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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Column 266: MAHA: Now it's up to you; Team Love band A Weather tonight…

I promise I'm not going to keep writing columns about this festival every week, but I feel obligated to report on what's become something of a dream concert for indie music fans. And as I say below, they're not done yet. If they want to make this festival pitch-perfect, they need to get at least one more keynote national act, preferably a cutting edge up-and-comer like Hot Chip or Beach House (who just played here last week) or Frightened Rabbit or Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (who aren't really new or up-and-coming, but are just plain awesome).

Column 266: No Excuses
The MAHA Festival line-up is indie paradise.

You now have nowhere to hide. Nowhere. If the MAHA Festival fails, well, it's as much your fault as theirs.

I say this upon receipt of three more national bands named to play the festival's Lewis & Clark Landing main stage July 24 along with indie mega-band Spoon. If you follow local music or indie music or music in general, you've probably heard who they are by now, but let's review anyway.

First there's The Faint, arguably the funnest band from Omaha since 311 (who hasn't been "from Omaha" for a couple decades). The Faint playing MAHA was a coup on a number of levels. Because of their extensive audio/visual requirements, the band rarely if ever plays outdoors and certainly not before dark. Yet, they'll have to accommodate both fresh air and daylight for this festival.

"We knew getting The Faint would be a huge score, but we didn't know if it would work in an outside setting, given the energy of their performances," said Tre Brashear, president of YFC, Inc., the nonprofit organization that launched the event. "There was a lot of discussion regarding price, their rider and technical specifications for the performance. They wanted video screens, but even if we had them, we didn't know if they'd be visible during that time of day. We're still working that out."

The Faint adds something unique to MAHA -- a performance on the main stage by a local band, and that's something Brashear and his partners are proud of.

Next, Old '97s, the Dallas band whose name is mentioned alongside acts like Drive-By Truckers, The Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo as alt-country pioneers. Brashear said they were one of the first bands the MAHA folks targeted. "It's a band with commercial appeal, that has a different age demographic and that attracts a beer-drinking crowd," he said. "The fact that they were available, and that they sold-out the last time here and are recording a new album makes them a natural fit."

Other than Spoon, Old '97s is the most popular band on the bill, but still fits into the festival's under-the-radar nature when you consider you'll never hear them on your radio.

Finally, the wildcard: Superchunk, the pride of Chapel Hill, a punk band whose name is synonymous with the DIY essence of indie rock. The word "legendary" is appropriate to use here. Anyone even vaguely familiar with this band is smiling right now. Their appearance at South By Southwest this year was one of the most talked-about performances of the festival, in part because they rarely play live these days, and when they do, everyone wants to be a part of it. And now, unbelievably, they're being flown to Omaha for a one-off show.

Brashear said the MAHA team knew of Superchunk and their connection to Merge Records, a label founded by Superchunk's Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance. Merge is one of the most important indie labels going today; whose roster includes Arcade Fire, Conor Oberst, She & Him and Spoon. But that's not why they booked them.

"We're getting a band that is recognized as a legend," Brashear said. "We don't believe they've ever been to Omaha before." He hopes that Superchunk's position as indie-rock royalty will help attract out-of-town fans that realize the rarity of the performance. "The challenge here will be attracting young people who don't connect with the name.

"We think all the bands work well together," Brashear said, adding that with every new band they considered, they consulted with promoter Marc Leibowitz (One Percent Production) to think through how many more tickets each would sell. "We needed to add pieces to the puzzle, because we weren't sure that any one band would be able to sell enough tickets."

Here's where they're being somewhat conservative. Spoon by itself is a $35 ticket in most markets. The Faint, $25 or more. Old '97s, $30+. And Superchunk: priceless. MAHA will give you all four bands, plus two more TBD national bands and a handful of the best local bands all for $33 when tickets go on sale April 24.

So there are no excuses. Unlike last year, no one can point to the lineup or ticket price as reasons for not going to this show, especially if they're indie music fans. It's the "indie" part that may be the clink in the armor, however. How many indie music fans are there in Omaha and the surrounding area? Enough to sell 6,000 tickets?

"We know we're taking a risk," Brashear said. "We're not booking Ke$ha. We could have gone that direction. Instead, we're excited about our line-up, and with Marc (Leibowitz's) input, feel good that people will come out for these bands."

* * *

Here's another show worth mentioning: Slumber Party Records, one of Nebraska's most innovative labels, is hosting a showcase this Friday night on Slowdown's big stage. The lineup includes some of the area's best bands: Capgun Coup, Conchance, Honeybee, Noah's Ark Was a Spaceship, Talking Mountain and Thunder Power.

Slumber Party label executive Aaron Markley said that each band either recently released new music, has just finished recording or is in the process of making its first full-length album. "Music from these new albums will be performed live, and in many cases for the first time, at the showcase," he said. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and the price: Free. Don't miss it.

* * *

C O R R E C T I O N S: That's right, there's more than one. In Monday's blog, I boasted about all of the great shows going on this week, and in the process got the dates wrong on two of them. I said the Slumber Party Records showcase was Saturday night -- it's not, it's Friday night. And I said that the debut of new band Students of Crime starring Robert Thornton (The Wagon Blasters, Now Archimedes!), drummer Brad Smith, guitarist Dan Stewart and bassist Marc Phillips was Sunday night. Wrong wrong wrong! The debut is Saturday night at O'Leaver's with The Third Men and The Ground Tyrants. Take note.

* * *

I did get the date right for tonight's show at O'Leaver's -- Team Love recording artist A Weather is playing along with McCarthy Trenching and Thunder Power. Check out the clever, cool A Weather website (right here), where you can hear their gorgeous new album, Everyday Balloons, streamed in its entirety. $5, 9:30 p.m. Do not miss this one.

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

Read Tim McMahan's blog daily at -- an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area.

posted by Tim McMahan - at 10:45 AM

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