IUKA • When Mark Hall was a youth pastor in Daytona Beach, Florida, a local church would host its Sunday morning service at a drive-in theater.
The service, Hall said, was broadcast to the congregation through an FM frequency.
“It was set up where cars could pull in, tune in to the radio, and do church,” he said. “It was such a cool idea.”
As the frontman of the group Casting Crowns, Hall and his bandmates have been part of what he considered to be another cool idea – a drive-in theater tour.
Casting Crowns is among the Christian music artists who this year have been playing at small-town movie venues like the Iuka Drive-In Theatre. Casting Crowns will be Iuka on Wednesday night for the next-to-last stop on their tour.
Casting Crowns was on a scheduled tour early this year when the pandemic hit.
“It’s been hard,” Hall said in a telephone interview. “Concerts were some of the first things to go. You had to be careful. You want to err on the side of caution, but you still want to get to your people.”
Casting Crowns has been reaching a lot of people since it formed in 1999, selling more than 10 million albums and producing inspirational hits like “East to West,” “Lifesong,” “Praise You in the Storm,” “Until the Whole World Hears,” and “Who Am I.”
COVID-19, however, brought Casting Crowns’ “Only Jesus” Tour to a stop. Many of the dates have been rescheduled for 2021.
Not only did the pandemic sideline the band, it affected Hall’s full-time work as youth minister at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Georgia, about 30 miles south of Atlanta.
“We were doing things on Zoom,” Hall said. “We had a Bob Ross painting night on Zoom. That was fun. I also became a circuit-riding preacher. I would drive out to a student’s house and just sit out in their front yard while they were on their steps, just to have interaction with them.”
Casting Crowns also missed its fans, so it signed on for the drive-in tour promoted by Awakening Events, a Franklin, Tennessee company that works with Contemporary Christian acts. Since this summer, Iuka has hosted three shows featuring TobyMac, Zach Williams, Big Daddy Weave, Mac Powell, Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith.
Casting Crowns began the first leg of its drive-in shows in July, playing 28 shows that included an August date in Guin, Alabama. The tour resumed earlier this month.
“Starting out, there weren’t a lot of people to call up and say, ‘What was it like’.” No one knew what to expect,” Hall said. “The very first night, we were just so excited to be able to do anything. We hadn’t done a concert since March.
“I thought people were going to be sitting in their cars and it was going to be like singing to a bunch of headlights,” Hall added. “But we noticed nobody are in their cars. They bring their lawn chairs and sit out in front of the car. That way, they’re distanced from other families, but they get to be outside. It’s like an outdoor festival.”
The band and its road crew, Hall said, have taken precautions to stay healthy while on the road. There’s been regular coronavirus testing while interaction with fans like Hall’s intermission meeting with youth pastors, a staple at Casting Crowns shows, was dropped.
Still, Hall said Casting Crowns is grateful for the opportunity to continue ministering during the chaotic coronavirus season.
“Man, we are so thankful to be able to do what we do,” he said. “Recently, we have been up north, and it was 48 degrees outside and sprinkling. But the people were out there in their lawn chairs and covered up in their blankets just because they need to be encouraged. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to get up there to do it.”
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