Is this the future of live music?
It was hot enough to make asphalt sweat as 30 or so cars gathered in a Seattle Center parking lot Saturday evening. Clutching a wireless microphone, Seattle rapper Raz Simone patrolled a roughly 13-foot-tall roof connecting two parking-attendant booths. The local hip-hop mainstay was getting ready to lead Seattle’s first drive-in concert — and likely one of the first in America — since COVID-19 pulled the plug on the global live entertainment industry.
Simone’s DJ Anthony Danza, also a local rapper, set up on a folding table above an eerily obvious “No Attendant On Duty” sign. The surface lot at one of the city’s top tourist attractions was otherwise empty during what felt like the first weekend of summer. It was one of many signs that the surreal performance — equal parts drive-in movie, silent disco and hip-hop day rave — was operating in a world very different from the one we knew three months ago.
“This is crazy. Look at this backdrop we got here,” Simone said, motioning to the Space Needle and the Frank Gehry-designed MoPOP to his right.
Organizers did not have permits to hold the free semi-secret show, and its location outside Memorial Stadium was disclosed privately to fans the day of the event. It also may have violated Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order, which restricts public gatherings (though some drive-in religious services are now allowed, under the governor’s four-phase reopening plan, if they meet guidelines such as people in each car being members of the same household, and remaining in vehicles with windows up). The governor’s office could not immediately be reached Sunday. Still, concertgoers seemed to be practicing more social distancing than many parkgoers did at a popular Seward Park beach earlier Saturday afternoon.
Fans were instructed to remain in their vehicles and most everyone obliged, save for a man with an infant briefly stretching baby’s legs on the trunk of a Honda Civic. Maybe half of the event’s organizers and photographers wore masks, and performers, including local rap vets Fatal Lucciauno and King Leez, wiped off the microphone between songs.
While it was enough of a spectacle to draw attention from quizzical joggers, dog walkers and eventually Seattle Center security (who did not intervene), anyone standing across the street might not have even realized a silent guerrilla rap show was underway, as there was no amplified music. Instead, the beats and Simone’s gravelly vocals were piped directly into wireless headphones distributed to fans before showtime.
“I’ve never been to anything like this,” said opener Kateel, a 21-year-old rapper generating buzz in local hip-hop circles. “I don’t think any of us have.”
As the music thumped inside the headsets, two women hung outside the windows of a Jeep, dancing from the waist up. Hands tapped the side of a Saturn station wagon to the beat. Choruses of honking horns erupted between songs, substituting for traditional applause and adding to the confused looks from passersby, some of whom stuck around.
It felt like a scene out of a hip-hop “12 Monkeys,” a battalion of brazen artists commandeering a public space, its old-world purpose no longer relevant in our new reality.
The dystopian street jam, which one performer jokingly dubbed “the hood Bumbershoot,” could offer a glimpse at the near-term future of live music. As the concert industry tries to adapt on the fly with large-scale events on hold, such car concerts are one of the ideas being explored. A similar show, though held legally, took place in Denmark last month, and electronic artist Marc Rebillet will embark on America’s first drive-in concert tour in June.
Whether or not these drive-in concerts proliferate, Simone’s DIY pop-up show — which lasted more than an hour — stands as one of the more bizarre entries in Seattle music’s history books. And car-bound attendees seemed eager for their first taste of live music in months.
“It was everything I wanted,” said Terry Campbell, 32. He and his friend Hwan Choi took in the show from the comforts of Choi’s mid-sized sedan, hitting a 7-Eleven for provisions on their way there.
Both said they would happily attend any future drive-in concerts, even if admission was charged. Choi described Simone’s stunt as the beginning “of the new era for the new society that we’re going to confront.”
“I definitely think our society is going to change dramatically from now on, both economically and socially,” the 30-year-old musician said. “I think this rapper guy, Raz Simone, took a big first step.”