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Thoughts on Toronto’s CityView Drive-In

Itching to experience live music again? It’s going to cost you.

Smith’s Ranch Drive-In in Twentynine Palms, California. Photo by Cpl. Ali Azimi: https://www.29palms.marines.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2000015074/

In late June 2020, concert listings began to appear for shows at a brand new outdoor venue in Toronto, CityView Drive-In. The venue’s website promises “world class talent on a massive 238-foot stage with the Toronto skyline in the background.”

At first glance, the premise is terrific: at last, an opportunity to enjoy live music from the safety of our vehicles after months of physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic era.

Regrettably, the execution reeks of corporate greed. After fees, some tickets cost more than $90–that’s per person, not per carload.

For the sake of comparison, let’s examine the Allan Rayman concert that will be taking place on July 18. Last fall, I attended a club show by the genre-bending singer-songwriter for around $30. He was terrific, as always, and for $30, I had undoubtedly a far superior visual and social experience than a drive-in could be.

Music and performance should be valued, of course, but they should also be accessible, especially during this period of financial hardship. So, then, why are this summer’s drive-in events so expensive?

Smith’s Ranch Drive-In in Twentynine Palms, California. Photo by Cpl. Ali Azimi: https://www.29palms.marines.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2000015074/

Let’s begin with the obvious question: who is CityView Drive-In, exactly? Its website points to parent company INK Entertainment, the owner of several high-end nightclubs, hotels, and restaurants in Toronto and Miami. A 2012 Toronto Star profile on CEO Charles Khabouth estimated his company would be worth $75 million by the end of 2013. (A Financial Post article published in May of this year portrays Khabouth as “dejected” with “zero income,” while just last year, he bragged to Forbes about his luxury wardrobe of pieces by Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Prada, and Rick Owens.)

Some minor but off-putting edits have been made to the CityView website over the past few days. Organizers appear to be worried about the surrounding community tuning in for free. The site’s FAQ section previously noted the FM frequency that would be used to broadcast concert audio–it now states that this information will be provided at the event.

Additionally, a previous version of the website detailed the possibility of parking one’s car backwards to be able to enjoy the show from a trunk or flatbed. The current site has removed references to this option and instructs attendees to remain in their vehicles, further reducing the fun and informal nature traditionally ascribed to drive-in theatres.

Ticketing, naturally, is handled by Ticketmaster, a subsidiary of the global and increasingly monopolistic Live Nation Entertainment, who will undoubtedly be receiving a share of ticket sales. (Live Nation has already been scrutinized for their treatment of artists during the pandemic.)

CityView Drive-In appears not to have been created in reaction to artists’ and concertgoers’ financial and cultural needs, but rather to take excessive economic advantage of our present inability to gather socially.

I do not mean to attack the artists involved; I sympathize with them. Indie artists, who make the majority of their income by touring and selling merchandise, have been particularly affected by the pandemic. In fact, I would be interested in knowing how much artists will make from the CityView shows.

In the meantime, I will continue to support paid live stream concerts (such as those by Allan Rayman), buy merchandise and vinyl records, and hold on to my previously purchased tickets for indefinitely postponed events. I encourage everyone to do the same if they have the financial means to do so.

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