Drive-in good time

More than 1,800 vehicles packed York Farms in Cullman for Alan Jackson’s Small Town Drive-In concert

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Country superstar Alan Jackson wowed fans at his Small Town Drive-In concert in Cullman Friday night, June 12, 2020. (Mike Witcher for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – More than 1,800 vehicles drove in Friday to Cullman’s York Farms, with concertgoers excited to see Country Music Hall of Famer Alan Jackson. Billed as the first large-scale concert event since the COVID-19 pandemic, the concert would “make history,” according to Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, who spoke to the fired-up crowd.

Trucks and cars filled the parking areas, and fans were encouraged to enjoy the concert from inside their vehicles or to get out and tailgate. Very few opted to wear facial coverings, but most people stayed in and around their cars with their family and friends. Guests were allowed to bring their own snacks and coolers.

To help people with social distancing, golf carts continuously circled the parking areas with lemonade, food and other refreshments. Food could be ordered via text; however, some received return texts asking them to visit the food booth. Others did not seem concerned with social distancing rules, and long lines for the restrooms and merchandise tent quickly formed.

Cory Farley opened the show with a set of country favorites mixed in with a few originals, including “You Can Go Farm Yourself.” One of the highlights of the night came when Farley asked everyone to honk their horns in an effort to let Jackson know they were there and ready to have a great evening. Horns honked, fans cheered and American flags waved.

“Hello, Cullman!” Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs yelled as he and other officials addressed the crowd before Jackson took the stage. “We want to thank everyone for coming out tonight and we want to thank you for this opportunity; we want to thank Alan Jackson and all the sponsors, because without them, we would not be here tonight, and we are gonna have some fun.”

He also thanked Gov. Kay Ivey.

Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) Director Kenneth Boswell spoke on the governor’s behalf: “HEY, Cullman! Is everybody having fun? Come on! Is everyone having fun? On behalf of Governor Kay Ivey, she wants to thank you for being here this evening. But, most of all she wants to thank you, Mayor Jacobs, and the city council for what you do every day for the citizens here. Let me tell ya, this being the first venue of this kind means a lot not only to the state of Alabama, but to our nation.” Boswell also used the opportunity to encourage folks to complete the 2020 Census.

Before taking the stage, Jackson and his wife Denise came through the crowd, escorted by the Cullman Police Department and Cullman County Sheriff’s Office, in the back of a pickup truck to wave and greet fans. He took the stage afterward wearing a red and white western shirt and his signature white cowboy hat.

The country music legend, along with his full band, performed for well over an hour, including one encore performance. He had the crowd dancing as he played his biggest hits “Gone Country,” “Chasin’ that Neon Rainbow” and “Little Bitty.” Couples danced to his ballad “Remember When” and the crowd roared as he performed “Chattahoochee.” The Newnan, Georgia native told several stories about his time spent on Lake Martin growing up, as well as family stories that inspired many of his songs such as “Drive.”

Before the show started, The Tribune interviewed several concertgoers.

Cullman resident George Canoles, who came to the concert with his wife, said, “We’re super excited about being here! They’re doing a great job with the social distancing and keeping us cooled down while the sun’s hot. We’re looking forward to an exciting show!”

A family from Eva commented that the event was a good way to bet everyone out after being cooped up inside for so long and that it was perfect weather to be out: “Lots of sunshine, natural air, not too hot or too cold.”

One resident of Madison, Josh, commented, “We just moved down here after retiring from the military – 21 years – and the coronavirus had got everyone all cooped up. Now it’s finally time to go out for the first time, so this is a cool set up!”

A pair of residents from Birmingham (one a graduate of Wallace State Community College) said, “I think it’s really cool what they’re doing. A lot of people were missing out on stuff like this – coming to concerts, interacting with others – so I think it’s cool that they were able to do this for everyone.”

“The parking’s not bad – the whole thing’s not bad – we were first parked over there (gesturing to the far side of the field), but we decided to move over here because that’s a terrible spot. But yeah, not bad so far,” said an Athens resident. “You mentioned you’ve never been to Rock the South, so why choose to come to a concert like this now?” we asked. “Because this is Alan Jackson!”

Step-sisters Megan and Brittany (from the Fultondale–Gardendale area and Blountsville, respectively) met up with a group of family and friends at the concert.

Megan gave her thoughts by saying, “I think it’s a cool concert! I think the restrictions… I think they’re in place for a good reason, but I don’t think anybody follows them.” “Have you ever been to Rock the South?” “I have. I went two years ago and I probably won’t go again. Compared to Rock the South, this is a lot better. You can have your truck, your cooler, it’s just a lot better I think.”

The Tribune started to interview a local girl from Cullman, but she brought us to meet her aunt – a self-proclaimed Alan Jackson superfan from Hamilton who said, “I love Alan Jackson! Been to lots of concerts, and my niece lives in Cullman, so when I saw that he was coming to Cullman, I called my niece. My precious niece bought me a ticket and said, ‘You’re going to the Alan Jackson concert.’ I’ve seen him in amphitheaters and regular indoor shows, and I actually like it being outside right now. I’d really like to be on that front row about this far (holding her hands about a foot apart) from him, but we’re very pleased.”

A pair of girls from Cullman named Madison and Olivia shared their thoughts, with Madison saying, “We came here just to get out after all this COVID stuff, and I think it’s a really nice experience with all the screens everywhere for everyone to see the stage, and I can’t wait to see him!” Olivia then commented, “I told my mama, ‘Look, Alan Jackson’s the one person I wanna see before he died or retired.’ So for me, this is the concert.”

Another group from Hamilton consisting of a wife, husband, the husband’s sister and the wife’s sister, all talked over each other to say how excited they were for the concert and how great they thought it was working out. One of the sisters commented, “This is gonna help raise morale a lot.”

A group of senior girls from Grissom High School in Huntsville said, “We’re excited! We’re sad that Rock the South was canceled, but we’re glad they at least replaced it!”

One fellow who traveled all the way from Woodstock, Georgia indicated that he and his friends intended to party responsibly, saying, “I got a breathalyzer with me just in case, so we’re gonna make sure we ain’t drunk before we leave.”

A group coming from Decatur was excited about the way the concert was set up, saying, “I love this! I love pulling up and being able to sit in the truck. I think this is going pretty well – I mean, some of those cars are way spaced out, so I’m not complaining because we got pretty good seats.”

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Heather Mann