As many are well aware, there will be a tour this summer featuring the most recent, updated version of the Ronnie James Dio hologram. Thursday afternoon (May 23) in Los Angeles, a handful of journalists were given a preview of the band's first rehearsal with the new hologram and we were on hand to witness some of the production, while also getting a chance to chat with the Dio Disciples members, Wendy Dio who commissioned the hologram and Eyellusion CEO Jeff Pezzuti, whose company developed the Dio hologram.

During the preview, we were treated to an opening performance of "King of Rock and Roll," a personal favorite of Pezzuti's, featuring the Dio hologram in his white cross shirt performing surrounded by very intricate, eye-catching stunning visuals and the power of the Dio Disciples band featuring guitarist Craig Goldy, drummer Simon Wright, bassist Bjorn Englen and keyboardist Scott Warren. The second song was a hologram-free performance of Rainbow's "Stargazer," with co-vocalist's Tim "Ripper" Owens and Oni Logan high-fiving before trading lines while visions of demons, fireworks and smoke surrounded them onstage. The final performance brought back the Dio hologram, pulling together two classic tracks — "Last in Line" and "Holy Diver" — with one of the best visual presentations of the day, complete with a few stage moves perfectly queued up to the music.

Here are a few things we can share and what we learned from the advance preview.

Getting Ronnie Right

This is actually the second version of the Ronnie James Dio hologram, following the one that debuted at Wacken back in 2016. "Technology has come a long way from there," said Wendy Dio, who had some fine tuning suggestions that she wanted on this latest version. The singer's widow immediately called out a need to get the eyebrows closer to how the vocalist looked and also asked for some adjustments with his hair. "Ronnie was a perfectionist, and I try to think what he would want," Wendy explained.

It also was revealed that the process was a very labor intensive effort, which included finding the right image for the performance. “We had to pick a likeness of Ronnie that wasn’t from the ‘80s, but I didn’t want it just before he died. So we had to pick a photo of Ronnie and then say, ‘You’ve got to make it do all the things,” Wendy added. "I think we wanted him to be his self," drummer Simon Wright said of the desire of what was anticipated onstage.

Wendy also revealed that the vocals fans will hear from Ronnie have come from a variety of shows and not just one concert. And as far as the performance goes, Wendy says she's pleased with the technological advance that now allows Ronnie to be more forward on the stage, in line with the rest of the group, whereas the predecessor had him more toward the back of the stage as the band played.

“This is as close as you’re gonna get, and there’s nothing closer honestly,” stated Pezutti about the look and sound of the hologram. “Is it the same, no? But you can hear how powerful the vocals are, you can see the stagecraft, and Ronnie was such a performer and entertainer first and this is what we’re trying to capture. It’s not easy to do and it’s painstaking.”

This Show Is Visually Bonkers

Photo by Stephanie Cabral

The general consensus among those in the room was that the visual presentation went way beyond what was expected. During the preview, not only did we get Dio's stage moves, look and vocals, but the technology allows Dio to be surrounded by some of the most trippy concert visuals that you'll see. There are proper nods to Dio's recording past, with plenty of visual pyro, smoke, dragons, demons and more that you just have to experience for yourself. From the performances we were allowed to see, there are also some pretty cool coordinated efforts pairing Dio's stage moves with Simon Wright's drumming. Simply put, it's a visual feast for the senses, and with technology ever changing, could even evolve further in terms of what can be presented in the future.

“This can always be more and more and more elaborated," Wendy Dio said, reflecting her desire for more special effects and the ability to see Ronnie move around more. Pezzuti added that Eyellusion has created within a three dimensional model that can be poured into VR and updated when the technology is available. "We think in terms of the future, and we design it that way because we know it’s only going to get better," he adds.

And while you've got a veritable cornucopia to take in visually, the power of the performance should not be overlooked. Dio Disciples have spent the better part of the past decade saluting the music Ronnie made and they're locked in on the classics. While Dio's hologram may be the focus, it's not the entire show, as Oni Logan and Tim "Ripper" Owens will dig further into Dio's catalog and even get a chance to join the hologram later in the performance.

I'm Not Crying, You're Crying ....

You better believe the Ronnie James Dio hologram has elicited strong feelings among the band members and the late singer's wife. "I just remember when we did debut it at Wacken, nobody was expecting it and I even forgot for a minute because we’re playing the show and all of a sudden there’s this voice. ‘Whoa’ It just blew me away. I hadn’t heard his voice for so long onstage and it was like, ‘That’s him,’” stated keyboardist Scott Warren.

“The first time I saw it at Wacken, I just cried my eyes out.” added Wendy Dio. “Seeing it again today, I got goosebumps.” “Hearing his voice, no one sings like him and there’s certain inflections in his voice. He was and is still my favorite singer, so it still gets emotional for me. I’m back there in tears and it’s almost nine years now,” guitarist Craig Goldy continues. “It strengthens you as well. My favorite part about it was the one time I saw three generations of fans in the crowd. There was an older gentleman with his hands on the shoulders of his son and that man with his hands on the shoulders of his younger son … They were all there for a different reason, but they were all captivated.”

