San Diego drive-in concerts set to grow as coronavirus pandemic continues

San Diego's Mainly Mozart became the first classical music organization in the nation to produce a drive-in concert.
On July 11, San Diego’s Mainly Mozart became the first classical music organization in the nation to produce a drive-in concert, with more set through at least October at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Pop and rock drive-in concerts began earlier this year in Europe and have since spread across the U.S.
(Photo by Jim Farber / Courtesy Mainly Mozart)

Mainly Mozart extends its Del Mar series, while Whitney Shay and Tony Award-winner Christopher Hoff gear up for separate concerts


Mainly Mozart, chart-topping San Diego blues singer Whitney Shay and Tony Award-winning “Jersey Boys” Broadway star Christian Hoff have little in common, musically speaking. But each is embracing drive-in concerts as a welcome way to connect with audiences here.

The need to do so has become increasingly vital since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing regulations fueled the cancellation or postponement of myriad live events in California, across the nation and around the world. There will be at least seven drive-in concerts in San Diego County in August, with more to follow through at least October.

Mainly Mozart, which held four July drive-in concerts at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, returns to the same site with two Saturday performances featuring the music of famed Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. They will be followed by two Aug. 22 performances featuring an all-Tchaikovsky repertoire and a lineup scheduled to include San Diego Symphony violinist Jeff Thayer and Nashville Symphony violinist Jun Iwasaki.

Those concerts will bookend vocal dynamo Shay’s Aug. 15 “Chords & Cars” drive-in concert, which will pair her with singer-songwriter Ryan Hiller and his band. Their show is at the same Del Mar parking lot that hosts Mainly Mozart’s concerts.

Whitney Shay; singer and four-time San Diego Music Award winner.
Whitney Shay has won four San Diego Music Awards. Her upcoming drive-in concert in Del Mar will be her first live show with her band since March.
(Howard Lipin/Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Broadway star Hoff, who lives in Valley Center, headlines the Aug. 15 and 16 “Rockin’ Retro Drive-In: Music of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s “ drive-in concerts in Escondido. They will be held in the Westfield North County shopping mall parking lot in front of the defunct Nordstrom store.

Hoff’s performances, which will also feature “Jersey Boys” co-star Travis Cloer, are being presented by California Center for the Arts, Escondido. The center plans to host Saturday and Sunday concerts each weekend through late October in the same Westfield North County parking lot, according to a CCAE representative. Each concert can accommodate up to 246 vehicles.

Ticket information for the free Mainly Mozart concerts and the paid-admission Hoff/Cloer and Shay/Hiller concerts appears below.

All seven upcoming August performances follow the sold-out June 7 Petco Park drive-in concert by Grammy Award-winning Encinitas band Switchfoot. San Diego’s famously appealing weather makes it an ideal location for drive-in concerts, which became a trend this spring in Europe and then started up in the U.S.

“We’ve made a commitment to the drive-in concert format until at least October, because it works so well,” said Nancy Laturno, who in 1988 co-founded the nonprofit Mainly Mozart. This year’s Mainly Mozart chamber-music festival, which was scheduled for June, was postponed until next year because of the pandemic.

The organization’s debut “Mainly Mozart at the Drive-in” events, both held July 11 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, were the first such concerts by any classical-music organization in the nation. Mainly Mozart followed these with two July 25 drive-in concerts. It will host a drive-in music festival, Sept. 10-13, also at the fairgrounds, followed by a week-long October festival in a different parking lot at the fairgrounds.

Four individuals and one company have each donated $25,000 to underwrite the drive-in concerts. Laturno hopes to raise another $25,000

“Prior to the pandemic,” she said, “who’d have thought chamber-music artists on a stage in a dirt parking lot, playing amplified music for people in their cars, sounded like a good idea? But, in this COVID-19 era, (drive-in concerts) are embraced.”

Mainly Mozart’s July Del Mar concerts were well-received by the audience and musicians, who wore face masks and were 6 feet apart on stage. Attendance was limited to 70 vehicles per concert, although that will be increased to 100 for Saturday’s two concerts.

The July Mainly Mozart performances in turn inspired veteran San Diego pop-music talent buyer Josh José to stage Saturday’s Del Mar concert by Shay and Hiller. Attendance is capped at 100 vehicles,

“I’m hopeful we can do more, because we’ve got to create something new,” said José, who heads the Acoustic Spot Talent agency. “Artists are starving for a platform to perform live, in some capacity. I hope we can provide one.”

That comes as music to the ears of Shay, whose latest recording, “STAND UP!”, topped the national Billboard magazine blues album charts in April. She and her band have not performed together since March, when Shay applied for unemployment benefits after her 2020 concert and festival bookings fell through because of the pandemic.

“Drive-in concerts seem like a powerful option for everybody to be able to socially distance and enjoy the music at the same time,” Shay said. “People are in dire need of music right now and drive-in concerts may be a good alternative for us musicians to try and make a living.”

Drive-in concerts information

Tickets for the 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday Mainly Mozart drive-in concerts at the Del Mar Fairgrounds are free to the general public, on a first-come, first-served basis, with members of the organization’s Club Amadeus receiving guaranteed entry. The general public must RSVP in advance online at The RSVP link for the Aug. 22 Tchaikovsky drive-in concert has not been activated yet.

Tickets for Whitney Shay and Ryan Hiller’s 7 p.m. Aug. 15 “Chords & Cars” concert at the Del Mar Fairgrounds are priced from $80 for first-come, first-served general admission to $120 for VIP parking in the first three rows. Tickets are available online at

Tickets for Christian Hoff and Travis Cloer’s 8 p.m. Aug. 15 and 16 “Rockin’ Retro Drive-In” concerts at Westfield North County are priced from $35 to a vehicle with one passenger to $210 for a vehicle with eight passengers. Tickets are available by phone at (800) 988-4253 and online at

— George Varga is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune