MAHA 2010 Wrap: Time to Give Out Some Awards
When I checked into the press tent for this year’s MAHA Music Festival, I learned a few important things:
First, I learned that everyone associated with the festival, staff, volunteers, and concert goers, would be exceedingly nice for the remainder of the day; the weather would be hot and revealing and gorgeous, and the civic pride would be palpable, smiles stretched, friends from out of town greeted if lucky, texted if otherwise: all of us realizing, this is going to be a great festival this year, and if we’re lucky, this is going to be great every year for a very long time.
Second, and almost as importantly, I learned that there would be free food for the esteemed members of the press, and I could, if I so chose, attempt to give myself shrimp-induced iodine poisoning, as had always been my dream.
And thirdly, I learned this fact, from the press kit: “The MAHA Music Festival intends to become a multi-day event…in multiple venues throughout the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area.” On this point, I’d argue that they’re already there:
Exhibit A) I went to MAHA Saturday, needed all of Sunday to recover, and spent all of Monday editing photos and writing these concert notes. Multi-day, check!
Exhibit B) After 11 hours of live MAHA music along the waterfront of the Lewis & Clark Landing bled into a bittersweet evening at The Waiting Room for It’s True’s final performance, unsure of what to do, so fulfilled I was unable to process thoughts, I ended up catching a ride to Council Bluffs to gamble until sunrise. Multiple venues/metro area, check!
So, now that it’s all over, what did I think? My concert notes follow, but I’m far from the only opinion in town. I suggest you check out:
- Kevin Coffee’s brief Omaha World Herald piece and longer blog entry
- Tim McMahon’s first take on MAHA over at Lazy-i
- This quick-reading post from Mitchell Allen. He’s a student at UNL, and a runner up in our MAHA Facebook Ticket Giveaway Contest. We were feeling generous, so we agreed to trade him tickets for a blog post, and the guy came through!
- A whole bunch MAHA links to downloads, streams, interviews, etc. that we collected on the MAHA bands
- Super photography from Zach Hollowell and Eric Gonzalez has a killer eye!
The 2010 MAHA Festival Awards
The "Rosenblatt Stadium Memorial" Venue Award: Like much of the Omaha riverfront, Lewis & Clark Landing is an under-used gem in my opinion. If the Anchor Inn is the only place you’ve ever seen a show along the Missouri, the Landing will not disappoint. Plenty of room for vendors, bathrooms, and leisurely between band walks. Unless you go to Bonnaroo for the mud, you’ll like MAHA’s current home (and much like your battered stock portfolio, there’s plenty of room for growth in 2011).
The "Can Suttle Really Balance Our Budget?" Cost Award: A $33 preorder price seems totally reasonable, but MAHA organizers went one step further. Tall boys of good beer and mixed drinks for $4, ample free parking, $8 paid parking, fair food prices. About the only gauge was when I bought extra drink tickets and ended up getting stuck front row and didn’t want to move. These things happen, as they say.
The "Like Lil’ Kim, Only the EXACT Opposite" Award for Most Pleasantly Over-Dressed: To the many, many members of Satchel Grande. Seemingly a strange fit for the indie-leaning MAHA lineup, the ever funky, brown-tie-bespoke nine piece simply refuse to not have a good time. They lead perfectly into The Faint’s dancetopian set, easily converting young and old, and doing a fine job with jaded and in the middle. "Take your radio and break it."
The "Justin Bieber/Omaha Mall" Award for Most Surprising Hit: Voodoo Method, if only because I judged a book by its title and expected a jam rock cover band. They were the only act I had not listened to or seen prior to the show, but there could not have been a more apt, energetic opener. The Method earned their noon:30 slot by winning the Omaha Entertainment Awards. Playing a hybrid punk/funk with a true two guitar attack, lead singer Pierre Minor has gospel worthy pipes, a James Brown bag of stage tricks, and a unique look that I’m itching to parse but not quite ready to prod…yet.
The "Meatloaf on a Bender" Award for Most Charisma: Has to go to my man Gerard, visiting artist and special projects mentor for the Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Arts, working on a mural co-sponsored by the Bellows Studio and the MAHA Festival. "Ellephunk"—the name Gerard works under—has a studio at the Hot Shops, but originally hails from Cameroon. We vibed on the politics and the business of the art world in between blasts of his spray can. His watercolors, canvases, and wildstyle murals are imbued with the vibrant colors of life, and his eye has a glint in it that says, "I am going to take my story, take it to others, take them with me, and take it to the top." All of his work is coyly centered on the elephant because you “have to be larger than life.”
The "Phish Crying at Coventry" Award for Most Emotional Rock: Yes, I most certainly created this award so I could expound upon my passion for the band It’s True. They played a great set at MAHA, and an even better and more interesting set later at the Waiting Room. Might have been the sun stroke talking, but after it was all over, I was seriously considering writing them an open later, leveraging this little website here, and asking/shaming them into staying together a little longer.
I’ve seen them a number of times, just enough to start noticing the little things. Much like Spoon’s Eric Harvery, piano player, Karl Houfek fills in “that space”—a pocket that didn’t exist before he came to inhabit it, that’s neither melody nor rhythm, but that is there, and is his. I enjoy the sometimes awkward moment before “Here I Come” when bassist Kyle Harvey and guitar play Andrew Bailey exchange instruments. I like watching Matt Arbeiter switch from jazz brushes to side sticking. And I think Adam is…very talented. Enough fawning, I don’t want to get flamed on the message boards.
The "Tom Petty" Award for Band Whose Fan Base Secretly Skews Ridiculously Old: I wasn’t into the Old 97’s the first four times around, but I did grow to gain a certain respect this time, as much for the MAHA organizers decision to book them as for the band itself. Simply put, there wasn’t another act that seemed to connect as well across the age range as this group. They play a solid brand of country rock and brought the many lawn chair toting, Baby Björn-ing West-Omahans out of their seats. Part of what made MAHA such a special time was the inclusive, all-ages atmosphere, and if the (very) Old 97’s helped contribute to this, I support it.
The "Etsy.com" Award for Best Merchandise: No questions asked, goes to the Mynabirds. Arriving by suitcase (that look to be ripped off from some mid-century, Old Fashioned drinking, Mad Man), the band sold hand printed silk screen ties, scarves, hand written journals…even book marks…like people read anymore! Ha! You Mynabirds, what will you think of next, a Beowulf companion album?
The "Noah’s Ark Was Not a Spaceship" Award for Transportation Adversity: Has to be a split between Ben Kweller and Superchunk, both delayed en route due to “Acts of God” (apparently hurricane winds somewhere around Virginia). Neither required an Ark, but the Old 97’s did have to play an earlier set, and the entire concert was pushed back one hour.
Mr. Kweller, who in person looks exceptionally nice/pre-pubescent, donned a red jeans and cowboy hat ensemble that will surely rival whatever sartorial goofiness Conor Oberst comes up with next weekend. He proceeded to play a really solid set of hits ranging from Sha Sha cuts to tracks off his current album, Changing Horses, and genuinely didn’t seem too bothered that he had probably seen more airports than George Clooney recently.
Venerable indie-rockers Superchunk have been around as long as anyone on the bill, filling their time between releases by running the well respected independent imprint Merge Records (label of MAHA headliners Spoon). Still, they brought as much energy to the stage as anyone, and seemed genuinely happy to be in Omaha for the “first time in 21 years.” They did little things to make me happy: their drummer uses a jazz grip, their bass player is a girl, they posted fun facts on Twitter like their setlist and the ice cream flavor eCreamery named after them.
The "High School Yearbook Award" for Best Lyrics: Though I just spent a solid 20 minutes looking online, apparently there are some things even Google doesn’t know: the lyrics to “California” by Landing on the Moon. I’ve seen them at least two or three times, so I can say with authority that there’s a part that alludes to everyone in California having a tan and everyone in Omaha starting a band. Gets the crowd every time. If I could proclaim an official song to MAHA, it’d be that.
The "A Whiter Shade of Pale" Award for Bad Timing: Unfortunately, Betsy Wells’ set coincided with my realization that pigment-wise, I was more Procol Harem than sun-soaked Little Brazil. I would very likely be catching skin cancer by mid afternoon unless I found some sun block. Sponsors TD Ameritrade hooked me up, and I returned just in time to grab a photo or two and hear the last few seconds of their set. Here’s their MySpace page, go be a better friend than I was.
The "The Doors / What Am I Missing?" Award: I’ve never liked The Doors. If Jim Morrison doesn’t make a great looking corpse, there’s just no way they’re still that famous today. Every time I hear them compared to the Great Rock Bands I wonder, “what am I missing?”
Now, I’ve always thought of Spoon as a band that makes quintessential indie rock. But I mean that only partly as a compliment. On record, they are tight, focused, and, a little robotic. Consistent is the nicer way to put it. I realize that catchy pop gems don’t write themselves, and clearly the nuance and skill they’ve honed over their seven albums has given them an Wilco-esque ascendency into late-career fame. But, if I’m drinking tea, they’re not necessarily my cup. I liked their set, and thought the full horn section on cuts like “The Underdog” was a really classy touch. But I didn’t love it. And there was one other problem…
The "(Jefferson) Starship ‘We Built This City’ " Award: …that other problem was that The Faint, Omaha natives, well known and well loved, absolutely killed it. Stocking the stage with smoke machines, eight-foot tall alien things, and enough flashing LEDs to…make a really tasteless joke out of, if I were a lesser journalist, they raised the energy level to a bouncing, smiling, moshing, ball-pit of an audience, with crowd surfers reaching many rows back. I overheard more than one person lament, “if only they had closed, that would have been a perfect night.” It was close, though, and that should count for something.
After all, there’s always next year.