Live music returned to Music City Friday night (July 10), as Jon Pardi delivered one of the first large-scale concerts since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He kicked off the Live From The Drive-In series in the parking lot of Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, drawing thousands of fans eager for a much-needed night of live country music.
Overall the show felt like a success, with fans (mostly) observing social distance guidelines and Pardi sounding sharp onstage, but there was uneasiness in the air. The night should have been a triumphant milestone, marking a music community picking itself up and moving forward. But instead, as coronavirus cases surge across the nation and Nashville backtracks on its phased re-opening, the mood leading up to the show felt muted. Not Pardi’s mood, though.
“We’re playing a concert, yay!” he shouted playfully from the stage, dressed cowboy casual in a wide-brimmed white hat and electric-blue button down. “Thanks everybody for coming out. This is one of the first ever drive-in concerts in Nashville, so we won’t forget this one.”
In fact, the show was somewhat of a proof-of-concept. It was the first of three in Nashville while others began in St. Louis and Indianapolis at the same time, all with social distancing in mind. Other big ticket events like Garth Brooks’ recent Drive-In show were pre-taped, but here Pardi and his full band would be plugged in and cranking out real country tunes. Each car in the parking lot was separated by two empty spaces and fans kept to their own groups, ordering food or non-alcoholic beverages for delivery through a mobile phone app so they wouldn’t mingle in concession lines. The spread-out nature of it all did make for a bit of an awkward beginning to the show — fans seemed a bit rusty and Pardi had to work hard to get any real feedback — but he had plenty of hard-driving country music at his disposal.
“Night Shift” and “Up All Night” were early uptempo standouts, as Pardi announced a claimed attendance of around 18,000 fans, while loping acoustic tunes like his current single, “Ain’t Always the Cowboy,” had couples beginning to sway on their designated “dance floors.” The extra space was actually a welcome change — after a lifetime of being crammed into concert crowds like sardines, having room for a few chairs and a cooler and still some leftover was a definite upgrade.
But things really picked up around 45 minutes into the show, as darkness fell, empty cans accumulated and fans finally seemed to let loose. A look around found plenty of girls dancing in truck beds, and suddenly the show felt like a giant tailgate party.
A fiddle-sawing rendition of “California Sunrise” played up Pardi’s traditional country influence, while his recent Number One with Thomas Rhett on “Beer Can’t Fix” went down smooth, and the band joked about their guitar player throwing his pick into a non-existent crowd at the foot of the stage. Old habits die hard.
“This is one of the best Friday nights I’ve had since February,” the star said, echoing a thought that was tentatively working its way into many minds. “This is a moment for me.”
Crowd favorites like “Heartache Medication,” “Cowboy Hat” and “Me and Jack” signaled the show was over. But in an unexpected moment of group-think, thousands of cars and trucks began honking horns to call Pardi back to the stage for an encore. He gladly accepted the invitation, kicked off with the grooving “Heartache on the Dance Floor” before getting serious.
After wrapping with a run through his triple-Platinum 2016 hit, “Dirt On My Boots,” the band took a well-deserved bow — and for a brief moment of live-music euphoria, the world’s troubles almost felt out of sight. There’s clearly a very long way to go before the concert industry can come back full strength, but that brief moment was much needed.
“This is the best we can do right now, and we did it!” Pardi proclaimed.