“Each car felt like a small venue”: how it feels to play a socially distanced drive-in gig

Danish singer-songwriter Mads Langer made headlines across the world when he played a coronavirus-proof show to 2000 people in 500 cars in Aarhus. He describes the bizarre concert – in his own words

“I try to remind myself to be curious and to stay brave. That’s something my Dad told me when I was a child: ‘You’ve got be brave because otherwise it’s gonna be a waste of life’. So I thought: ‘How can I turn this crisis into some sort of an adventure?’

“The whole drive-in gig was something that me and my girlfriend talked about just after the coronavirus came about. I had started streaming concerts from my living room. Instead of just filming it on an iPhone I tried to set up beautiful lights and do high-end sound and visuals as well. Then my big Copenhagen arena show was cancelled on April 3 and I thought, ‘How can I do something special here?’ So I played in an empty arena and broadcast it with amazing visuals and great sound.

“At the same time the industry in Denmark was really talking about the drive-in concert, and some friends asked me if I would be interested in doing the first one. I was totally up for it, to try and turn this situation around. When the day approached I was getting really nervous because I really didn’t know how to prepare for this concert. I’ve done tons of concerts in my career so far but this was really a first. I didn’t know what to expect.

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“We decided on doing the gig on Sunday night and put the tickets on sale on Tuesday, with the concert booked for the Friday. I was like: ‘Do we have enough time to sell the tickets?’ It was just incredible that it sold out in minutes, but that puts pressure on your shoulders. In the end, the gig was nothing like I expected.

“When the arena was filling up with cars, it felt like a normal big show – this is a venue that usually holds 30-to-40,000 people. But when I started playing it turned out to be completely different. Because even though there were 2000 people in 500 cars, it ended up being an extremely intimate setting. I realised that I was not playing to 2000 people; I was playing to four people times 500. I really felt like I was playing to the small rooms in the cars.

“After me saying ‘Hello’ and playing the first two songs with horns blowing back at me and windshield wipers waving, I thought, ‘I’ve gotta find a way to start communicating with them’. So we created a Zoom conference call that everybody in the concert could attend. Their images images appeared on a big screen on the stage. It ended up being more like a request concert. I pointed at a car and said, ‘Hi guys! Who are you? Where have you come from? How are you affected by the virus?’ Concerts can be intimate but not this intimate. It ended up being a conversation with people. That’s something that I’ll never forget.

“The regulations stated that people could roll down their left-side windows, so they were all waving at me. We tried different things for applause. At first people were blowing their horns but then people started shaking their cars. It ended up being a funny moment because the small cars would shake a lot and the big cars would shake less. You could also tell the size of the people in the cars.

“The highlight of the show came about when I asked a couple in one car which song they wanted me to play. They asked for my hit ‘Fact-Fiction’. I said, ‘Sure – why this song?’ The woman replied, ‘I’m a dancer and two years ago I did the choreography with a dance group when you performed that song on a big TV show, but I got pregnant so I had to watch it from home.’ I asked her, ‘Do you still remember the dance?’ She said ‘Yes’ so I invited her to come onstage and share the dance with me and the rest of the audience. She ran barefoot all the way from the back of the audience and danced throughout the song, with her at one end of the stage and me at the other. I was happy to have company onstage. It ended up being a beautiful moment.

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Credit: Camilla Lundbye / Gonzales Photo

“I received really good, warm, happy feedback from the audience. People are just longing to do something else and forget their worries for a second – to go out and interact with other people. We are not meant to be isolated in our homes. There was a great atmosphere and it’s become a worldwide thing that people are excited about. It’s beautiful. I’m so grateful to be spreading a little bit of sunshine in these dark times.

“You can still do what you love at the moment; you just have to rethink the way in which you do your thing. I have a good friend who lost both of his parents to the coronavirus, so I’m saying this in the most respectful way, but I do think that this time can be a big lesson for everybody if we reflect on how we can change our lives for the better.”

As told to Jordan Bassett

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