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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Column 264: Is MAHA turning the corner? Mynabirds, Paria added to Omaha Invasion; Cleemann (w/Higgins), Thunder Power tonight…

One more thing... I know a few of the bands that MAHA is after in addition to Spoon. If they get them, there will be no question that this festival has, indeed, turned the corner...

Column 264: MAHA Presents: Spoon
How it happened...

The news is right up there in the headline. Spoon. Great band.

Now how did it happen, and why didn't it happen last year?

I'll recap without dwelling too much on the past. Last year's inaugural MAHA Music Festival featured has-been emo act Dashboard Confessional as its headliner with casino act Big Head Todd on the undercard. The festival, which was billed as an indie/alternative event, did have its share of indie/alternative bands, not the least of which was Appleseed Cast and Army Navy -- but they played in the early afternoon to (literally) a handful of patrons, which included me. Later in the evening, the crowd ballooned to maybe 500 (we'll never know the real number) for Big Head Todd, and then the tide receded once again for the earnest, self-important Dashboard Confessional, and that was the end of the inaugural MAHA Festival.

And lo, the people scoffed.

Well, not all of them, but a lot of them. Certainly those who follow indie music just kind of wrote off the MAHA Festival as another vanity project by a group of upwardly mobile young professionals who didn't know what they were doing but had the money to do it. On the surface, they seemed to have the best intentions, but in the end, they lost sight of the goal somewhere between here and there, substituting quality for hopes of a larger "draw."

Many thought MAHA was a one-and-done boondoggle. They were wrong.

The conventional wisdom why MAHA appeared to fail in year one was that the organization, whose primary circle consists of local businessmen Tyler Owen, Mike App and Tre Brashear, simply started booking the acts too late. They also worked with an out-of-state agent whose expertise lies in casino acts, not indie music.

The focus on the 2010 MAHA Festival began almost immediately after the stage was struck for the 2009 event. Their first job was to acquire the help of One Percent Production's Marc Leibowitz, the guy who books indie (and other genres) at The Waiting Room (which he co-owns with Jim Johnson), Slowdown and a few other venues around town.

Next, the group began to talk to folks in the community to get their ideas and suggestions. That included Omaha World-Herald music critic Kevin Coffey, Omaha City Weekly music critic (and man about town) Marq Manner, and little ol' me.

I met with Mike App in February over coffee at Blue Line in Dundee, where he asked a series of questions including: What kind of music should MAHA have? What bands? What else should they do besides music? and, finally, What does MAHA look like a decade from now?

We talked, for a couple hours. App asked the same questions to Marq and Kevin and to others, including non-profit agencies and city and government officials. In the end, I have no idea if any of what was gleaned from these interviews helped them decide on Spoon or any of the other acts, though App said one thing came through loud and clear: People want MAHA to survive; they want it to work.

Last weekend, via the organization's Facebook and Twitter pages, MAHA announced that Spoon is this year's headliner. Why Spoon? "It's a great band with a 10-plus year record of indie credibility that is well-liked by our target audience," App said, adding that Spoon also should sell the kind of seats they need from a headliner. This year's event, scheduled for July 24, is once again being held at the concrete slab down by the river called The Lewis & Clark Landing. App said their attendance goal is between 5,000 and 6,000.

As good as Spoon is, there is no way the band could sell 5,000 tickets. App and Co. know this, and know that the event's undercard is just as important as the main event. "(Spoon is) a great headlining band that other good bands will want to be on the same bill with," App said. We'll see if that's true in the coming weeks as the rest of the event's line-up is announced.

Like last year, MAHA will again have both a Main Stage and a Local Stage. The organization will work with the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards (OEAA) to identify one of the four local bands who will play, while two others will be chosen based on local showcase events. The MAHA board will pick the final slot, App said.

To my surprise, App said MAHA broke even last year, thanks to holding down costs and donors committed to making it an annual event. "In the future we expect to transition to a sponsor- and event-revenue funded event (vs. donor funded)," he said.

But what if it flounders this year? That's something App wouldn't even consider. "I can't see how this community would not be receptive to a music festival," he said. "I think they want it. I really want to keep it going. It's one of the reasons why we changed how we did it from last year, and why we reached out for input.

"We want it to be an indie and alternative music festival," App said. "That limits us to a few hundred bands. I was being honest when I said it was a collaborative process, but Marc Leibowitz is who will make the choice in the end. He helps us make sure we're staying true to the vibe and, at the same time, attempt to not fail commercially. Only time and ticket sales will tell if we succeed."

* * *

This just in: Both The Mynabirds and Paria have been added to the Omaha Invasion Festival that I wrote about yesterday. Who's next?

* * *

Tonight at PS Collective, Danish singer/songwriter/musician Gunnar Cleemann is performing along with Thunder Power (just back from SXSW). Cleemann plays a subtle, wispy, layered pop that's pretty and introspective. Backing him on bass is local legend Dereck Higgins, who has been touring with Cleemann. Check out Cleemann's Myspace page. $5, 9 p.m. Also tonight, California band Americas plays at O'Leaver's with Rooftops and Gordan Shumway. $5, 9:30 p.m.

--Got comments? Post 'em here.--

posted by Tim McMahan - at 10:39 AM

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