Words & Deeds

It’s no illusion. This Boise venue really does want you to pay to watch a hologram sing.

When I first heard that a Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly hologram concert is coming to the Morrison Center this fall, I shook my head.

Really? Boiseans are expected to buy tickets to watch 3D images flicker while vintage jukebox hits play over the sound system?

That’ll be the day.

But after learning more about this show — called The Rock ‘N’ Roll Dream Tour — I’m wavering.

Appearances can be deceiving, obviously, but it looks like the hologram era already is here.

People flock to all sorts of entertainment that melts my mind. Wig-wearing tribute musicians. Classic rock bands without original members. My column topic last week, Extreme Midget Wrestling.

This tour does have an intriguing description. “Accompanied by a live band and back-up singers, this cutting-edge, multimedia holographic performance and remastered audio will transport audiences back in time for an evening of Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly’s greatest hits onstage.”

So living, breathing musicians will back up these guitar-strumming phantoms? Freaky.

If you’re still not entirely sure what to make of it, don’t feel bad. Steve Boulay, co-owner of Utah-based promoter MagicSpace Entertainment, is in the same boat — er, ghost ship. MagicSpace is bringing the dead icons to life in several Western cities, including the Oct. 14 show in Boise. Tickets went on sale last week for $30 to $65.

Boulay has never seen a hologram concert. But he’s excited about the potential. “I’m confident that people are going to be entertained,” he says. “I think what they’re doing is they’re creating a new kind of event.”

Longtime Orbison or Holly fans might find the idea controversial. Is this high-tech nostalgia or rock ‘n’ roll sacrilege?

A former record label owner, Boulay, 58, remembers when jazz purists balked at the prospect of remastering old albums.

“Every time there’s a new technology that’s trying to share music or visuals, there’s always people that get stressed out,” Boulay says. “... This technology isn’t going away. And I’m kind of fascinated. I want to see what regular people think of this show. I just want to see what this is, as pure entertainment.”

Holograms are a creative tool, Boulay says. The entertainment vision is still being fine-tuned.

The Orbison/Holly show is the work of Base Hologram, a company that has executed tours of Orbison and opera singer Maria Callas. A Whitney Houston hologram trek has been announced for 2020. More deceased artists are planned.

The holograms at the Morrison Center won’t be computer-generated imagery of Holly or Orbison. Body doubles were filmed.

Still, the result appears to be effective. Especially if you’re sitting a few rows back.

Somewhat reluctantly, one venue manager — “a friend of mine and very skeptical guy,” Boulay says — hosted the solo Orbison hologram tour last year in Atlanta.

“He said, ‘I bought it because I had to. And it was technologically one of the most interesting, unbelievable things I’ve ever looked at.’

“So they haven’t totally got it right, but they’re going to get it right,” Boulay says enthusiastically. “He said, ‘Artistically, it was great. Technologically, it was great. I had to literally walk to the lip of the stage before I realized what I was looking at wasn’t real.’ ”

Boulay, whose company co-produced the recent Tony Award-winning “Oklahoma” on Broadway, thinks a key to successful hologram tours will involve communication and storytelling. How can onstage apparitions resonate with fans meaningfully?

The building manager in Atlanta admitted that although “the audience loved it,” not every single person was blown away, Boulay says — mostly because of the way the show was marketed. That can be fixed.

“He said probably 10 percent of the audience was creeped out,” Boulay says, “because (the show) didn’t say what it was enough. And that’s what I mean by they haven’t totally nailed it. If you stand up and say you’re going to see Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison like they were resurrected from the dead or something, that’s not the story you’re telling. But if what you say is you’re celebrating the music of these people, and this is the highest technology version of it ... .”

From that perspective, a hologram concert could be fun. How is it so different from a John Lennon fan buying a ticket to see Rain — A Tribute to the Beatles? Or a Pink Floyd diehard enjoying a Brit Floyd concert or Australian Pink Floyd Show? (Both are stopping at the Morrison Center this year.)

“I think the creative part will be interesting,” Boulay says. “Because somebody is going to figure out how to use this tool, and something really cool is going to happen with it.”

For one Monday night in October, slow-moving Boise will be on the cutting edge. Unlike the singing stars on stage, it won’t be an illusion.

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Michael Deeds is an entertainment reporter and columnist at the Idaho Statesman, where he also has been a sportswriter, entertainment editor and features editor. Deeds co-hosts “The Other Studio,” a one-hour music show, at 8 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.
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