By Kerry Drager, Correspondent
There is a hidden treasure in rural Minnesota that has been providing quality entertainment in a family-friendly atmosphere for 57 years. The Long Drive-In Theatre in Long Prairie is one of only six remaining Minnesota drive-ins, and it has been drawing crowds from all over the Midwest looking to experience the unique ambiance that a drive-in can provide.
On Thursday, June 19, the theatre is stepping their entertainment up a notch by participating in a groundbreaking event. Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band will be broadcasting their live concert from the Coyote Drive-In in Fort Worth, Texas. This is the first time a concert has been staged at a drive-in and has been able to broadcast to drive-ins across the country.
Long Drive-In owners Michelle and Dan Claseman are pleased that the event promises to be hugely successfully, but are also humored by the fact that the concert coming to their drive-in was by accident.
“We were first contacted about a month ago, and they told us about the event. They wanted to know if we’d be interested in doing it,” said Dan Claseman. “We thought about it, and at first we passed on it because we are such a small, rural area. We didn’t think we’d have such a turn out for it, but then they accidentally put it on their website. People saw that we were going to do the event here and people starting calling the city of Long Prairie, the camp grounds and the hotels in the area.”
Due to the profound interest in the concert, the Clasemans decided to go ahead and have the event. They have been scrambling to get prepared for an event that is happening only a day before Prairie Fest. To feed the crowd, the theater will be providing catering and will need extra staff.
“With Prairie Fest, we don’t have enough staff, so we are treating it like any other movie at this point.”
The Clasemans are new owners of the drive-in, but the drive-in has been a part of the family’s life for several decades and through two generations.
Michelle Claseman said, “We purchased it last year from my mother, Laurel Meier. Mom and dad had owned it since 1985 and my mom has worked at the theater since 1969.”
The theater needed some maintenance and the couple started with updating the projector by switching to digital. For a theater that charges only $6 per admittance at the gate, the $60,000 piece of equipment was a necessary, but very expensive, investment.
However, the new screen will offer the drive-in the option to provide digital ads from local companies as well as birthday wishes and messages from the community. In fact, it was their digital projector that has given them the option of sponsoring the Jimmy Buffett event.
“Our main objective is to get it rebuilt, but there is a lot of maintenance to be done,” said Dan Claseman. “We put in a new sewer system and new stainless steel tables. The screen needs to be repaired. We need to scrap the whole screen down and repaint it, but we are keeping everything retro. When you drive back there, you’re going back to 1956.”
The Clasemans have begun to put their lives into the theater and have employed their children to help out with the job.
“That’s the cool thing. Now it’s a family business, and we each play a role,” said Claseman. “The struggle is dividing family from business. It has pulled some fun into running a business, and we’re able to work as a family, but we had to learn how to work together and to address our kids as our employees, not as their parents.”
As a family business, the theater is also family oriented. Family friendly events and showings are a huge draw from the local community and the surrounding area. In fact, the popularity of the theater has grown mostly from word-of-mouth and social media. The theater entertains people from as far away as Fargo, and the community support has been well received by the Claseman family.
“The theater really shows how people can get back to the simple things of life. It’s nice to watch people come in, open their car doors and play catch and baseball with their kids on our half acre of grass. It’s more than just watching the movie, it’s about spending time with the family.”
The Long Drive-In has survived through five decades and is Long Prairie’s retro jewel. It is a family friendly environment that mixes modern technology and outdoor entertainment in a way that simply cannot be achieved from an indoor show house.
Something is special about watching the trees sway in the wind, the moon and stars twinkling in the night and cuddling with your family on the lawn while watching a movie that is worth a 100 mile trip to experience.