Audio Slideshow: The Show Must Go On at the Fairlee Drive-In

Sunday, July 14, 2013
Fairlee — Shortly before sundown on a Saturday evening at the Fairlee Motel and Drive-in Theater, cars dot the large, open field and country music plays softly through a few of the speakers. Kris Sexton, of Lebanon, backs his orange 1978 VW camper van into a space so his kids can sit in the back and watch tonight’s double feature.

Sexton said he’s spent many a summer evening at a drive-in.

“I grew up with them,” he said. “I love it.”

As the sun sets, visitors pull in alongside the speakers and open their windows to let the fresh air in. Some lounge in the beds of their pickup trucks or set up folding chairs and picnic blankets. Parents let their kids out to run around.

Max Johnson, of Fairlee, who has been coming here since he was a child, tosses a Frisbee back and forth with his brother. There’s plenty of room. The drive-in is rarely crowded these days.

Erika and Peter Trapp run the drive-in with the help of their three sons. For the Trapp family, a sparsely attended Saturday night double feature — on this night it’s Fast and Furious 6 and Oblivion — is bad news.

Erika Trapp remembers a time a few years ago when more than 400 cars packed the field for Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. “It was a zoo,” she recalls. “Actually, we turned some away and they had to come back the next night.”

But things have been tight recently.

Peter Trapp blames a slow economy and the fact that more people are watching movies on their computers or mobile devices. More ways to watch movies means more competition. Back in 1950, when the Fairlee Drive-in was built, “that’s what you did every weekend,” he said. “You went to the drive-in. That was the entertainment.”

Meanwhile, the movie industry is going digital. For the Fairlee Drive-in to survive the transition, the Trapps need to raise

more than $70,000 for a new digital projector. If they don’t reach that goal, the drive-in could close when the industry stops providing movies on 35 millimeter film. The family has raised a little over $17,000 in donations so far. Peter Trapp said the switch to digital could happen anytime, whether or not the drive-in is ready.

And then there’s the rain.

“It rains every day,” he said. “It’s our worst year ever.”

Though it’s struggling, the Fairlee Drive-in has many devotees.

“I’ve been coming here for as long as I’ve been alive,” said John Watson, of Perkinsville. “Outdoors, up here in Vermont, in God’s country. I love it. I would hate to see this one close.”

Cassandra Rogers drove 40 minutes from Claremont to see the double feature. “We used to come here every single Friday night,” she said. “This is where we grew up during the summer.”

Jaime Taylor, also of Claremont, is ready with a list of reasons she likes the drive-in: “You’re outside. You have fresh air. You can talk while you’re watching the movie. You can smoke a cigarette while you’re watching the movie. You can sit on the ground. You can sit on your car. You can do what you want to do.”

That is, if it’s not raining.

“People don’t like to watch a movie in the rain,” said Erika Trapp. But she’s optimistic. “It’ll get better. You know, the weather’s got to get better. It can’t rain forever.”