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Drones At Concerts: Country Stars & Central Park

With multiple states cracking down on the recreational use of drones, it seemed for a brief moment like they might go the way of the selfie stick—an innovative idea in its own right, but one that’d fade away as time went on. That may still be the case for everyday use of them, but in the past year and change, more and more industries are adopting the technology. The NFL was the first indication of their use in sports, but on our side of things, synced performances and auxiliary use at country shows have re-ignited interest in drones for music. Here’s everything you need to know about the recent developments in drones at concerts.

A Brief History of Notable Drone Shows

Coachella, a famous highlight of each year’s music events calendar and a vanguard at the cutting edge of technology-meets-music (see Hologram Tupac), employed drones way back in 2017. A synchronized lights show between 300 drones, the spectacle took place in between Radiohead and the xx’s sets—a technology display aimed to capture audiences in the downtime between two of the weekend’s biggest acts.

Perhaps the most famous use of the gadgets came at the Tokyo Olympics back in 2021. During the opening ceremony, Intel again deployed their fleet, used to display fittingly global images like the official Tokyo logo, the Olympic rings and a globe. The display went over so well with audiences and program directors that the data giant put on an encore performance near Beijing in 2022.

There’s been a few key events in the past year, of course, that have piqued our interest. That’s chiefly due to a major increase in scale. None were bigger than “Franchise Freedom,” a July 2023 performance in Central Park put on by Drift, a Dutch art collective. In three seven-minute iterations, a light show of thousands of drones took to the New York City skies—the latest city to host the collective after high-profile locales like Art Basel, Burning Man and the Kennedy Space Center. Though optional, Drift intended for the show to have a musical component, with fans able to load up a composition by Joep Beving to accompany what they saw.

Country Music Looks Forward: Drones at Country Concerts

Elsewhere in the country (figuratively and literally), stars like Blake Shelton were the latest to play under neo-lit-up skies. Yearly country institutions from Barefoot Festival to Caroline Country Music Fest incorporated drone shows into at least one night of their festivities. In those applications, the promoters behind those festivals put a slight spin on their use that might relay how they’ll be used going forward. While the fireworks-esque spectacle angle has been tackled plenty, fans at Coastal Country Jam saw drones arranged into QR codes, which, once scanned, took them to Selfie.Live, a sponsor of the event.

A still from 2023's Coastal Country Jam. The Southern California festival is proof of the increase use of drone at concerts, here utilized to welcome fans to this past year's festivities. Taken from @coastalcountryjamconcerts on Instagram.
Taken from @coastalcountryjamconcerts on Instagram.

Bob Durkin, one of the minds behind Carolina Country Music Fest spoke to Billboard about the potential of encore performances going forward. “I know there’s a few country festivals in 2024 you will definitely see use it,” he said. “It’s not a great big industry, so we all kind of know each other. And they’re all like, ‘Holy cow.’ You know, everybody’s trying to one-up one another.”

As we look forward to 2024’s calendar, there are, again, thousands of huge performances we have to look forward to, and if the speculation of industry insiders like Durkin proves correct, there may be plenty of chances for promoters to work drones into concerts as a new attraction.

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