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With Michigan performance venues closed to the public because of safety restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lake Michigan College’s Mendel Center has found an innovative, and safe way to bring fans back to the Benton Harbor campus.
It’s called the Drive-In Live! concert series. The vast parking lots surrounding the Mendel Center provide an ideal space for music fans, performers, and Mendel Center staff to socially distance while gathering for an evening of live musical performances.
A car pass admits up to six people and provides two parking spaces, one for the vehicle and one for tailgating. An FM radio signal bolsters concert audio, and with the aid of a large projection screen that shows all the action on stage, any parking space in the lot becomes the ideal seat.
“It is a phenomenal feeling to welcome artists and music fans back to the Mendel Center,” Mendel Center Executive Director Mike Nadolski said. “With almost all of the usual summertime activities in the region canceled due to the pandemic, the Drive-in Live! concerts fill a void and create a sense of connection in our community that has been missing during these challenging times.”
The series, which focuses on local and regional performers, also provides a welcome gig to musicians who have not been able to take the stage in what is typically their busiest season of the year.
“While fans certainly have missed live music, it is artists who have had the rug pulled out from under them in terms of their livelihoods,” Nadolski said. “We wanted to use this series as an opportunity for these talented performers to get back to what they do best.”
The Andrew Fisher Quartet, Jenna Mammina, and Mike Struwin kicked off the series on Aug. 9. Bryan Lubeck, The Sypian Family Band, and Dan Maxon performed in the most recent Drive-In Live! concert on Aug. 22.
In addition to the music, each concert features trivia contests and prize giveaways between acts. Beer, wine, and soft drink purchases can be made online by cell phone and are delivered directly to each personal tailgate zone.
While music and fun is center stage during these events, the focus of LMC’s Mendel Center staff remains on the health and safety of everyone involved.
“The well-being of everyone is our first priority,” Nadolski said. “We encourage patrons to stay within their assigned parking and tailgate spaces. Anyone leaving that designated space is required to wear a mask.”
There are currently two more Drive-In Live! concerts scheduled in September. Gates open at 5 p.m. with music scheduled for a 6 p.m. start. Tickets are now $10 per person, up to six people per vehicle. Tickets are available at www.TheMendelCenter.com.
Saturday, Sept. 19
- Siusan O'Rourke & Zig Zeitler: This husband-and-wife duo are three-time nominees for Irish Music Association’s Top Duo internationally; 6 p.m.
- Sankofa: A Benton Harbor-based group that plays an eclectic mix of old and new soul, funk, jazz, R&B and hip hop; 7 p.m.
- The Big Payback: An award-winning jazz-rock band featuring the soulful vocals of Leah Isabel Tirado and a smoking horn section; 8 p.m.
This concert is supported by the Arts Midwest Touring Fund, a program of Arts Midwest that is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional contributions from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Crane Group.
Sunday, Sept. 27
- Mike Talbot: A master vocalist, guitarist, and pianist, as well as a prolific and innovative songwriter, Talbot’s performance history, spans three decades, and includes a wide range of gigs, from local haunts to headlining concerts; 6 p.m.
- John Latini: New York native and longtime Michigan resident John Latini is a three-time Detroit Blues Champion; 7 p.m.
- Alex & Erin: Alex Holycross (The Native Howl) and Erin Zindle (Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds) have joined forces for a sound that splices Alex’s heavier bluegrass/metal style with Erin’s sultry songwriter/world music influences; 8 p.m.
Mendel Center 2020-21 season sponsors
Stage Side: The Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council, Honor Credit Union, Spectrum Health Lakeland, TCP Technologies, The Boulevard Inn and Bistro.
Platinum: Berrien Community Foundation, Pier 33.
Gold: Beaudoin Electrical Construction, Inc., Hanson Group, Horizon Bank, Metzger Insurance Company, Silver Beach Pizza.