OAK HILL, WV (LOOTPRESS) – Buzz has been spreading by word of mouth and social media alike for the Starlite Drive-In, a recently-opened Fayette County attraction that is, in equal measure, brand new and delightfully vintage.
A nod to the days of old, the Starlite Drive-In offers a healthy dose of nostalgia with the bells and whistles of the modern world, which during opening weekend included high-end technological renderings of colossal, prehistoric monstrosities.
Opening its allegorical doors last Thursday, the drive-in welcomed residents from all over to take a trip back in time – to 1956 or to the Cretaceous period depending on which visitor you ask, though some almost certainly made the trip for both.
“We want this to be a place that people can bring their family and make it a tradition for years to come,” reads a statement released following opening weekend.
And by all appearances, the venue may very well be on track to become just that. LOOTPRESS spoke with Raleigh County resident Zach Cook, who attended the grand opening of the Starlite Drive-In.
“The weather was perfect, and the turnout was great,” Cook says of his experience. “The staff members were very excited about the new entertainment hub they were providing to the community.”
Indeed, all signs point to the debut of the Starlite Drive-In having been a substantial community hit. But Cook’s experience gets to the heart why these types of ventures remain relevant. The viewing of Jurassic World Dominion on opening night proved to be a full-circle moment for him, as it likely did for many viewers who came up in the 1990s. Compounding the significance of the evening, the event even provided Cook’s fiancée with her very first drive-in experience.
“In 1993, Jurassic Park had just hit the big screen,” says Cook. “I was five years old [and] dinosaurs had become the focus of my every waking thought. Experiencing what would become one of my all-time favorite films at a drive-in theater only enhanced the magic behind the movie-going experience. Almost 30 years later, I had the privilege of seeing the final chapter in the Jurassic Park saga during the grand opening of the Starlite Drive-In in Oak Hill.”
The throwback aesthetic of such a venture shouldn’t necessarily come as all that much of a surprise. In a rapidly shifting cultural, technological, and sociological climate, folks are beginning to take notice as the last of the original businesses of these types fade away in favor of subscriptions to HBO Max and Disney+.
As such, a palpable yearning for simpler and more communal times has begun to take hold, particularly among West Virginians – a traditionally rural population for whom social activities such as drive-in theaters and skating rinks (more on that here) have long been indispensable staples of social life.
“It takes a certain level of drive and commitment to open a business of this nature right now,” Cook remarks of the socio-economic period in which Americans, and West Virginians in particular, currently find themselves.
Such an assessment is far from unfounded. These are economically tough times, and it would be far from difficult to simply resign oneself to acceptance of unfavorable financial odds in a risk/reward assessment for such a startup.
But one mistake in assessing the need for these types of establishment is the general approach to ideas as means to an end – a utility that serves a specific function. But practicality notwithstanding, thriving as a human being is about more than having basic needs met.
Oftentimes we derive the most joy from the things we can’t explain at all. Sure, most anyone in America can retrieve a smartphone from their pocket and access any popular show or film in the history of television and cinema, and in theory, this negates the necessity of something like a drive-in theater entirely.
But at this point, it’s less about accessing content and more about stepping into a world outside the one you see all day every day at work – outside the walls of your home – and, perhaps most significantly – outside the psychological prison of a six inch screen covered in bacteria from every doorknob, pinpad, and gas nozzle you’ve ever touched in your life.
In these instances, what is being paid for is less a product in and of itself and more a captivating atmosphere – a vibe, as the younger folks might say.
One parallel to consider would be the turntable – or record player. In 2022, there is little to no feasible need for a record player in any person’s home. Just as one can withdraw their smartphone and dive right into most any movie or series ever produced, one can likewise immerse themselves in just about any song from any artist in the history of recorded music at the touch of a button.
However, this does not change the fact that vinyl record sales are the highest they’ve been in 30 years. Again, oftentimes it’s less about what makes sense and more about what feels right.
And for a number of residents from Oak Hill and surrounding areas, what feels right is a weekend feature at the Starlite Drive-In.
“With everything going on in the world, it’s nice to see some good being brought to our community,” says Cook.
“I encourage each and every one of you to support the growth of unique entertainment in Southern West Virginia. Give Starlite Drive-In a visit!”
This weekend’s feature gives the option of repeat or first time – for opening weekend customers who opted for a showing of Ambulance – viewing of Jurassic World Dominion, or Top Gun: Maverick.
The Starlite Drive-In is located at 3948 Lochgelly Rd, Oak Hill, WV, and gates open at 6:00pm Thursday – Saturday each week. For more information visit the Starlite Drive-In Facebook page here.