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Banding together: Jimmy Buffett will kick off concert series aimed at helping drive-ins go digital

June 13th, 2014 9:47 am by Lurah Lowery

Banding together: Jimmy Buffett will kick off concert series aimed at helping drive-ins go digital

Drive-in theaters are struggling to stay open due to the film industry's digital conversion, but Jimmy Buffet and The Coral Reefer Band, DIRECTV and digital drive-ins that have already made the switch have come up with an idea they hope will help.

Live at the Drive-In Music Series will begin June 19 with a performance by Jimmy Buffet and The Coral Reefer Band at Coyote Drive-In in Fort Worth, Texas. Each concert will be broadcast live via a DIRECTV channel at digital drive-ins across the country. The concert will be broadcast locally at Central Drive-In in Norton, Va., and Park Place Drive-In in Marion, Va.

"The best way to describe it is Jimmy Buffet is a huge drive-in fan and when the Coyote Drive-in opened up near his home in Fort Worth, Texas, he wanted to help other drive-ins," said Paula Herron, co-owner of Central Drive-In and its parent company, Mountain Entertainment, Inc. "The best way to do that was to help develop this concert series."

Tickets are $18 and can be bought at the drive-in or online at liveatthedrive-in.com. There are 400 parking spaces available at Central Drive-In. A percentage of the proceeds from ticket sales for the concert series will be given to drive-ins that have not been able to make the switch to digital projection.

Another ongoing attempt to save U.S. drive-ins began last year by Honda. According to projectdrivein.com, the majority of American drive-ins faced closure with the movie industry's switch from film to digital at the end of last year because of the $80,000 cost. In less than a year, Project Drive-In has saved 10 drive-ins directly and another 17 have been saved as a result of publicity of the project. Visit projectdrivein.com to learn more about how you can help.

Though Central Drive-In wasn't saved by Honda's Project Drive-In, the Herrons did not give up. A fundraiser brought in approximately $2,000 for the drive-in. The rest of the $110,000 to $120,000 needed to convert the drive-in to digital, which included a roof project, the conversion of the projection room and purchasing a digital projector, was paid by the Herrons' with the help of a finance company.

The couple also owns a nine-screen indoor cinema in downtown Norton. After buying a total of 10 digital projectors for both facilities, they are now over $1 million in debt.

"Drive-ins are really owned by mom and pop companies," Herron said. "They're not usually big corporations. People have this misconception about big corporations anyway but these drive-ins are usually just little small businesses and they're seasonal. $100,000 is a lot of money for a seasonal business. Anything we can do to help these people is good. All I'm asking for is support for people who deserve it. This isn't about getting tax breaks for big companies; this is maybe about somebody feeding their grandkids or clothing their kids. This is about small businesses. This isn't about big business."

According to Herron's research, Central Drive-In is one of the oldest drive-ins in the state of Virginia that has never closed. The facility was opened in 1952 by the Kiser family along with the help of the Lay family. The Kiser family owned the drive-in until 2005, when the Herrons purchased Mountain Entertainment, Inc.

"We wanted to get involved because we felt like it was important to pay it forward and to help other people," Herron said. "Through the digital technology we're able to do these concerts."

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