The Reader asked members of the Omaha music community to reflect on 2016. Here are some of the responses we received:
Dominique Morgan, Icon One Music
Musicians creating opportunities for other musicians: From The New Generation Music Festival to Femme Fest, artists are making room for others to shine and grow. Empowerment is so very important. We are booking each other, we are paying each other and we are building this scene to new heights. I’m so proud to work and invest in this community.
Jocelyn Muhammad, Jocelyn
This might sound different from the regular answer, but my favorite music moment isn’t just one moment. My favorite moments with music are infinite and never ending, and it is the work I put into it, and the passion that I feel while I’m doing it, that keeps me going. There are infinite reasons why I play, whether it’s touching people’s hearts or making them think of or feel something they haven’t felt before. The connection I make is real and alive in that moment. The vibrations I send out to everyone that is there to listen is authentic and vulnerable. And it is that moment I experience over and over in new ways every time I perform. This is the only way I can describe my favorite ongoing moment to you. I can’t wait to see what next year brings me.
CJ Olson, Saddle Creek Records
Music is, largely, a microcosm of society. 2016 brought this into sharp focus. The myriad issues that were part of the larger cultural conversation were explored musically with a heightened sense of urgency and nuance. The discourse surrounding creators and the industries that promote them also took on new and interesting dynamics.
A Tribe Called Quest performed “We the People” on SNL just four days after the election, confronting complacency in the face of xenophobia and racism. Sad13’s “Get a Yes” made getting consent exciting. PWR BTTM’s queer punk garnered international acclaim. The rise of She Shreds prefaced the fall of Guitar World’s bikini-girl gear guide. Solange’s No. 1 record, A Seat at the Table, captured the simultaneous beauty, heartbreak and outrage that is the black experience in America. The list goes on…
Considering the current social climate, this couldn’t be more important. Omaha, being the blue dot that it is, is another microcosm. We live in a city where competing cultural forces converge. Maintaining safe spaces for artistic expression and supporting organizations like Omaha Girls Rock and Love’s Jazz and Arts Center, amongst many others, has never felt more imperative than it did in 2016.
Neville Lawrence, Superstar and Star
2016 was wonderful. Two record deals and a third record from London is in the making. This is the best year ever. Big, big hugs.
Lucas Wright, Black Heart Booking
2016 has been sort of a bummer on a national/world level with the death of so many notable musical talents. But on a local and personal level, I was encouraged to see progress in the creative spaces/circles of Omaha. Since moving to this city in 2008, I’ve noticed a lot of cliquishness in musical circles and groups. But this year, with the rise of social awareness and numerous political events, it seems that those in the “scene” are becoming more aligned and are realizing they have a lot more in common than they have differences. These creative types are sharing spaces, stages and events more frequently and we are seeing an emergence of different art forms becoming more prevalent in Omaha (and Lincoln): spoken word, poetry, book readings, comedy, zines, art shows, theatrical performances, etc. People are finding ways to express themselves like never before and are meeting people with similar interests at a greater frequency as well. Also, the work that Kate Dussault is doing with Hi-Fi House and the other projects she has spearheaded has really helped to broaden the awareness of music and the arts in Omaha. She’s really a wonderful music ambassador.
Melissa Wurth, Omaha Girls Rock
I think an important part of 2016 showed how our local music scene brought our community together to work for change and growth! Specifically, Maha Music Festival for its work in advancing the understanding of mental health this past summer; Benson First Friday Femme Fest, which highlighted amazing, self-identifying artists in our community (and beyond!) and provided safe spaces for them to perform; and Hear Nebraska’s Lincoln Calling, which promoted many different organizations as well as offered panels for musicians, specifically women, on how to navigate a still male-dominated industry. Don’t forget the amazing, annual Omaha Girls Rock summer showcases in July of this year! A song lyric I STILL can’t get out of my head: “Define your own pretty!”
Spicoli, 89.7 The River
My favorite music moment of 2016 was seeing Omaha’s own Through Fire release their new album Breathe. They rocked the charts with their singles “Stronger” and “Breathe,” got on the ballot for a Grammy, toured all over the country and then came home to The Waiting Room Dec. 16 to play a SOLD OUT show! Plus, it was pretty cool to see the band’s drummer, Moose, stop the show and propose to his girlfriend of SEVEN years. She didn’t say “yes,” but she did say, “It’s about damn time!” Way to end a great year in rock with a bang!
Marcey Yates, The Raleigh Science Project
The New Generation Music Festival that my group put together for the indie artist deserves recognition. We did it DIY and it was a lot of work. That was a great experience and all, but when Terrace Martin came to the Hi-Fi house this past weekend (Dec. 17), it was something to remember and for Omaha to be proud of. Absolute best live show all year.
From Tim McMahan, Over the Edge Columnist
The year in music 2016 began with the unexpected death of David Bowie and went downhill from there.
Like Lou Reed, who passed in 2013, Bowie represented a sea change in modern pop music; he impacted everything you hear on your favorite college radio station and on commercial radio in general.
