Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Oak Street Drive-In

While preparing to (hopefully) make a return trip to Pennsylvania for the 2011 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, I got to thinking about another drive-in related event (or at least semi-related) from a couple years ago. In September of 2009 I turned...FORTY-YEARS-OLD! Yep, I suddenly went from being a young adult to middle-aged seemingly overnight. As the dreaded event was looming I kind of wanted to do something special--something beyond just another standard birthday party. I'd heard about the phenomenon of backyard drive-ins, where people would set up their own system for projecting movies onto a big screen in their own backyard. It sounded very cool to say the least and got me thinking about the prospects of entering the hobby myself. We don't have a very large backyard, and there isn't a lot of "extra" money floating around at the moment to purchase a nice DVD projector. Not only that, but I'm not exactly handy when it comes to designing and building major things around the house. It seemed like the Backyard Drive-In dream would have to remain just a dream for the foreseeable future...

The Wife and I both thought about the possibility of trying to pull off a backyard drive-in event as part of the 40th Birthday celebration. She had access to a video projector through work (though I had no idea how to set up a sound system for it that would be heard by a crowd outside rather than using the little speaker on the projector itself). I was going to attach a white sheet to the side of our garage for the screen. It was pretty exciting to think about actually pulling this thing off. I was sort of thinking of it as being a chance to see if it was worth investing the time, resources and money into a "real" backyard drive-in project. It was going to be a test run of sorts to see how realistic the idea was.

Then a friend of ours made us aware of a company called Jericho Entertainment. This was a local company which arranged and ran backyard drive-in events for people (among other party activities and DJ services). They had a lot of different options and ideas and we decided to try them out. It was a bit more expensive than what we were planning on doing ourselves, but it also turned out to be a WHOLE LOT better than anything we could have done ourselves! It was worth the money to really do it right.

The first step was to have the Jericho Entertainment people stop by to check out the backyard and then to decide on how we wanted everything to be. They had an inflatable screen available, but I chose the one that had a PVC pipe frame (I believe it was 12 feet across). It looked a lot more like a real drive-in screen to me than those inflatable ones. The movie choice was an easy one..."Star Wars" (1977). True, I could call the film "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope", but to me it's just plain old "Star Wars"--just like it was in 1977.

Not only is "Star Wars" (of course) one of my all-time favorites, and a safe choice for both the adults and the children who would be attending the party, but also a movie I have fond memories of seeing at our local drive-in when I was a young lad. There are a lot of movies that I love and would love to see on a backyard drive-in screen, but this really was a no-brainer and an easy decision to make. My only real regret from the night was that I didn't think to ask them to run the original, non-Special Edition version of the movie (the version I had seen as a kid). As the date of the party/backyard drive-in night approached I did a little research to find out just when my childhood local drive-in ran "Star Wars". Since the movie was released in May of 1977 I figured that it must have hit the drive-ins that summer. Well, I couldn't find ANY listings for it playing at my hometown drive-in for that entire summer season. I was starting to doubt my own memory of lying in the back of my father's van watching "Star Wars" and playing with my C-3PO an R2-D2 action figures. Then I decided to check out the listings for the following summer (1978). Wouldn't you know, there it was. I never realized that "Star Wars" was re-released in July of 1978 (most likely as a way to get it into all the drive-ins that missed it the first time around). It just goes to show how huge a thing "Star Wars" was that it was re-released only one year after it first came out (and was then re-released once again in the summer of 1979!).

Here's the fruit of my researching labor.
This ad from the Quaker Drive-In (Uxbridge, MA) from July 14, 1978 announces that the next feature would be "Star Wars"

And this ad is from the start of the "Star Wars" run on July 21, 1978.
While I can't pinpoint exactly when I saw it, at least I know it was on or after this date.

Back to the story... On the night of the party the Jericho Entertainment people arrived early to set up the screen and the video/audio equipment. Then they ran the whole show once it got dark enough (yet another thing that we didn't have to worry about ourselves--making it even more worth the money spent). We had also elected to go with the deluxe package, which included a popcorn machine and root beer on tap (both of which were manned by Jericho staff). It was another nice touch that added a lot to the night. The Wife had also bought a whole bunch of movie-type candy which was set up on a table for people to help themselves to. We were very happy to have a nice turnout of family and friends attend our little show/party. We had invited most of the people in the neighborhood as well. While not many of them showed up, we were glad that we at least invited them--as the sound system was very impressive and you could hear the sounds of "Star Wars" blaring all around the block (and even further). It would have been interesting to have the police show up to investigate a noise disturbance complaint and have that "noise" be "Star Wars" rather than loud rock music. Luckily that didn't happen.

Finally the sky was darkening and it was time to start the show. After a few drive-in intermission ads from a DVD I own and a little welcome announcement from The Wife it was time for the Feature Presentation. How wonderful it was to be sitting in my own backyard, surrounded by family and friends, as the opening notes of John Williams' soundtrack of "Star Wars" filled the cool evening air. About halfway through the movie we had a little "intermission" to do the whole cake-and-presents birthday thing, then settled back in to watch the rest of the movie. It was a very special night for me, and a great way to leave the Thirties and enter the Forties.

Here are some photos from The Oak Street Drive-In's September 2009 presentation of "Star Wars":

Our humble little backyard before the party
Set-up of equipment and construction of the screen underway
Screen is ready to go and sound is being set up as the crowd gathers

As an added touch I put out my old Quaker Drive-In speaker.
Yes, it's from the VERY SAME Quaker Drive-In where I saw "Star Wars" all those years ago!
Some of the tempting candy treats available to our patrons

Jericho Entertainment personnel manning the popcorn machine and root beer tap

One party guest went WAY overboard with generosity and got me this huge Millennium Falcon.
It's practically as big as The Little Monster!
The Little Monster, all ready for "Star Wars"!

You can't have a drive-in experience without PIC!

The crowd anxiously awaits the feature presentation...

Here's some early action from "Star Wars"--as seen in our very own backyard!

Darth Vader makes his first appearance on our big backyard screen

The Little Monster and I settle in for some "Star Wars" fun!
It was a great night, and a grand time was had by all!
...At least I hope so anyway.

Here's just a little bit of video I got from the night to give you an idea of what it was like:

We were considering having another backyard drive-in night this summer or early fall (2011), but it doesn't look like it's going to happen at this point. If we ever do manage to get our act together and have another one, I'll probably end up writing about that one too.

Thank you for reading, and please remember to return your speaker to the pole before you drive off!

Update: If you'd be interested in learning more about my old drive-in speaker please click here -- Resurrecting the Past: Drive-In Theater Speaker.


  1. What an AWESOME idea for a birthday celebration! Cathy

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  3. It really was a fun time, and great to have someone else taking care of all the details about setting up and running the show so we could just enjoy it all!

  4. That's awesome! I got a buddy and together we have all the tech to make one of these outdoor screenings possible but we just haven't pulled the trigger yet. Too much fun, man. Gotta make that happen.

  5. Absolutely gotta make it happen! I don't quite have the tech and talent to do it myself, but if you do, then you MUST!

  6. we do it every year for our kids parties! I sewed two 9'x12' painters canvases together for an 18'x12 screen and hung up bewtween two heavy schedule 40 pvc pipes and put up like a volleyball net would. works great! Bought old popcorn red and white striped containers at target and got the old dancing hotdog intro off Youtube. It all comes together great! A summer tradition for years.

    1. That's great! I really wanted to try to make some kind of set up so we could do this ourselves in the summer. Unfortunately we've since moved into the city and no longer have a yard. Maybe someday...