Arts & Culture

Cedar Rapids native performs with - and learns from - Timberlake, Indigo Girls

The Shadowboxers to open for Maroon 5 in August

Courtesy photo 

The Shadowboxers (from left) Scott Tyler, Matt Lipkins and Cedar Rapids native Adam Hoffman will open for Maroon 5 on Aug. 4 at the newbo evolve festival in Cedar Rapids. The Nashville-based soul/pop band is currently on the road with Justin Timberlake.
Courtesy photo The Shadowboxers (from left) Scott Tyler, Matt Lipkins and Cedar Rapids native Adam Hoffman will open for Maroon 5 on Aug. 4 at the newbo evolve festival in Cedar Rapids. The Nashville-based soul/pop band is currently on the road with Justin Timberlake.

While opening for the stars can be a springboard to success, it’s also a valuable teaching tool in the moment.

Before Cedar Rapids native Adam Hoffman and his bandmates in the Shadowboxers joined Justin Timberlake’s tour in March, they spent more than two years opening for the Indigo Girls beginning in 2011, including a stop at Iowa City’s Englert Theatre in 2013.

They learned “everything” from being on the road with the Grammy-winning folk/rock duo, Hoffman said by phone from “somewhere in Ohio,” en route to a recent opening for Nick Jonas.

That kind of experience will come into play, too, when Hoffman’s band opens for Maroon 5 during the newbo evolve festival Aug. 4 in Cedar Rapids.

“Obviously, (the Indigo Girls) are amazing artists — that goes without saying. But they are such good people, and such professionals, and such craftsmen,” he said.

“We also learned how to tour and not treat it as just a party — it’s not, it’s work. The cool thing about opening for them and being their backing band — we would soundcheck with them, then we’d play (our) show, then we’d play a show with them.

“We were getting five-plus hours of stage time every single night. That’s really invaluable for a band starting out. We figured out how to be on stage, and how to perform in front of an audience that’s not there to see you — and also, how to be in a band.”

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OPENING ROLE

Knowing that the audience isn’t there to see you “has become the norm for us,” said Hoffman, 29, a 2007 Cedar Rapids Washington High School graduate. “Now, being on tour with Justin, you really learn how to go up there.

“People are initially skeptical — I think that’s the first gut reaction to any opening act. We’ve really learned how to craft a show and hopefully win people over.”

Working that skill not only serves the opener well, but is important to the headliner, too.

“Your role is to get the crowd fired up to see who they paid to come see,” Hoffman said. “That’s especially true on tour with Justin. It’s an arena, so already, there’s more distance between you and the audience. When you’re opening for the Indigo Girls, you’re in an auditorium, and a lot of times, (the audience) is sitting down and they’re ready to listen.”

In an arena, he said. “they’re not ready to listen. So our goal, first and foremost, is to get them fired up to get the energy in the room as high as we can possibly push it, so that Justin can come onstage and they’re already primed.”

ORIGINS

That’s a far cry from their beginnings, playing small venues around Atlanta.

The Shadowboxers grew out of Emory University there, where Hoffman and Matt Lipkins met as freshmen in 2007.

“Matt and I became really good friends early on, over shared music taste,” Hoffman said. “We sang a lot together.”

Lipkins met Scott Tyler in a music theory class, and soon, the three entered an original song in an Emory arts competition. That was their jumping-off point.

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“When we started, we were a college band, and there were no bands at Emory. It is not a music school,” said Hoffman, who studied business and majored in creative writing. “That helped, because any time anyone needed music, we got the call.”

They started playing around campus and branched out into the Atlanta music scene, ending up at Eddie’s Attic. That’s where John Mayer got his start and a who’s who across genres have appeared, including Emory alums, the Indigo Girls.

Their first big show outside the city found them playing for 10,000 people at Wolf Trap in 2011, opening for the Indigo Girls at the performing arts haven in Virginia. (Tyler had met Emily Saliers at a Passover Seder meal, and at a friend’s urging, he played some of his original tunes, telling her, “If you like what I do, you’ll like what the band does.”)

Hoffman describes their sound as “pop soul influenced by funk and R&B.” They share songwriting and vocals, with Hoffman and Tyler on guitar and Lipkins on keyboards. “Three-part harmony is the lead vocalist,” Hoffman said, adding that they tour with a drummer and two bass players.

Saliers liked what she heard that night, and the two bands went on the road together for two and a half years. In the interim, the Shadowboxers returned to Atlanta, where they played bigger and bigger shows.

“We could play a room and get a thousand people in there, which was crazy to us at the time — still is,” Hoffman said.

The Shadowboxers relocated to Nashville, which helped grow their career through three albums. Hoffman reached out to Timberlake through social media in 2013, pointing the superstar to their cover of his song “Pusher Love Girl,” posted on YouTube.

“We tweeted at him, only because that’s what you do, with literally zero expectations that he would ever see it,” Hoffman said. “Somehow he did — we’re still not quite sure how he actually saw it. He tweeted about it, with a link to the video, saying that he loved it. Then he sent us a direct message on Twitter. It said, ‘I’ve never done this before. How do I get in touch with you guys?’

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“We gave him my phone number, thinking that if someone reached out, it wouldn’t be him. And a week later, I was in my apartment in Atlanta on a Sunday and he called.”

He became the band’s mentor, shepherding them through the business.

“When we first met him, the main thing he said, ‘Look, I’m at a point in my career where I want to start helping other artists navigate this thing and help them avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made — and help artists that I really believe in figure out this maze a little easier.’

“And that’s exactly what he’s done,” Hoffman said.

“When Justin discovered us, it was a real blessing.”

 

IF YOU GO:

  • What: The Shadowboxers opening for Maroon 5
  • Where: newbo evolve stage in NewBo District, 1620 Second St. SE, Cedar Rapids
  • When: 7 p.m., Aug. 4
  • Tickets: $70 to $134.50 concert-only, $402.50 festival pass, U.S. Cellular Center Box Office, 1-800-745-3000 or Gocedarrapids.com/newboevolve/tickets/
  • Festival details: Gocedarrapids.com/newboevolve/
  • Band website: Theshadowboxers.com

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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