Leave it to Local H to help bring live music back to Illinois. After weeks of near daily streaming events and interactive activities for fans stuck at home — from crowd-sourced press conferences to cover-song showdowns with virtual tip jars for local venues and bartenders — the homegrown rock duo has arrived at its feature presentation.
On June 25 and 26, Local H will host concerts at the Harvest Moon Drive-In Theater in Gibson City (about a two-hour drive from Chicago). It’s the first large staged music event of its kind in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered live venues and put a ground stop to concerts since early March.
BOUND FOR THE DRIVE-IN WITH LOCAL H
When: 7 p.m. June 25-26
Where: Harvest Moon Drive-In, 1175 S. Sangamon Ave, Gibson City
Tickets: $15 per person Friday; Thursday sold out
“I love drive-ins. Something I’ve always wanted to do — even before the pandemic — was play a show at a drive-in, so this is kind of a dream come true for me,” says frontman Scott Lucas, who co-founded the group in Zion 30 years ago.Local H gained traction in the ’90s with alt-rock gold like “Bound for the Floor,” “Eddie Vedder” and “Hands on the Bible.” Drummer Ryan Harding joined in 2013 to complete the current lineup; he and Lucas released their latest album “Lifers” on April 10.
Local H had been on a national tour with Soul Asylum promoting the new album when the pandemic changed the course. “We had two dates left; we were in San Diego when we got the notice,” recalls Lucas. “It was a long drive home but also interesting to see the country go through those first days of nobody really knowing what was going on or what to do. The only thing I can think of that’s as close to this that I’ve seen was Sept. 11.”
Though back then, they pushed back the release of their album “Here Comes The Zoo,” the band opted to change the crisis plan this time around by going forward with the new release and becoming more engaging. “I think people need something to do right now; we need something to do to not give in to despair,” Lucas said. “When you watch artists get out their laptops, you get this real personal sort of interaction with people and I love it. I hope it never goes back the other way as far as that goes.”
As Lucas saw drive-ins reopening for movie screenings several weeks back, and with other acts like Keith Urban successfully pivoting to the model, the Local H frontman posed the idea during a Facebook live-stream with fans. “It was pretty easy to put together,” says Lucas, thanking Bradley-based venue Looney Bin owner Nick Huffman for the introduction. “Initially, we thought maybe it’s too far of a drive [for Chicago-based fans], but then figured people wouldn’t mind and maybe it would be a good idea anyway.”
After the June 25 date sold out within two days, Local H announced a second date for June 26 — at press time, tickets were still on sale. According to Ben Harroun, general manager, each date allows roughly 220 parking spots, or half of the normal car load, to allow for social distancing. Each parking spot will have 10-12 feet of distance to fully enjoy the show, which will feature the band on a stage in front of a jumbotron carrying a live feed. In addition to a full PA system, the show also will be broadcast on an FM dial.
“People have to stay in or near their cars. But they can set up chairs and blankets next to their vehicles,” Harroun says, adding that concessions will be available onsite or fans can opt to purchase a $20 food and drink pass to bring in options from outside vendors. There are also camping grounds and hotels nearby, with the shows ending by midnight. Adds Harroun, “The biggest change is there won’t be any pit area where everyone gathers by the stage like a normal show.”
While Lucas waits for the day that Local H can play shows like that again, he’s also been taking part in the efforts of the Chicago Independent Venue League, part of the larger National Independent Venue Association, that is asking Congress for critical funding to save local music around the country.
“This pandemic has not only affected us as artists but affected all of my friends, too,” says Lucas. “All of my friends work at venues or are bartenders or own venues. I think that a city that doesn’t have music venues or doesn’t have movie theaters, which is another problem right now, I just don’t know if it’s worth living in.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.