Throughout the year, the Topsfield Fairgrounds are always alive with activity, whether it’s during the annual fair itself—which attracts nearly half a million people a year—or on weekends that are filled with horse shows, craft fairs, weddings, and other activities.
But this year has been different, with COVID-19 pressing the pause button on those usual events—including this year’s Topsfield Fair, which was cancelled in late July—just like it’s done everywhere else in the world.
In Topsfield, though, family-friendly entertainment is back. Enter the Topsfield Drive-In, a 225-space drive-in movie theater located on the grounds of the Topsfield Fair that shows movies seven nights a week.
“We’re always hoping to be relevant and this was an opportunity for us to open and have something going on for families and kids,” says Jim O’Brien, general manager of the Topsfield Fair. “That’s what we’re all about.”
They’re also all about the safety and comfort of their guests, and the Topsfield Drive-In strikes an ideal balance between the two, allowing visitors to get out of the house and do something fun, while staying within the safety of their cars and complying with Massachusetts safety measures.
Outdoor concession stands—which require masks—sell family-friendly fare like pizza, burgers, chicken fingers, French fries, and mozzarella sticks, along with movie theatre staples like popcorn, candy, and soft drinks. Those who want to get their fix of “fair food” can also do so, with fried dough, fried Oreos, and corn dogs. Ice cream, sundaes, and slush can further satisfy your sweet tooth.
“There’s not a ton for people to do and still feel comfortable, given the pandemic,” says Marissa Sweazy, manager of Seabrook, New Hampshire-based FestEvents, which operates the drive-in. “We pride ourselves in ensuring that everybody has the best possible experience and that we offer great food and quality programming.”
As the pandemic has stretched on, drive-in movie theatres have popped up at libraries, restaurants, and other venues throughout the country, as people turn to the old-school experience for entertainment.
However, Sweazy notes that pop-up or one-off drive-in events often use inflatable screens and lower-quality projectors, making the actual viewing experience less than stellar.
The Topsfield Drive-In has taken a different approach, using a 30 ft.-by-60 ft. semipermanent screen and a professional, 4K projector.
“We really invested in a state-of-the-art projector,” Sweazy says. The result is a clear, beautiful picture that’s “visible from every possible angle within the grounds.”
The movies themselves have proved to be a hit, too, ranging from family-friendly classics like Back to the Future and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial; to nail-biting blockbusters like Jaws and Jurassic Park; and even newer movies like the 2020 release Trolls World Tour.
And because it has approval from Disney, the Topsfield Drive-In was able to open with a bang: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. They also show special programming like “Encore Drive-In Nights Presents Blake Shelton and Very Special Guests.”
So far that combination of great movies, food, and a safe atmosphere have proved to be a hit, and the show will continue to go on into the fall season.
“We have been selling out every night,” O’Brien says.
While Topsfield Drive-In has elements of the vintage drive-in experience, other elements are decidedly 21st century.
Here’s how it works:
Visit TopsfieldDriveIn.com to view upcoming show times for the next week and buy tickets online. The ticket price—$27—is per car, not the number of passengers. (“You don’t have to hide in the trunk,” O’Brien quips, a nod to how folks used to sneak extra people into the drive-in without paying.)
Either print out your ticket or hold up your smart phone to show at the gate.
The gates open at 6 p.m. Parking is first-come, first-served, so arrive early to get a good spot. Use that time to have dinner and dessert, and stock up on movie snacks. The snack bar closes halfway through the movie.
Allow the parking attendants to direct you to the appropriate row based on your vehicle’s height.
It has to be dark out to see a drive-in movie, so movie start times depend on sunset. In the summertime, expect the movies to start around 8:45-9:00.
To hear the movie, tune your FM radio (either you car’s radio or one that you bring) to a special station that’s accessible only within the fairgrounds.
For more information, including safety rules and answers to frequently asked questions, visit topsfielddrivein.com.