As the drive-in concerts trend picks up steam — four shows in Texas sold out so quickly that organizers added four more — Nashville has been slow so far to hop onboard. Keith Urban played a gig for health care workers in nearby Watertown earlier this month, and Michael W. Smith will host his own in Franklin, Tennessee, on Saturday, but the nation’s “Music City” has largely remained silent.
A hot-dog entrepreneur who goes by “Big Daddy” aims to change that. Beginning Thursday, Sean Porter will host “Daddy’s Dogs Drive-In Concert Series” at his flagship hot-dog stand in Nashville’s the Nations neighborhood. Artists like Cassadee Pope, Adam Hambrick, Kris Allen, Sonia Leigh, and Austin Jenckes will perform atop an outdoor stage built over a shipping container in Daddy’s Dogs’ parking lot. Up to 40 cars will be parked around it, tuning in to the music via an FM signal on car stereos.
Porter, a ubiquitous late-night presence in the city’s drinking districts with his mobile hot-dog carts, used to be a tour manager, spending 13 years on the road with live acts like Cage the Elephant, Elle King, Kris Allen, and Lifehouse. He says his on-the-fly skills make him well-suited to bring live music, in an unconventional form, back to Nashville: in this case, on a shipping crate in the parking lot of a hot-dog stand.
“I probably smoked one too many jays one night and looked at that storage container and said, ‘Dude, we should do a concert on top of that,'” Porter tells Rolling Stone. “Me and my business partner looked at each other and went, ‘Can we pull a show like this off?’ I started calling around, chatting with some of the artists that I knew, and everyone was itching to play. From there, I talked to the city and got their thumbs-up. It happened so quickly.”
Porter says he worked closely with Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s COVID-19 Task Force, who “approved and vetted” the event. While the tickets were free, hopeful attendees had to gain a parking spot in a lottery. According to an email sent to winners, Daddy’s Dogs said it was “taking all necessary social-distance precautions to make sure this event is safe and fun for everyone.”
He breaks down the protocols: “We built the system with the task force, and they gave us a lot of guidance. Folks will stay in their cars and listen to the radio, and if they need to get up to go to the restroom, that’ll be the only reason for any interaction. When they get here, we’ll give them a menu and a rundown of the night, and when they’re parked, we’ll have waiters roll up to their window, take their orders, and bring it straight to them,” Porter says. “We’ll be slinging hot dogs, and they’ll tune in to their radio and watch through their windshields.”
For many of the artists, all of whom are playing for free, the Daddy’s Dogs drive-in concerts will be their first live performance in front of an audience in months. Austin Jenckes, who released the album If You Grew Up Like I Did in 2019 and has a Daddy’s Dogs sticker on the window of his truck, last performed for a live crowd in March.
“My last show was in London right before the C2C [festival cancellation],” Jenckes says. “Until Sean hit me up, the only opportunities I had gotten were livestream shows online and a lot of discussions about ‘Can we even have a show?’ This was the first one that was presented as everything is going to be run like a drive-in movie.”
Jenckes says his wife and her friend will be attendance — but not backstage or onstage. “They’ll be in a car,” he says.
Porter plans to livestream the concerts on the shop’s Facebook page (airing nightly at 8 p.m. CT through June 1st) and will donate any proceeds to MusiCares to support musicians, road crews, and his fellow tour managers currently out of work.
The concerts aren’t intended to make some big statement, according to “Big Daddy.” To use a metaphor, he just saw an empty bun and added some meat.
“A lot of people are trying to see how big they can do one of these, and that wasn’t my goal ever,” Porter says. “My goal was to give a morale boost to people and say, ‘We can tip-toe into doing these live events again safely. When we started talking to the city about it, they said [a drive-in concert] wasn’t even on their radar, and I felt almost obligated to do it. If no one else is going to bring this back, I will.”