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Josh Hoyer

Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal performed Tuesday at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal took a couple of turns at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on Tuesday, entertaining prisoners inside the walls for more than an hour and a half. 

The early-afternoon performances in an inside yard started at 1:10 p.m. for about 40 minutes and the second set at 2:10 p.m. for about an hour. 

Hoyer estimated about 300 men saw the show, and seemed to enjoy it. 

"It was really intense, to be honest," Hoyer said later Tuesday. "We met a lot of really nice people in here. ... Good people who were trying to change their lives. Some real positive conversations." 

His band is known for raucous funk and smooth soul — music for the people, by the people, according to its flyers. 

Hoyer did a 2017 stint on "The Voice," turning the chairs of Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton in blind auditions with his rendition of "Oh Girl," by the Chi-Lites, and spending a short time on Team Blake.

Hoyer said a lot of the band's music has hope, self-confidence and encouragement to be a good person at the heart of it. 

At the prison, he said, the band played songs such as Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," which was requested, "Dirty World," "The Evening Train," and "Blood and Bone," about community and trying to do the right thing by the people you're with. 

"It was really interesting to sing those songs to an audience made up of prisoners," Hoyer said. "I kept saying this is an honor for us to play to our brothers on the inside." 

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It was the band's first time to play at a prison — or even be inside a prison — and it was moving, he said. 

"This is a great opportunity for our population to get out and do something different," said Nebraska State Penitentiary spokeswoman Allyson Bennett. "We’re always looking for positive experiences like this to engage the population." 

The performances they bring in are "very well attended," according to Warden Michele Wilhelm.

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Hoyer said he was asked by Matthew Heckman, deputy warden for programs at the penitentiary, if he'd like to come out sometime and play for the prisoners. He quickly agreed. 

The five-man blues band, from Lincoln, could be what local politicians frequently refer to as "hard-working Nebraskans." In September, it has appearances in Norfolk; Fremont; Kansas City, Missouri; Grand Island; Topeka, Kansas; Omaha; and at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln.

Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes said music is a healthy activity for people and contributes to better outcomes.  

“The performances, like those scheduled today, are pro-social events in which the inmate population can engage and benefit," he said. 

The prisons also host speakers and events that have inspirational or motivational components or address issues related to personal accountability, he said.

"Other programs," Frakes said, "are purely for entertainment.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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