Walker Hayes To Be Beamed Into Live In The Vineyard Goes Country Festival
Walker Hayes is in demand. After the viral success of 2021’s “Fancy Like” garnered the Monument Records recording artist his first No. 1 song and a Grammy nomination, Hayes’ schedule is filling up. He’s performed at several awards shows, booked a 2022 arena tour, scheduled countless festival dates this summer and has a book on the way May 3. The only thing he hasn’t accomplished is being in two places at once – until now.
The country singer can’t attend the Live in the Vineyard Goes Country Festival in Napa Valley, CA, this week but that won’t stop him from performing there. Through Proto, a device that lets people beam themselves to a location thousands of miles away and interact with people there, Hayes will appear at the festival tonight for a set on the main stage.
“It is pretty amazing that we can basically be beamed wherever we’re supposed to be and honestly we should do this more,” Hayes, a father of six, tells me. “I don’t have to leave the kids. I could just do these from my house.”
A longtime supporter of Live in the Vineyard, Hayes was a natural fit to be the first country artist to test out the technology at a country festival. It’s also the first time Proto has been used in Napa Valley. Bobbii Jacobs, Forefront Entertainment President and Live In the Vineyard Entertainment Group Owner, said when introduced to the Proto technology she was blown away and knew she wanted to integrate it into the 2022 event.
“Following the last two years, when technology has played such an essential role in keeping artists and fans connected, I had a vision and commitment to finding a way we could bring both in-person performances and technology together,” Jacobs says. “We thought [Walker] would be perfect for performing for us on the Main Stage. Having this technology allowed us to do that.”
Jacobs says Proto also allows the festival to open the door to many possibilities and to include any artist in its program, even when schedules don’t allow the artist to be in Napa Valley. Hayes filmed his two-song set in Nashville in front of a green screen and says it wasn’t much different than his virtual performances during the height of Covid-19.
“It’s one take so I thought that was really neat,” Hayes says. “You get very personable. If you mess up you say, ‘Oops, I messed that up. Let’s keep going.’ I didn’t feel very restricted. I basically played like I would at a writers’ round sitting on a stool behind the mic. I just spoke into the camera like I was talking to an audience every night.”
Proto CEO and inventor David Nussbaum has worked with several country artists on previous hologram technology. He beamed Jimmy Kimmel to the CMA Awards in 2014 and Florida Georgia Line, Lady A and Kacey Musgraves to Hollywood to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Nussbaum founded Proto in 2019 and says once the world started changing due to the pandemic, people could understand the idea of “beaming” or “holoporting” very quickly.
“Even with things opening up again, people see the value in this as a replacement for travel – that with Proto they can save so much time and money by beaming places instead of flying,” Nussbaum says. “They can feel good about doing something good for the environment too – and of course avoid risk of future virus variants.”
Nussbaum is constantly improving the Proto technology and working to make the experience easier for those to operate. The Proto M, a tabletop holographic communication and media device currently in prototype that has won awards from CES and SXSW, will be out later this year and will fit in any home or office, he says.
“It will also have entertainment content, instructional content live or recorded like fitness, cooking or Master Class-type talks, and an artist like Walker Hayes will be able to beam into millions of homes at once for a live hologram concert,” he says.
As country tours and summer festivals kick into high gear, both Hayes and Nussbaum say Proto is a solution to the ongoing difficulties of show cancelations and rescheduling due to an artist testing positive for Covid-19. Proto allows musicians to continue to perform without losing that connection with fans.
“When you beam by Proto, the emotions come through in a way no Zoom or other video technique does,” Nussbaum adds. “The connection to the audience is real. And there’s no genre where that human connection is more vital than country.”
Adds Hayes: “Doing a tour right now is more expensive than it’s ever been, and I know that’s difficult for some artists. We want to play as many places as we can, so if this is an alternate and it makes audiences happy, it’s really not that hard for artists to do.”
Hayes likens seeing himself as a hologram to that of a moving wax figure and says he’d love to witness some of his heroes in that light. The technology isn’t far off.
“In five years, I want Proto to be in homes and offices and stores and schools all over the world,” Nussbaum says, adding his lofty goals for some country icons. “I hope we’ll be regulars at Live at the Vineyard too and soon, I want to beam country legends like Willie Nelson or Dolly Parton into 100 venues at once for the greatest show of all time!”
Hayes, meanwhile, is proud to be the first country artist at a country festival to use Proto.
“I’m just so grateful for all the opportunities that are happening,” Hayes says. “It’s pretty wild how many things we have going at once. For a lot of years, we would have given anything to have this much traction in this town and now we’re so busy that we’re playing in a box beaming up places. That’s a great problem to have.”