By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
Thinking that rules for drive-in movies would apply for a drive-in concert, Lake George music promoter Dave Ehmann put together a three-show run by Vermont jam band Twiddle July 31-Aug. 2 at the Festival Commons space in Lake George Village.
The two initially scheduled shows both quickly sold out — 190 vehicles for each concert — so Mr. Ehmann booked a third and that sold out, too.
But the whole gig was cancelled at the 11th hour after Governor Andrew Cuomo said drive-in concertgoers cannot leave their cars during a show — other than to use bathroom facilities.
That led Twiddle’s management to cancel, Mr. Ehmann told The Chronicle.
“I’m looking at $35,000 to $40,000 out of pocket that I won’t get back,” he said.
“My whole crew was already here, the best in the circuit, coming from all over the Northeast” — including 30 extra staff for security.
Mr. Ehmann said they were booked into hotels and well into setting up the stage, sound equipment and lighting banks.
“I had $10,000 in merchandise…which I might be able to sell,” he said doubtfully.
“It’s not Twiddle’s fault,” Mr. Ehmann says. Once the stay-in-vehicle edict came, “technically I was in breach of contract.”
He says of Twiddle, “They didn’t have to return the deposit but because we have been friends for 11 years, they did. They paid their expenses to date and returned the rest. Usually you don’t get the deposits back. It could have been catastrophic.”
Mr. Ehmann adds, “We refunded every ticket,” within days.
He suggests the state stance may have resulted from a drive-in concert by the band Chainsmoker the previous weekend in the Hamptons on Long Island when social distancing rules went wildly awry.
But Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore says no — “Drive-ins were from early on listed…as essential, so long as they have social distancing and cleaning and disinfecting measures in place. The problem is, bands and concerts are closed. So, when the state was asked to weigh in on concerts, there was an assumption they could do the same as drive ins but that’s not the case. Allowing a concert at all was not a step back, but a step forward.”
Whatever the chain of decisions, Mr. Ehmann says he is frustrated by the loss.
“A lot of people know, this concert didn’t have a chance of making money, but we wanted to make some history,” he said.
“We wanted to make a statement with this — Lake George is awesome and we can have an awesome drive-in experience. This was a chance for Lake George to show itself, in a national spotlight, what we can do, and do it really well. We had 1,750 people, with plans for room to space them apart. We had two LED screens to show movie scenes and video from the show. We had 56 moving head lights up there.”
Mr. Ehmann said security measures, parking protocols, social distancing, advance communication and buy-in from concert-goers had all been worked out.
He argues, “You can have people six feet apart at tables, crowded in Walmart. Once you add a band, you get singled out.”
COVID has cost me $100,000, just on the entertainment side,” says Mr. Ehmann. He said he also temporarily had to pause his stone masonry business, his day job.
“Over the last 10 years,” he says, “I’ve spent in the hundreds of thousands to get people to come to Lake George for concerts. The Adirondack Independence Festival in the past couple of years had finally started making money. Not tons, but I figured in the next couple of year’s I’d start to get the investment back.”
A separate series of concerts by Adirondack Independence bands at the Strand Theater in Hudson Falls this spring was also cut short by coronavirus shut-downs.
Mr. Ehmann said ticket buyers tell him they are still waiting for their refunds from the ticketing agency — “and they never gave me the money for the Lucid and Gratefully Yours shows that did happen.”
Mr. Ehmann says he’s undaunted, that he’s thinking up ways still to do live music in Lake George that meets coronavirus protocols and state rules.
“If you can’t beat em, beat em harder,” Mr. Ehmann laughs.
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