We lost Bowie and struggled to understand that loss. Then three months later Prince left us, and we were left wondering about that, too. The year was rounded out with Leonard Cohen’s exit, followed by that of soul-singing youngster Sharon Jones. Their losses and the others still to come not only remind us of their greatness, but of our own mortality. As we age, our heroes pass one by one. Chew on that one.
In a year that likely will be remembered more for its deaths than its music, we continued to see the passing of the music industry many of us grew up with. The loss of physical music sales is now being felt by musicians. Too many times last year talented local musicians confided that they were giving up on their dreams, that without the money generated from selling CDs they simply could not afford to tour, to record, to make new music. For them, as John Lennon put it, “the dream is over.”
While streaming technology has made music more available than ever before, we must figure out a way to financially support musicians who are getting paid virtually nothing for it, or we’re going to be left with a world filled with Adeles, Beyoncés and Biebers. And if that sounds just fine with you, you’re reading the wrong article.
If you’re an indie music fan like me, your world became a little smaller last year. I can’t put a number to it, but it seemed as if local promoters and venue owners continued to shift their booking away from indie and more toward mainstream acts. You can’t blame them for chasing dollars or the fact that fewer indie bands are touring through Omaha than in the past.
An example of this erosion: The Slowdown, which used to be a bastion for indie music, saw its booking taken over by The Knitting Factory, resulting in more pop acts and fewer indie shows. They did what they had to do, and hopefully the move will help keep their doors open.
Maybe it was an anomaly, but 2016 also was one of the weakest years for new indie music in recent memory. This year I toiled to fill my “favorite albums” list (which you can read on pg. __). For those who are saying to themselves, “Ol’ McMahan is just getting old,” I counter with the fact that 2015 was, in my humble opinion, one of the best years in new indie music in a decade.
Creativity in music (and anything) runs in peaks and valleys; it’s a giant pendulum that swings between ingenuity on the left and pablum on the right. This year, the pendulum swung decisively to the right. Just like politics. Which brings me to a closing thought:
The rise of the political right in this country (and the world) along with the coronation of Donald Trump will make music more important than ever. In the face of the erosion of our country’s moral core, music will point the way, just like it always has. It’s like that old cliche: bad politics makes great art.
From B.J. Huchtemann, Hoodo Columnist
I could tell you about all the great shows by amazing artists that I have already mentioned over the last 12 months in the Hoodoo column — shows that I suggested you attend. But that seems like an awful waste of space. Either you went or you didn’t. Hopefully you took a chance on an artist I recommended and came away with some of the unmatchable joy that live music can deliver.
What I find has been a sad, recurring theme this year is musicians struggling: smart, gifted artists who are working hard, making all the right calls, taking all the right steps. From world-class acts that have 20-plus year careers to those who are only a few years down the road but still trying to build a fan base strong enough to make a living, musicians are struggling. There are a lot of talented folks who aren’t sure they can keep making music for themselves and fans.
Wherever you are in your trajectory as a music fan, I ask you to consider this: Bands with 20 years of experience, multiple national releases, rave reviews and a national fan base are often making the same amount off the door of a club that they made two decades ago. Meanwhile the cost of gas, the cost of even a cheap, bedbug-ridden lodging and the cost of keeping up with bills on the home front are undeniably more.
You can argue it’s simply supply and demand, that artists who are deserving of recognition get the recognition they deserve. I wish that were true. There’s certainly an element of luck to it all that is undeniable and unpredictable. Life isn’t fair. I get that.
But there’s also the simple truth that artists who are working hard, creating fabulous original material, booking themselves, drawing decent numbers of repeat customers and doing everything in their power to further their art and career remain stuck in a financial dead zone they can’t get past. I know too many talented and hardworking local, regional and national artists who can’t get signed by a decent booking agent and can’t find credible management that would be worth the 10-percent cut they’d have to dish out. I’m discouraged that dedicated national artists are taking a step back from touring altogether.
It’s a cycle that’s been spiraling for a while. More roots clubs close than open. The options for our entertainment dollar are ever growing and our attention spans are fragmented by all the on-demand options available to us. And then, of course, there’s social media, which eats up enough of our time as it is.
The blues fan base is aging and we, yes I said we, don’t go out as much as we used to. Even the very accessible 6-9 p.m. early shows that The 21st Saloon and Lincoln’s historic Zoo Bar regularly offer can be more than the blues fan juggling family obligations and a full-time job can swing.
Even though performances like last spring’s Guy Clark Jr. show did sell out, filled with 20- and 30-somethings who knew all the words to some old traditional tunes like “Catfish Blues,” similar performances involving local talent get passed over by younger music fans. Not even the Hoodoo column or an active, nationally-noted local blues society can manage to draw young music fans to any of the straight-up, traditional blues shows that are happening on a weekly basis in Omaha and Lincoln.
I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s a situation that has repeated itself with alarming frequency in too many conversations I have had with artists who I respect in the last few months. The prospect of less shows by artists I love makes me sad.
What I know is this: Heartfelt live music and the communal experience it creates can generate real, life-affirming and even life-changing magic. I hate watching that magic disappear. If you do too, step up your support of the scene and the artists that you love, in whatever way you can.