We live in a culture where “bigger” is always perceived as being “better.” Some might argue that this concept is The American Way.

Well, Jeremy Buckley, the impresario behind the annual Lincoln Calling Music Festival, isn’t concerned about getting “bigger.” On the surface, one might look at this year’s festival — the 8th Annual, an achievement in and of itself — and say that it’s a step backward. There are no significant national touring acts on the 100-plus-band 16-DJ (so far) roster whose schedule is spread over five nights at 10 venues in downtown Lincoln. Financial support was cut in half for ’11, thanks to a tsunami that not only devastated Japan, but also washed away sponsorship dollars from Toyota. But a glance at the schedule shows (which you can view at lincolncalling.com), this year’s event may be the best ever.

Buckley, as you can imagine, agrees.

“Each year is a different beast,” he said between football games last Sunday afternoon. “Last year the sky was the limit. We had an assload of money from sponsors and a perfect storm of national touring bands that just happened to be coming through at the right time. This year it was doing what we could with what we had, and I think we put together something great.”

Though the festival’s organization falls exclusively on Buckley’s shoulders — and that’s the way he wants it — this year he loosened the reins oh so slightly and got input from folks who asked to be part of the fun. The result is a more varied lineup that spreads the festival’s genres beyond its usual indie-only focus.

“I guess I tried to put an emphasis on making other people do my work,” Buckley said. “Quite a few aspects of this year’s festival came from people asking to help out.”

For example, Buckley received a Facebook message from Corey Birkmann asking why so few punk and metal bands were involved in the program. Buckley’s reply: “I don’t know much about punk or metal, so I don’t know the difference between the good and bad bands.” Birkmann offered to help by booking a show a day at The Spigot that was metal and/or punk-oriented.

“So I said, ‘Roll with it.’” Buckley quipped.

As a result, 12 Lincoln punk and/or metal acts are booked Thursday through Saturday at The Spigot, including Dust Bled Down, Ten Dead and Beaver Damage. “So this year, metal and punk are getting some love,” Buckley said.

KZUM talent Hilary Stohs-Krause, host of radio show “X-Rated Women in Music,” asked Buckley if she could curate a showcase that featured women musicians in an MTV Unplugged-style setting. “I told her to roll with it,” Buckley said. The two-hour Friday afternoon program will take place in the art gallery above Duffy’s. Called The Parrish Project, it will feature student artists from the LPS Arts and Humanities Focus Program under the tutelage of Mezcal Brothers’ Gerardo Meza.

Then there’s music website hearnebraska.org (which Buckley helped develop), that will host a Saturday afternoon program that includes musicians merch booths at The Bourbon Theater. And DJ Spencer Munson a.k.a. $penselove, who pulled together a posse of DJs who will perform at clubs throughout the festival, including the all new Mix Barcade, a venue in the old Bricktop space that will debut as part of Lincoln Calling.

While all that help is “making things a lot less stressful” for Buckley, the festival’s primary attraction continues to be its overall line-up. No, Lincoln Calling didn’t attract any Saddle Creek bands this year, but it did draw the cream of the crop of the non-Creek acts, including Ideal Cleaners, Conduits, Digital Leather, Eli Mardock, Gus & Call, Icky Blossoms, McCarthy Trenching and Pharmacy Spirits, The Show Is the Rainbow, So-So Sailors, UUVVWWZ, Machete Archive, Talking Mountain, Son of 76, The Whipkey Three, Matt Cox, and even some out-of-towners. They include the always amazing The Photo Atlas, poorly named Gauntlet Hair and Nebraska adoptees Cowboy Indian Bear.

Glancing at the line-up, there were a lot of acts that I flat-out didn’t recognize. Buckley even has an answer for that in the form of a massive 47-song digital download available for free from the Lincoln Calling website.

Like like every real festival, all bands are receiving some sort of compensation, whether it’s a guarantee, a cut of the door or an all-access pass to all five days of the event. Helping defray costs were donations from the Downtown Lincoln Association, Guitar Center and Lincoln’s Young Professional Group. 

The particulars: The festival kicks off Tuesday, Oct. 11, with the Homegrown Film Festival at The Bourbon Theater at 8 p.m., a listening party at Duffy’s at 10 p.m. and an acoustic open mic night at The Zoo bar at 9 p.m. The real stuff gets rolling Wednesday, Oct. 12, and runs through Saturday, Oct. 15. All access passes for the full festival are $30, one-day passes run $10 to $12, or you can pay the door at each venue, which runs from free to $8.

So no, Lincoln Calling isn’t as big as it was in 2010, “and I’m OK with that,” Buckley said. “I know there are 5,000 people who will go to this and have a good time, and the bands will have better crowds than on any given Friday night.”

That said, Buckley’s already thinking about the 10th Annual Lincoln Calling in 2013, and for that one, size will definitely matter.

Lazy-i is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on the Omaha music scene. Check out Tim’s daily music news updates at his website, lazy-i.com, or email him at lazy-i@thereader.com.

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