‘Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience’ at the Schuster Center this weekend

Credit: Timothy Norris

Credit: Timothy Norris

Eric Hofmanis is very familiar with the work of Johnny Cash and doing big musical productions. However, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist says he’s never been involved with anything as technically intricate as “Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience” presented at the Schuster Center in Dayton on Saturday, Feb. 24.

Hofmanis, a New York native, created and performs in his own touring show, “A Man Named Cash.” That is how he came to the attention of the producers of “Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience,” which launched its first tour in October.

“Nothing like this has ever really been done before,” Hofmanis said. “This really works on three levels. It’s not a tribute show. We are doing live stuff but we’re not pretending to be Johnny Cash. There’s no reason to do that because he’s already there onscreen. That would be a little odd. This really is something I’ve never seen being done this way before.”



Level one

The first level of this multimedia production is Hofmanis, a band and other singers providing live musical accompaniment for the legendary country artist’s original vocals. The musicians perform while television footage from “The Johnny Cash Show” is projected on a large screen.

“All of this is backed by his son, John Carter Cash, so he had access and the rights to a lot of the footage,” Hofmanis said. “They took footage from his TV show, which was on from ‘69 to ‘71, cleaned it up pixel by pixel and polished everything up. Then it’s put on a specially made screen for the tour so it’s not a jumbotron type of thing. It’s a really amazing screen that looks great.

“They extracted Johnny’s vocals from the band,” he continued. “I really don’t know how they did it so well, but they extracted the band and everything else but his vocals. Then we basically play to his vocal as a completely live band.”

That comes with unique challenges.

“This was live television so if there was an extra measure or two in a song, they didn’t care,” Hofmanis said. “If somebody made a mistake, they just left it. That’s the way everybody did it then, from Waylon Jennings to David Bowie. If it’s a mistake, that’s fine. In the beginning that created some issues because the lighting and everything is time coded, so we have to be completely on beat. We have the click track in our ear with Johnny’s vocals so if they slow down with the click, we’ve got to slow down.

“There’s so much going on, so you’ve got to be spot on,” he continued. “Once it starts, you’ve got to be in that zone no matter what’s going on. You’re on just because you have to be. There’s no zoning out. It’s always changing so you never go into automatic pilot. As soon as you think you’re good with playing with Johnny up on the screen, then it’s time for something else.”

Level two

Video inserts of footage of Cash himself from the television series to new testimonials from his son make up the second level of “Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience.”

“There are other times when Johnny is on the screen,” Hofmanis said. “There are extracts from his TV show like his ‘Riding the Train’ segments. Those really haven’t been seen in a long, long time. He was always good at those very plaintive segments where he’d look at the camera and just start talking about Native Americans or the youth of today.

“Then John Carter recorded segments specifically for this show,” Hofmanis continued. “He talks about how some of these songs were written, why they were written and when they were written. He gives a little bit of the story behind them. That’s all stuff that has never been told or seen before.”

Credit: Timothy Norris

Credit: Timothy Norris

Level three

The final level of the show is a completely live component from Hofmanis and his compatriots.

“We go completely live where I will sing or Brittany Grove will sing,” he said. “There is another male that sings. At the beginning of this tour, people weren’t sure if it was on a jumbotron or if it was holograms. It’s not that but the whole show is set up and coded for the lights. Everything has to be in order but when we’re live, it’s as live as you can be. We have a ton of fun doing it.

“At first, it’s shocking because the audience doesn’t know what it’s getting into,” he continued. “We start with Johnny Cash on the screen. Then it’s John Carter and then we go into four songs where we’re a completely live band. The lighting completely changes. We’re fully lit up. It’s almost a completely different show and then it goes back to Johnny. Everything just flows. It’s so tastefully done. When you put it all together with the lighting and the colors, it’s visually unbelievable.”

Hofmanis says audiences are beginning to grasp the concept.

“The reactions are way more enthusiastic now,” he said. “People started to hear more about the show from the press. They’re hearing it’s a cool thing through word of mouth. The energy from audiences is up because they have an idea of what to expect before they get there and they’re looking forward to it. Before it was so quiet almost like it was a musical in a theater. Now, people are screaming and shouting like a real rock show.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or donthrasher100@gmail.com.

How to go

What: “Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience”

Where: Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24

Cost: $35.50 to $75.50

More info: 937-228-3630 or www.daytonlive.org

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