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Two Borderfest concerts to join new “drive-in” trend

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UPDATE: After this story’s publication, Brian McNair secured the bands for ‘Rocking the Runway’ at Chris Hadfield Airport. Friday, Oct. 23 goes country, with Sarnia’s Scott Manery and the Barnburners opening for Canadian country music’s The Reklaws. Saturday, Oct. 24 is rock night, with Sarnia’s Rodney James & the Riot opening for Big Wreck. Tickets, on sale at www.ticketscene.ca, are $35 to $45.

Brian McNair is waiting by the phone these days so he can make a deal with a band or two and get a drive-in concert off the ground in Sarnia.

“It’s happening in other places, so why isn’t it happening in Sarnia-Lambton?” asked McNair, co-chair of the board for the event known as Borderfest.

Borderfest, like other music festivals, was cancelled this summer. But McNair and his team were told by the provincial government to keep the $29,000 Celebrate Ontario grant it received and use it for another entertainment event able to follow pandemic protocols.

“We either spend it or we lose it,” said McNair.

The concept of drive-in entertainment has already proven popular in Sarnia. Pathways Health Centre held an Oct. 3 drive-in event in its parking lot featuring the Celtic Hillbillies, apple crisp and coffee.

And the Metro store on London Road held two parking lot movie nights Sept. 25-26. Store manager Frank Scarpelli used the event to thank his employees and other front-line workers for their tireless effort during the pandemic. The free, ticketed drive-in sold out both nights.

McNair said a few ideas were floated to Celebrate Ontario and the winner was a live drive-in music concert, like one Peterborough hosted Sept. 18 and 19.

Peterborough, with a population similar to Sarnia’s, sold $65 tickets for the two-night show featuring The Sheepdogs and Tim Hicks. Patrons piled into vehicles and parked in a lot outside the Peterborough Memorial Centre, where a stage and big video screens were erected.

The event didn’t sell out but it was well attended. If McNair can quickly put a deal or two together with some Ontario-based bands, Sarnians would have the same opportunity, he said.

The city has offered the parking lot at Chris Hadfield Airport and Tourism Sarnia-Lambton is willing to help organize.

“We’re excited about using the airport,” said McNair. “We need this. Anything is better than nothing.”

He had just about nailed down a “bigger” act this summer but it fell through, he said. He’s now working on a concert weekend before the end of October. There’s a plan to have several local bands on stage too but McNair believes a better-known rock and or country name is needed to draw a large crowd.

As many as 200 cars with three or more people each could fit into the airport parking lot and maintain distancing.

A drive-in concert at the airport wouldn’t be free but would offer residents something they’re pining for, said Tourism Sarnia-Lambton general manager Mark Perrin.

It’s been a very tough year with almost every public concert scrubbed, he said.

“We couldn’t do Borderfest, but we want to use the money to soften the blow of the pandemic. We hope to provide the atmosphere of a concert and we’re just waiting for bands to commit,” he said.

Stay tuned.

The Arts Journal is all about what’s entertaining our community.  Send your ideas to [email protected].

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