At 2 p.m. Saturday, Exposition Avenue was empty except for a handful of people dressed head-to-toe in mid-'60s garb. As they filed inside Eight Bells Alehouse, they were greeted by other men and women who were also decked out in everything from flowery headbands to long, curly wigs; fringe vests; and pastel-colored, pearl snap shirts. The mustaches would have made Frank Zappa do a double take.
The group stopped briefly to compare getups. A tall man greeted them and asked if they were there for the concert. When they said they were, he ushered them to a nearby table. Instead of purchasing tickets, they signed waivers.
Around 30 people showed up Saturday at the request of Chris Brickler and Max Hartman, who run a virtual reality company. MyndVR is based in Addison and produces original virtual reality content geared toward adults ages 55 and older. The company filmed a new scene to add to its virtual reality repertoire, a private concert by Chris Holt and Chad Stockslager, who were posing as Simon and Garfunkel.
The actors who crowded the room were primarily friends of Brickler, the company's co-founder, and Hartman, its new creative director. Holt and Stockslager warmed up to “I Am a Rock” while a crew of videographers set up two 360-degree cameras on either side of the stage. The footage would later be edited into a virtual reality scene and sent to senior living homes throughout the United States.
“The thing that’s phenomenally interesting to me is the teleportation capabilities of this technology to bring people back to a time period that they feel comfortable with,” Brickler says. “We want to transport the senior who is in Iowa or Florida or California or wherever back to a 1967-ish time, when the styles were really transforming. This particular artist group, Simon and Garfunkel, were really instrumental in that musical transformation from the more cheesy '60s style to people hanging out in coffee shops and listening to folk music for the first time. It was a revolutionary time.”
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Someone lit candles around the dark room to give it a New York coffee shop vibe, which was the intended setting of the concert. Hartman directed the actors where to sit and told them to act natural and enjoy the show. Treat the camera like it's just another concertgoer, he said.
Khurk Maeder and Michael Hickey, the owners of Eight Bells Alehouse, were at the bar slinging drinks.
“First round’s on me,” Hartman shouted over the crowd. “We’ll get started here in a minute.”
This is the second concert Brickler and Hartman have hosted in Dallas for MyndVR. The first one was at The Balcony Club in Lakewood about a year ago, where Hartman — who does a Frank Sinatra act in Dallas under the stage name Max Vontaine — performed Sinatra's music.
They premiered the footage with 350 adults living in senior homes across the country and couldn’t have been more pleased with the response. “The memories that were induced by these folks and the happiness and joy factor were just off the charts,” Brickler says.
“We really expected there to be issues,” Hartman adds. “We thought they wouldn’t like the goggles or maybe people would get dizzy, but like 99 percent of the people just love it.”
MyndVR doesn't just film concerts. The company filmed a goat farm in Kansas a couple of months ago, aimed at people who grew up on farms; it filmed a sunset from a porch; and it's currently toying with the idea of filming a woman baking cookies in a '50s-style kitchen. The intention is to create a nostalgic experience for adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s and to help adults with illnesses that limit them physically, like Parkinson’s disease.
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"One of the pieces of feedback that we received is that the Sinatra thing worked really well for the 85- to 90-year-old folks, but baby boomers who grew up on mid-'60s music, like Simon and Garfunkel, those people are starting to move into assisted living, and they have time on their hands and want to experience this kind of stuff," Brickler says. "They might not be as mobile as they used to be, but virtual reality sort of solves that problem. So that’s what we’re doing at MyndVR."
The concertgoers Saturday didn't have to do much acting to convey enjoyment of Holt and Stockslager's performance. The duo gave an impressive concert of Simon and Garfunkel’s most popular songs. They were dressed the part, did their best verbal impersonations and even greeted the camera at "Table 5."
Hartman says MyndVR plans to do some country shows in the future — maybe Johnny Cash, Grand Ole Opry or Patsy Cline. He and Brickler hope to keep growing the company so that they can create more elaborate scenes.
“We’re asking seniors who’ve experienced this what they would like to see more of,” Hartman says. “The music content is ranking highest of everything.”