Apr. 15—TUPELO — Doug Johnson is proud to say BancorpSouth Arena is open for business.
With Johnson as its new executive director, the venue has hosted a country music concert, a ballet production and a rodeo in the past month. Most of all, it has taken steps through COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety of patrons and performers.
"I've been here four months, and I've been fortunate that we're open for business when most of America is not," Johnson said. "But if you do it in the correct sequence, and you do it with safety as a No. 1 priority in mind, people can come here feeling comfortable."
Johnson and his staff are now preparing for an arena first — a drive-in theater concert. TobyMac, the Christian hip-hop star, will bring his drive-in tour to the arena's parking lot for a April 24 show.
Before TobyMac arrives, the arena will have another concert Friday inside the building: the rock-and-blues pairing of Blackberry Smoke and the North Mississippi AllStars.
Tickets for both events are on sale at the arena box office and Ticketmaster.com.
When COVID-19 shut down concert halls last year, a Tennessee-based promotion representing contemporary Christian acts came up with a tour series featuring various performing at drive-in theaters. TobyMac headlined one of four concerts in 2020 at the Iuka Drive-In Theatre and the Blue Moon Drive-In in Guin, Alabama, also hosted shows and has one featuring Skillett set for May.
With TobyMac doing the tour again this year, Tupelo is creating a drive-in for the performance. The festival-like concert will take place in the west parking lot with the stage and two screens facing north. Tickets are being sold per car instead of individual.
"It's going to be interesting," Johnson said. "It's the first one we've done. Awakening Events (the tour producer) is well versed in putting these on. We've had good response."
Cars will enter the lot from Franklin Street and park in 11 rows and two side sections in the lot according the level of ticket purchased. Rows 1 and 11 are sold out, according to Ticketmaster.com. The gate opens at 5:30 p.m. and the show starts at dusk.
Johnson said the drive-in concert comes with its own set of parking and social distancing logistics.
"We have to mark the parking lot. We'll be giving out signs for each car as they come in, and on that sign it will tell them what row they can park in," he said. "We'll have car ushers showing them the way, and then we can park them. We're actually spacing the cars. There will be a car, space, car, space. And then the next row we'll offset that with space, car, space, car."
Patrons can leave their cars to set up lawn chairs or mingle. They'll use the west side of the arena for concessions and restrooms.
TobyMac, one of Christian music's biggest selling artists through his solo work and with the group dc Talk, will perform with his DiverseCity Band and special guest Cochren & Co. The concert is scheduled to go on "rain or shine," as it says in its promotion. Johnson said weather is a major concern for any outdoor event.
"I was in the festival business for 17 years," he said. "It's always about the weather. Always."
Before the arena tackles the outdoor concert, it has one inside its walls Friday night with Blackberry Smoke and the Grammy-nominated North Mississippi AllStars. The show starts at 7 p.m.
The blend of Southern rock and the blues by two popular groups from the region will be present inside the arena, which Johnson said can hold up to 75 percent capacity in accordance to Gov. Tate Reeves' mandate in reopening the state. The arena's current COVID-19 protocols can be found on its website, bcsarena.com.
"We're going to do it the right way," Johnson said. "We've been fortunate enough that capacity has increased per the governor's edict."
Johnson said the people attending the Parker McCollum country concert, the Tupelo Ballet spring production and the Northeast Mississippi Rodeo followed the protocols.
"We're a city-run building," he said. "Obviously, people will buy food and drink. After you enter the building, as per our city mandate, we need masks on — and we have masks for people who don't have them. Once people get inside, as we saw in the shows and events we've done earlier, they have done pretty good. We will gently remind people that they should have their masks on."