Maybe they’re onto something here. Country music fans who showed up Friday for Alan Jackson’s Small Town Drive-in stop in Cullman weren’t able to crowd the stage — at least not too much, as the night wore on. But sticking close to your car and raising a cup to the folks across the way brought a whole different vibe to the socially-distanced show — one that people seemed to embrace.

“This here’s better than Rock the South, no question,” said Jonathan Kelton, part of a small entourage of Jackson fans from Atlanta who’ve made prior trips to Cullman to see the annual festival. “I just wish they had this over two days, like Rock the South. You can sit, you can stand, you can bring your own cooler. It’s like being on the lake, but then Alan Jackson comes out.”

Jackson came to Cullman Friday to bring a new concert concept, an effort to get fans on their feet as promoters continue to shy away from staging public gatherings that pack people close together. The concert, which came together quickly after this year’s Rock the South was canceled due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, proved a welcome release for fans let down by cancelations all over.

“We were supposed to go see Reba [McEntrie], said Leslie Whitten, rockin’ cowboy boots and shorts as part of a family group who made the drive down from Zip City in northwest Alabama. “But that got canceled. And then we saw this, and we were like, ‘Hey! Let’s go!’”

“It’s my birthday,” said Cindy Smith, mom to Leslie and sister Michaela Roberts, part of an EMT and fire department family who (including son in-law Sawyer Roberts) all love country music…well, all except Cindy herself.

“I’ve never been to a country show before,” Cindy confessed. “Rock is more my speed. I’ve been to see Brit Floyd — they’re a tribute band to Pink Floyd and they sound just like them — but this is different. I’m starting to like it, though.”

For the most part, traffic was light ahead of showtime, flowing smoothly around the open-field venue west of Cullman (the same place Rock the South is staged). Complaints seemed to be limited to a lack of available porta-potties, with lines forming early in the evening, as well as a few parking miscommunications once people had their cars (and trucks) on site. 

Doors opened early to give fans a head start on getting their parking area set up. They took full advantage too, propping lawn chairs in the beds of pickup trucks and staging tailgate beer pong games — an activity that organizers expected and accommodated, as long as everyone stayed with their group and brought a designated driver.

“It’s Alan Jackson,” Kelton explained. “What else you gonna do?”

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