Musician Marc Rebillet Is Using Drive-In Theaters To Go On A Socially Distant Tour

Jun 4, 2020
Originally published on June 4, 2020 8:24 am

Marc Rebillet was supposed to be on tour this summer, playing electronic music at festivals throughout the United States and Europe.

"Of course, those have been canceled," the New York City-based musician said.

As COVID-19 sweeps across the world, musicians have been forced to postpone, reschedule or cancel tours altogether, leaving countless artists struggling to maintain their livelihoods.

For Rebillet, bidding farewell to live shows means he is not only losing ticket sales, but also the force that fueled his work.

"I'm a one-man show," he said. "I make up songs from scratch. And I rely a lot on my audience to give me the energy to do that."

The coronavirus crisis has emboldened artists to come up with solutions. Rebillet was already hosting live-stream performances from home, but those are difficult, he said, because "you're still just alone in your apartment." He was looking for a way to recreate his improvised show amid the pandemic: a show with no plan, no set list and no preparation.

Rebillet was on the verge of despair when he got a call from his agents. They told him that a musician in Germany was doing live shows at drive-in movie theaters, which left Rebillet feeling inspired. He thought it was a bold way to go on tour in the midst of a pandemic, so he and his team booked nine venues for a summer tour starting next week that will take him from Baltimore to Houston.

It's the drive-in's intrinsic ability to nurture social distancing guidelines that has given it a kind of renaissance in the age of COVID-19. Beyond movies and concerts, drive-ins are being used for everything from fine dining to stand-up comedy.

"Under any other circumstances, it would not be the perfect venue," he said. "People are in cars. It's this wide-open, empty, untreated space that's outdoors and not really conducive to live sound. But everything I just said is exactly why it works perfectly for a concert during social distancing and quarantining."

Just like his other live shows, Rebillet is looking for ways to engage the audience in his act. But this time, he'll be using a wireless mic and the cars of his audience as his props.

"I'll pay your insurance claim if I jump up onto your car and there's a scuff — I got you," he joked. "We'll use windshield wiper fluid, blinkers, horns, you name it ... The prospect of that — figuring out how to engage with people while they're stuck inside their cars — is exhilarating to me. It's the most wonderful challenge."

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESSENTIAL WORKERS ANTHEM")

MARC REBILLET: (Singing) Oh, yeah, you're essential. Oh, yeah, you're essential.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, so this is the music of Marc Rebillet. He is an electronic musician. And he was supposed to be pretty busy this summer.

REBILLET: I really was. I really was. It sucks. I was supposed to be doing all sorts of festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe. Of course, those have been canceled.

GREENE: Rebillet is based in New York City. And like almost every other musician on the face of the planet, he saw his live gigs dry up because of the pandemic. And Rebillet needs an audience for more than just ticket sales. It's also what fuels his music.

REBILLET: I'm a one-man show. I make up songs from scratch. And I rely a lot on my audience to give me the energy to do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REBILLET: (Singing) Surrounded by love, by love. Surrounded by love, by...

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Rebillet was on the verge of despair when he got a call from his agents. They told him that a musician in Germany was doing live shows at drive-in movie theaters.

REBILLET: Stop talking. Get off the phone, and let's do this. Let's do this immediately. Let's go.

INSKEEP: Rebillet and his team immediately got to work calling up drive-ins. And they managed to book nine venues for a tour starting next week.

GREENE: And Rebillet says the old-fashioned drive-in is really the perfect venue for this moment.

REBILLET: This is a place where people can literally get in their cars, drive into the venue, never have to have contact with another human being if they don't want to and enjoy a live show.

GREENE: And what a show it will be.

REBILLET: I'm going to have a setup to where I can take a wireless mic and run around the cars, I can jump up onto the - I mean, I don't know. You know, I'll pay your insurance claim. If I jump up onto your car and there's a scuff, I got you. You know, we'll use windshield wiper fluid, blinkers, horns, you name it. It's like the most wonderful challenge.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARC REBILLET'S "HOW TO FUNK IN TWO MINUTES")

GREENE: New kind of concert, right? Musician Marc Rebillet will be doing a tour of drive-in theaters starting next week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARC REBILLET'S "HOW TO FUNK IN TWO MINUTES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.