Drive-in raves: US concertgoers dance in their cars as alternative to music festivals

Hundreds of cars park up outside stages as part of a growing live music trend amid the pandemic

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Clearly visible from afar with her flashing earrings and sequinned jacket, Charity Valente is attending her first drive-in rave: a night of electronic music where the partygoers are in or around their cars.

It's a growing trend in the US amid the pandemic, as a makeshift alternative to the typical crowd-packed music festivals.

"We've been waiting for live music for seven months," she says, after driving four hours from Pittsburgh, US, to see jam group Disco Biscuits.

On a remote hilltop in Scranton, Pennsylvania, more than 100 cars are lined up, their headlights trained on the stage where two giant screens have been set up.

"We think it's the safest way for people to get together and enjoy music," says Donnie Estopinal, who since May has been organising drive-in raves in several states, including Texas, South Carolina and Florida.

Each one had a different theme – a DJ or a band, a dedicated radio frequency, multiple stages, fireworks – but there is one constant: the ravers stay in their vehicles, or next to them.

The trend was born in Germany in April, where the first in-vehicle raves sprang up after music festivals and clubs were shut down.

But with the drive-in being a classic part of America's heritage, the phenomenon quickly caught on with raves organised in a dozen states since the spring. On average, between 150 and 450 cars show up, with up to 2,500 partygoers.

Distance dancing

Tickets go for between $100 and $300 per vehicle. That buys a parking spot and an area marked off by a metal barricade to party in a short distance from the other attendees.

In order to avoid lines and the risk of infection, golf carts rumble down the dimly lit aisles delivering drinks to customers who bought them on an app.

Being able to see live music for the first time since the start of the quarantine brings me so much happiness

The experience is out of the price range for many, but for some the financial sacrifice is worth it.

"Being able to see live music for the first time since the start of the quarantine brings me so much happiness, and it will definitely have a lasting impact on my mental health," says Claire Gibson.

"People are being respectful and following the rules," says Tiffany Griffiths, as she waved her luminous rainbow cape between the aisles.

"I don't think this trend is going to last unless the virus lasts. We all want to go back to festivals," she adds. "People want to get back to how it was."