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Daddy D Productions offers tailor-made entertainment

Owner credits hard work, wholesome content for 17 years of success

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November 17, 2022

GREEN BAY – The COVID-19 pandemic did a number on the entertainment business for quite some time.

When nearly all events were canceled or shifted online, those that focused on entertaining large groups of people were forced to pivot and regroup.

None know this more than Darren Johnson – the founder and owner of Daddy D Productions, a musical variety entertainment business based in Green Bay.

Typically performing at venues throughout Northeast Wisconsin, as well as for large corporate events, Johnson said Daddy D Productions had to think outside the box when it came to staying afloat during the pandemic – which included online productions and outdoor performances.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a great and loyal following, even during that high point of the pandemic,” he said. “We did outdoor drive-up shows.”

17 years
In February of next year, Daddy D Productions will celebrate its 17th anniversary.

Johnson said what started as a group of friends with a simple idea – good music, good friends, good food and good, clean humor – thanks to a lot of hard work, has blossomed into a booming business.

Based on wholesome, family entertainment, Johnson said name a genre and Daddy D’s has probably performed it – from Broadway, country and ’50s and ’60s to veterans’ salutes and Christmas.

“I think it’s funny, a lot of people might look at where our little business is today… Some people might say it’s lucky, but I would say you’ve got to be in the right place…,” he said. “A lot of what helped us get there were the people we met along the way (and) who were positive along the way.”

Johnson said it’s been a busy year for the business and its four vocalists and six musicians.

“So far this year, it’s ahead of 2019,” he said. “So, people are starting to make their way back (from the COVID-19 pandemic), and I’m glad. We missed those people as much as they missed us.”

The team
Regular vocalists with Daddy D’s include Johnson, his wife, Shelly Johnson, Michael Blair and Angela Zuidmueller.

Longtime musicians include drummer Steve Seitz, lead guitarist Ryan Sette, bass guitarist Jeff Engelbrecht, violinist Alicia Michelle, Emily Sculliuffo on keyboard and jazz clarinetist Kevin Van Ess. 

“Green Bay is blessed to have some great talent,” Johnson said. “I learned over the years to not try to micromanage a performance group.”

He said what Daddy D Productions does is “sell nostalgia.”

“The majority of what we play and do should be close to the original, but I like to let our people take a little bit of room for themselves as well so they can let their personalities shine,” he said.

Johnson said Daddy D’s forte is probably its traveling group.

“We can set up our group at any basic room or supper club or hall and give you the same show and sound you would get at those other venues,” he said. “We’ve had all different kinds of things we’ve done. We’ve even done a Hawaiian luau-themed show before… It’s all about being creative.”

So, what’s it like putting together so many performances each year?

Johnson said he likens it to a wedding.

“If we have four shows (in a row), it’s like putting together four different weddings on four different nights,” he said.
Johnson said he and his wife work on much of the behind-the-scenes aspects together.

“We met at St. Norbert College (SNC) (in De Pere),” he said. “We were both in the Swinging Knights with Dudley Birder.”

Johnson said he and Shelly have been singing together in different capacities for 30 years – however, only recently became more.

“Through distance and a series of events, we ended up becoming a couple five years ago and married four years ago,” he said. “I have four stepchildren – Nathan, 22; Jaclyn, 20; Max, 14; and Lauren, 12.”

“The great thing with music as a profession is you can take it with you,” he said. “As long as I can carry a guitar and I have my wife with me, (that is all I need).”

Darren and Shelly Johnson

Johnson said he originally attended SNC on a music scholarship, but later decided to major in communications with an emphasis on music and business. 

“I was cautioned not to do that,” he said. “I literally had a guidance counselor say, ‘What are you going to do with a communications major with an emphasis in music and business?’”

Johnson said the answer to that question came pretty quickly after graduation when he was hired by Gerard Entertainment in Milwaukee.

He said he “got to learn the ins and outs” of the music business, which included working at Summerfest.

“It was neat to see what happens behind the scenes,” he said. “It’s a lot of chaos getting bands in and out and seeing how good performers conduct themselves.”

Johnson said he credits Neil Hawes, (the now owner of The Entertainment Company in New Berlin and back then with Gerard Entertainment) for teaching him the things that “stuck with me all these years.”

“You never have to talk negatively about someone, never do any dirty deals…,” he said. “Outwork them and out hustle them and you’ll be successful. By hustle, I mean getting up early, following up… and treating people like you like to be treated yourself.”

Corporate partnerships
Johnson said Daddy D Productions is built on relationships – and among those are corporate partnerships.

“We do a lot of corporate shows,” he said. “We travel around to different venues throughout the State of Wisconsin doing private parties for corporate venues.”

Johnson said over the years, Daddy D Productions has become kind of a “go-to for a lot of investor groups, fundraiser groups, companies like Edward Jones, Thrivent Financial.”

“We have also done some performances for hospital groups, like Bellin Health and ThedaCare…,” he said. “It would be like a manager’s day away or a thank-you to their volunteers.” 

Johnson said Daddy D has also performed at holiday parties.

“We’ve done Christmas parties for some large corporations like Delta Airlines or even some of our local businesses, like Pool Works or the Home Builders Association…,” he said.

Other markets
Johnson said Daddy D Productions is also part of the local tourism scene.

Earlier this summer, for example, Daddy D performed for the Fantasy RV Tour.

“It’s a group of 25 RVs that travel from Las Vegas to Canada, and they choose their favorite destination (stops) along the way,” he said.

Nearly every year, Johnson said the tour has included a stop in Green Bay and a Daddy D Productions show at the Riverside Ballroom.

“And they’re not alone,” he said. “I’m amazed at the people who come by the busload to see what we do.”

Johnson said part of the success Daddy D Production has had in finding its niche is they never do “anything in our shows that would be offensive to anybody.”

“We steer away even from some of the topical things that might divide people in a show…,” he said. “We try to give them a three-hour vacation from everything that’s troublesome to them. Folks are there to be entertained – that’s really the bottom line.”

Johnson said each year, Daddy D Productions works with a variety of different organizations for company events.

Over the years, he said those audiences have grown from 100-150 people to 300-350.

“People look forward to it every year,” he said.

Johnson said Daddy D also works with nonprofits for fundraising shows.

He said organizations receive a portion of the ticket sales, and also have 50/50 and basket raffles.

Busiest time of the year
As the year begins to wind down, Johnson said Daddy D Productions is preparing for its busiest time of year – ramping up for a busy slate of dinner shows simply titled a “Daddy D Christmas,” most of them featuring a family-style chicken dinner, with all the fixings. 

“We definitely get people in the Christmas mood,” Johnson said. “(The shows are) festive and reverent and funny, but always respectful for the reason for the season as well.”

Performances begin Dec. 7 and make stops throughout Northeast Wisconsin, including Luxemburg, Ashwaubenon, Marion and Green Bay.

Specific dates, times and prices are available on the Daddy D Productions website,

Johnson said 2023 already looks like it is shaping up to be a busy one.

He said they normally travel to Florida to perform during the winter, but because of the devastating impact of recent storms, they are staying put this year.

“Lucky for us, there were several corporate parties looking for entertainment,” he said.

Johnson said Daddy D Productions’ New Year’s Eve plans are set as well – partnering with other area vocalists for an intimate dinner show at The Rock Garden in Green Bay.

He said the 2023 line-up will also include opening for a Garth Brooks tribute band.

“We have a friend of ours (Mark Hatt) coming in to do a tribute to Garth Brooks from Nashville,” he said. “We’ll open for him.”

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