going to have a really good time. For me, also, I’ve got this band that’s been sitting around and … they’ve been with me since 1999.
AP: You’ve had the same band since releasing your first album?
Paisley: Yeah, it’s nuts. Our newest member is the steel player, who came along right at the beginning of the second album in 2000.
AP: What was it like getting the call from Live Nation to participate in its first-ever drive-in series?
Paisley: I’m just glad they didn’t just throw in the towel and say, ‘This year’s a wash.’ It’s really not about making money with any of these at all. This is more about, ‘Look, we’ve got music to play, there are fans that want to be there in some form, in some fashion. We need to figure out how to do that.’ I think that’s the best way to kind of stay sane right now — to sort of have some things like this that are safe and a release from everything. It’s mind-numbing.
AP: What do you say to fans who are hesitant about the drive-in format?
Paisley: Well, this is the trick, there’s a lot of variation to this that people are doing. In this case, one thing that’s really key is that … you don’t have to stay in the car, you can be in your parking space. You can be in your little parking area. You can tailgate, do what you would do.
Most of the people that go to my concerts, I’ve been out there in the parking lots prior and gone out there and seen — this is like what happens before the show, but it’s happening during.
AP: Are you tackling your set list differently in this type of situation?
Paisley: I think I will. I’ve got so many songs about vehicles. I was realizing that. “Mud on the Tires” is one of my biggest hits. I’ve got a song called “Moonshine in the Truck” … that kind of makes sense right now. That’d be fun to throw that in. It’s like, ‘How many car themes can I throw in this concert?’ It might just be one car medley after another.
AP: Do you see drive-in concerts being the norm for live shows for the rest of the year?
Paisley: I think it’s one of the best ways to do it. …This reminds me so much of high school of what we would do. We would drive out into a field, literally in high school. Our way of entertaining ourselves was to drive out into a field, a bunch of high school kids, in their vehicles, in the middle of nowhere, out this creek where we lived, blast music and light a little bonfire and just crank up songs. This feels … so organic in some way that I do think it’s a great way to do it.