Reconciling the Love

Photo by Stephanie Cabral

Yes, there have been naysayers along the way, questioning the intent of bringing Dio back to the stage, but guitarist Craig Goldy feels that once the hologram tour is experienced, it will reconcile a lot of the conflicted feelings amongst Dio fans. "As odd as it may sound, the trouble they have with us, it also comes from love for Ronnie, and that’s the interesting thing. This comes from our love for Ronnie and their objection comes from their love for Ronnie," says Goldy. "YouTube is not the place to judge this. It’s an experience. It’s something you have to experience. A pregnant woman is not going to know what it’s like to give birth just because a mother tells her what to expect. Once she has that experience, then it’s this amazing love and it’s a miracle … It’s something to be treasured, it’s something to be experienced because it comes from love. So those that object to it because of love, eventually everyone’s going to understand why this is, how this is and what this is. Those that I’ve had trouble with, once we have a chance to explain, those that have been our biggest objectors become our biggest supporters.”

The experience is the big thing for those involved, and while cellphones and YouTube have become the norm for many to share their concert experiences these days, that method just doesn't quite do it justice. “You can’t just take your phone and go, ‘This is what it looks like everybody.’ So that means get out of your chairs, stop watching your computer and go see the live rock show that used to be,” says Warren. “Each song is different and each song has its own look and feel,” adds bassist Bjorn Englen.

“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but you have to see it before you criticize it. We’re bringing a show. This is a show. We’re bringing Ronnie back for memories, but it’s also a show,” says Wendy Dio.

Saluting and Starting a Legacy

One of the little easter eggs of this whole thing that Wendy Dio revealed is there's a portion with Ronnie's head that dates back to 1986, and that's significant because at that time, the singer had the idea to incorporate something similar to what the hologram technology is today. ”People say, ‘Oh Ronnie wouldn’t want that.’ I think Ronnie would want it cause I know how much he was into technology and how he tried to create that. We really tried to create a hologram then," says Dio.

Goldy echoed those sentiments, adding, "He always wanted to be the first, and he always saw ahead of time. He knew how to turn a dream that he could see would be something great in the future, make that conversation materialize and become a global success.” Co-vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens chimed in, "We knew Ronnie and he loved his fans. It didn’t matter how much he sacrificed, lost, gained – Ronnie did things to make fans happy. That’s exactly what Wendy’s carrying on and why she does so many of these things."

As the technology is still somewhat new, there may be misperceptions about what this show is, but Pezzuti assures that they are all in to create an experience. “If we’re going out with a big show, let’s make it as fucking rock and roll and metal as we can make it and incorporate all of it,” says the Eyellusion chief. “It’s a bold move to try to change an industry that’s pretty much stuck in the mud when it comes to doing something new. So to go out in a live music setting and create a new kind of entertainment, it’s difficult. But when you see the results and you see people coming, even when we went out with this in 2017, the last three shows were sold out and we were averaging around 15,000 and they were coming based on what they saw on YouTube, which didn’t look anything close to what it looked like in person. This show is 20 times bigger and more intense and better.”

He continues, “You want to create that excitement again, something nobody’s seen, because at this point everybody’s seen everything. You’ve got the same bands coming out every summer doing the same show and a lot of those bands aren’t even changing the sets. So this is a new way to do something different, create a new buzz, and when you see the show you can see how much effort went into it.”

The Stats

This version of the Ronnie James Dio hologram took over a year to put together with the Eyellusion team. At present, the band is planning a 92-minute show, with three crew members specifically assigned to running the video and hologram that is part of the show. There are eight songs that have been done featuring the Ronnie James Dio hologram, and there is talk of doing more with the ability to swap songs in and out of set lists. This show is more elaborate in terms of the visual presentation beyond the Dio hologram. Eyellusion worked with Paul Dexter on helping to create some of the imaging and lighting for the show. The hologram tour has also cut down on some of the costs of touring, with Wendy Dio revealing that the production can be housed with one truck.

News and Notes

* Though Dio Disciples have been working on new music, this tour is not expected to feature the debut of any of that material, choosing to pay homage to Dio's past. However, there is the option of adding to their sets in the future.

* Toward the end of the panel discussion, Wendy Dio revealed that it's her desire to also record one of the shows on their tour for a potential release.

The "Dio Returns" tour starts up May 31 in Ft. Myers, Fla. See all of the dates listed below. Get ticketing details here.

Dio Returns 2019 U.S. Tour Dates

May 31 — Ft. Myers, Fla. @ Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall
June 1 — Orlando, Fla. @ The Plaza Live
June 2 — St. Petersburg, Fla. @ Palladium Theatre
June 3 — Atlanta, Ga. @ Vinyl at Center Stage
June 6 — Worcester, Mass. @ The Palladium
June 7 — Glenside, Pa, @ Keswick Theatre
June 8 — Asbury Park, N.J. @ Paramount Theatre
June 9 — Huntington, N.Y. @ The Paramount
June 11 — Detroit, Mich. @ The Fillmore
June 12 — Grand Rapids, Mich. @ 20 Monroe Live
June 14 — St. Charles, Ill. @ The Arcada Theatre
June 15 — St. Paul, Minn. @ Myth
June 16 — Milwaukee, Wis. @ Pabst Theater
June 19 — Kansas City, Mo. @ Uptown Theater
June 20 — Oklahoma City, Okla. @ The Criterion
June 21 — Dallas, Texas @ Bomb Factory
June 28 — Los Angeles, Calif. @ The Wiltern
June 29 — Las Vegas, Nev. @ Brooklyn Bowl

See Dio in the Best Metal Album of Each Year Since 1970