Though we may have had a foot of snow drop on us this past weekend, there are sure signs that spring is right around the corner. One of them is that the Harvest Moon Drive-In in Gibson City is set to open this Friday for the 24th year of its current incarnation. Though there has been an outdoor theater on the site at since 1954, it has closed and re-opened numerous times. However, in 1989 Mike Harroun took the plunge, investing in the venture and tinkering with it over the years, even going to far as adding an extra screen in 1996, making it the area’s first Twin Drive-in.
It could be argued that over the past year, the Harvest Moon faced its most dire threat, as the conversion from celluloid projectors to digital ones was such a costly undertaking that it nearly forced the business to close its doors for good. Most major studios will only distribute their films on a digital format by the end of 2013, meaning that any venue without projectors able to screen them would have to close for good. Independent theaters and drive-ins, many not eligible to take advantage of incentive programs or loans offered by the studios, will be forced to shut their doors for good. However, through fundraising ventures and last minute contributions, Harroun was able to raise enough money to purchase the two projectors he needed, which the theater’s website claims is four times as clear as any HDTV.
It remains to be seen how many independent theaters and drive-ins will survive this conversion period. At the height of their popularity, there were nearly 4000 drive-ins in the United States. At the beginning of 2012 it was estimated that there were fewer than 400 left. The identity of these venues have changed over the years, going from being a novelty, to being passion pits were teens hung out to now being considered family friendly destinations where cars, trucks and van loads come out and kids play and frolic under the stars before the film starts.
This is certainly the atmosphere the Harvest Moon fosters and it has succeeded at being the only destination of its kind in a 100-mile radius. It’s not uncommon for families to arrive when the gates open, 90 minutes before show time, so that their kids can toss the Frisbee around, play catch or use the swing sets that are there. Many also bring in picnic dinners to enjoy, though you will be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try the popcorn with real butter with an ice-cold Green River or a fresh elephant ear or hot pretzel. One of the most pleasant nights in recent memory that my family and I spent together was at the Harvest Moon and I can’t encourage you enough to take your own crew out there to enjoy this piece of Americana, one of a dying breed that we’re lucky to have so close.