Philadelphians love a good parking lot party (we’re looking at you, Eagles fans) but with all major gatherings on hold for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19, one event — The Parking Lot Social — is promising to bring the party straight to your car.
The five-day drive-in movie, comedy, music, and game event coming to the Navy Yard next week is a nostalgic back-to-the-future experience even Doc Brown and his DeLorean couldn’t have foreseen (though both will appear on screen during a showing of Back to the Future II at the event).
Running from July 22 to 26 at the Marine Parade Grounds at the Navy Yard, The Parking Lot Social will feature giant inflatables, a stage, two 40-foot screens, drive-in movies, stand-up comedy, DJ battles, a silent disco, bingo, trivia, “car-a-oke,” and food trucks — all of which are accessible without ever leaving your car.
“It’s a product of the times and an opportunity to get out and practice safe social distancing in a time when a lot of people are still nervous,” said the event’s tour manager, Dex (who legally has only one name. Like Cher. Or McLovin).
Philadelphia will be the third stop of The Parking Lot Social tour, which debuted last month in Houston, but had dates in Austin and Dallas postponed because of surges in COVID-19. The tour is currently in Tampa, Fla., where it is set up outside the Buccaneers stadium. The production is put on by XL Event Lab, which is based in Orlando, and Glasgow, Scotland, and operates Big Bounce America, the world’s largest bounce house.
When organizers had to cancel the remainder of this year’s bounce house tour amid the coronavirus, they wanted to create an event that could instill the same childlike wonder in kids and adults alike, while safely conforming to social distancing guidelines, Dex said.
“It presented them with an opportunity to think outside the box,” he said.
Navy Yard spokesperson Jennifer Tran said XL Events is renting space at the Navy Yard to hold the event.
“Now that Philadelphia is Reopening with Care, we are excited to provide the Marine Parade Grounds for The Parking Lot Social, a unique event that allows families to be together while enjoying fun activities a safe distance apart,” Tran said in an email.
Lyndsay Kensinger, spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, said as long as attendees stay in their vehicles the event would not violate Wolf’s order banning gatherings of more than 250 people outside. Event organizers are required to enforce the use of masks and social distancing guidelines if visitors leave their cars to use the restroom or buy refreshments, Kensinger said.
Tickets for The Parking Lot Social must be purchased in advance online at theparkinglotsocial.com. Guests can either put their tickets on their dashboard to be scanned upon arrival or display them on their phone. Tickets, which range from $39 to $59, cover an entire car (so no need to hide your friends in the trunk to save a few bucks). Only 250 cars will be allowed at each event in order to practice safe social distancing, organizers said.
Upon entry, each guest will be given a bag that includes headphones, a bingo card and marker, a menu for the food trucks, and additional items and event information, said Dex. Trucks and SUVs are permitted and guests can view the event from their truck beds, though larger vehicles will be parked at the rear of the venue to provide for a clear line of sight.
Bathrooms and food vendors will be on location, with mobile ordering and food delivery to your vehicle available. Patrons are allowed to bring their own refreshments as well.
Visitors will be able to listen to the movies, music, and other entertainment through the headphones provided or over an FM radio station on which organizers will broadcast the audio.
For the trivia contest, multiple-choice questions will be displayed on the big screens and attendees can download an app to pick their answers — which will not only be judge on accuracy, but also speed. Small prizes will be awarded to the victors.
During “car-a-oke,” guests are encouraged to tune in to the FM station and sing along in their car with their friends and family to the lyrics of karaoke classics — like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” — on the big screen.
“If you want to roll down your windows and belt the songs out, I’m not going to come by and tell you no,” Dex said.
At the silent disco, visitors are encouraged to use their headphones to switch between two DJs who tour with the event and will be battling it out on the stage. You can dance in your car, or even around your car, if so moved, Dex said.
Audience participation — at whatever level you’re comfortable — is a major factor in all aspects of the experience.
“There tends to be a lot of honking,” Dex said. “People honk the way they clap.”
The event begins Wednesday with a comedy night featuring local comedians, the lineup of which is still being finalized, according to organizers. Thursday is “Neon 90s Movie Night,” where guests are encouraged to dress in costume for a showing of Back to the Future II (imagine if Marty McFly would have landed in 2020 instead of 2015).
The main Parking Lot Social events are from 8:30 to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with kid-friendly family programming held from 1 to 3 p.m. each day. Midnight movies — requiring a separate ticket — will be shown Friday (The Fast and the Furious) and Saturday (The Purge). Sunday is family movie night, with a 9 p.m. showing of Grease.
“Drive-ins have always had that cool, nostalgic feel and for this time, I think it’s absolutely necessary,” Dex said.