I know, I know… it’s only December, and anything can happen before the year is actually over, but I ain’t got that luxury, deadlines being what they are. Rather than wait until January after you’ve (hopefully) long forgotten and moved on from 2021, I thought I’d do the recap now while it’s fresh in your memory (because we’re still living it).
This time last year, things looked rather bleak.
Venues were closed, tours were cancelled, we were hunkered down in our bunkers, wiping down our groceries and wondering if we’d ever see live music again. The worst of COVID-19 was still ahead of us. And if you were lucky, missing your favorite bands was all you were worried about, as the death toll continued to rise. There were whispers of a vaccine, but that was still a long way away. The only glimmer of hope was that the Commander in Boob had just been defeated, though he promised not to go quietly, and, by God, he kept his word.
By February a vaccine was in hand, but the club owners and promoters still predicted it wouldn’t be until the fall of 2021 or the following winter before bookings would look anything like “normal.” And so, the clubs stayed dark, and the closest we got to live music was streamed to our computer screens.
Finally, toward the end of May, live music slowly began to return. I attended my first live show at Dr. Jack’s Drinkery May 29, a farewell gig by indie band Bull Nettles. But it wasn’t until July that venues really started booking on a regular basis, and national touring bands began to hit the road again. The Maha Festival and Farnam Fest were announced and pulled off without becoming a “super spreader” event. Maha even sold out its limited-capacity one-day event.
Despite a readily available vaccine, people still wore masks at shows — and still do to this day. Every face at the near-capacity Nov. 6 Soccer Mommy concert at The Waiting Room was masked throughout the evening. We were back, sort of.
A few positive things stood out during this Year of Resiliency:
— The music never stopped. Artists continued to record and release new albums, most of them created in isolation during the height of the pandemic and some among the best of their careers.
— New venues were announced. You’d think coming out of a pandemic, investors would be gun-shy about pouring money into new music venues, but three of the largest new developments were announced or broke ground this year: refurbishment of Sokol Auditorium, renamed The Admiral, the Steelhouse Omaha standing-room live music hall by Omaha Performing Arts, and the massive Astro amphitheater project, which — when completed in January 2023 — will host 2,500 people indoors and 5,000 outdoors. Each project is a gamble that the worst is behind us.
— Record stores resurged. With so much forced alone time, people continued to fall in love with their vinyl. The Old Market now has as many record stores as it had during vinyl’s heyday, with Grapefruit Records at 1125 Jackson Street joining Vinyl Cup Records and the old favorite, Homer’s.
But as COVID-19’s bloody tide recedes, it leaves behind business casualties. While large clubs like Slowdown and the 1% venues are coming back better than ever, the smaller venues haven’t been so lucky. The Barley Street Tavern in Benson was the first to close its doors for good, though the room reopened under another name and new management. O’Leaver’s, arguably the best place in Omaha to see small live rock shows, still hasn’t reopened its stage. There’s hope it could soon return.
But the biggest loss of all was the permanent closing of The Brothers Lounge at the end of October. More punk bar than music venue, The Brothers was a way station for the misfits, oddballs and troubled geniuses of Omaha who preferred their music garbed in black leather and blood. The Brothers was where everyone ended up at last call. Now it’s had its last call, and the auction hammer falls Dec. 12.
Winners and sinners, that’s what we’re left with after a pandemic. Goodbye and good riddance, 2021. At least you were better than 2020. And 2022 will see us thanking our lucky stars.
Before we go, what would a Music Year in Review be without my list of favorite albums of 2021 (in no particular order):
Flyte, This Is Really Going to Hurt (Island)
Indigo De Souza, Any Shape You Take (Saddle Creek)
The Weather Station, Ignorance (Fat Possum)
Turnstile, Glow On (Roadrunner)
Low, Hey What (Sub Pop)
Cassandra Jenkins, An Overview On Phenomenal Nature (Ba Da Bing!)
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine, A Beginner’s Mind (Asthmatic Kitty)
Parquet Courts, Sympathy for Life (Rough Trade)
Hand Habits, Fun House (Saddle Creek)
Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime (Matador)
Strand of Oaks, In Heaven (Galacticana)
Wet Leg, “Wet Dream” b/w “Chaise Longe” (Domino)
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at email@example.com.