Drive-in thrives amidst a live entertainment-focused world

David Brashier

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. – Despite film studios delaying new releases and movie theaters closing their doors this year, moviegoers have turned to alternative forms of socially-distant entertainment.

While most gatherings for live entertainment are currently prohibited, drive-in movie theaters are one of the few venues that have continued to operate. Drive-in owner Andy Wetzel  has not only managed to keep his business afloat during the pandemic, but also perform better than in less trying times.  

Wetzel owns and operates State Line, a drive-in movie theater in Elizabethton, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive from Boone. His business is up 20% compared to previous years. 

“We’ve always had good business here, but I think the reason for that is because I’m the only game in town,” Wetzel said. “People can come for entertainment, but also be socially distant.”

The marquee of State Line Drive-in theater in Elizabethon, Teenessee. Owner Andy Wetzel has not only managed to keep his business afloat during the pandemic, but also perform better than in less trying times (Courtesy of State Line Drive-in)

The beauty of State Line is the freedom patrons have, Wetzel said. The drive-in is a clean, safe and affordable atmosphere where people can enjoy films or live entertainment without being in close quarters like in an indoor theater. Patrons also have the choice to bring their own food and sit inside or outside their vehicles.  

Because film studios delayed most 2020 releases, Wetzel is featuring a mix of nostalgic films and pre-filmed concerts for this year’s operating season. The experience of showing classic films on his screen is exhilarating, Wetzel said. 

Wetzel’s rentals for the drive-in have skyrocketed: State Line is one of the only large outdoor venues in northeast Tennessee outside of Johnson City which remains open. State Line has hosted baby showers, gender reveal parties, graduations and church services. In late March and early April when restrictions were more severe, Wetzel’s space hosted four church services every Sunday. 

“We’ve been giving people the ability to get things done that they need done and still be safe doing it,” Wetzel said.

Moviegoers have traveled far to watch films at State Line, with patrons journeying from western North Carolina, east Tennessee and southern Virginia. Some App State students have even made the trip, including Ellie Valois and Elizabeth Walton. 

“It was my first time at a drive-in, and it was really fun to watch a movie and have social distancing,” Walton said. “I also loved the popcorn. I would definitely go back.” 

Valois and Walton still had technical difficulties. Many drive-ins still use audio and video connections from a bygone era.

“There was no surround sound. It was all based on your car radio,” Valois said. “There was finally a way we figured out how to set it up because we didn’t want our car to die.” 

State Line operating season normally ends in September, but due to increased demand they will extend showings through October. This weekend, Wetzel is featuring a pre-filmed Kane Brown concert on September 26th, and throughout October a Halloween film series is scheduled. 

Tickets to films can be found on State Line’s website, and tickets to the Kane Brown concert can be found on Ticketmaster.