Starting a band was a lifeline for Olivia Klein and Skye Junginger.

Midwest Coast has shows coming up at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln and the Slowdown in Omaha. Credit: Gabby Hiatt

“I was like, is this a good idea?” Junginger had asked himself.

He moved back to Omaha in the middle of his graduate program in March 2020. Junginger took all of the uncertainty and fear of those early pandemic days and decided to make music.

In April 2020, Junginger started asking around to see who would feel comfortable forming a pandemic bubble to play music. It gave him a sense of hope, knowing the band would be ready to perform when the world opened again.

One of the musicians he contacted was Klein.

“It was tough to conceptualize and process everything,” Klein said. “To have a sense of community that kept our brains engaged.”

Klein used to see concerts almost every week. The pandemic took away her sense of community. “[After] having that taken away … just to be around people who played instruments was vital in that time.” Learning new music with friends every week gave her a sense of hope, too.

For Junginger, electric R&B and soul group Midwest Coast is a very different project. It is the first he has run on his own. He has been in groups with several of Midwest Coast’s members before, including his first band, Escape from Alcajazz.

Midwest Coast has certainly found their stride. This year, they took the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist.

Midwest Coast has shows coming up at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln and the Slowdown in Omaha. Credit: Gabby Hiatt

Klein takes the microphone as lead vocalist, and Junginger plays tenor saxophone. The other band members are Gage Wiggins on guitar, Sam McDermott on keys, Henry Tomsu on bass, and Fay Porter on drums. Klein has a side project with many of the same band members with Ben Curran named Liv’n the Dream. Junginger, Wiggins, and McDermott also play in the local R&B group Travis.

Junginger said that running a group is much more work than one would expect. “The booking, finding everyone’s availability, learning tunes, writing. Everywhere else, you’re kinda just waiting for instruction.”

This is also the first time that Klein has navigated songwriting. Midwest Coast performs some covers and arrangements, but writing original music has been a transformative experience for her. For a long time, she struggled with songwriting, but she decided “if there’s gonna be a time to do it and just be vulnerable, this is the group I wanna do it with.”

For Junginger, jazz was love at first note. Raised by his grandparents, he was encouraged by his grandmother to try tenor saxophone. From there, he went on to the high school band, and continued exploring musical collaboration at a young age through the BluesEd program and Metropolitan Area Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Junginger went to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for his undergraduate degree in saxophone performance and completed his master’s in jazz studies at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

The saxophone has even taken Junginger overseas. He has played at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in Latvia, and the USA Yongsan Army Base in Seoul, South Korea. UNO and the Omaha Sister Cities Association facilitated many of these opportunities through their ongoing collaborations.

Klein also had an early start in music. She has been singing since elementary school, and she did swing choir in middle school. Her grandparents were also instrumental in encouraging her to go beyond the basics — especially her “grandma manager,” or “gram-ger,” as she likes to call her grandmother. In middle school, Klein joined School of Rock, in which she learned how to perform rock vocals. As a founding member of BluesEd band The Redwoods, she had opportunities to perform at festivals, showcases, and rock clubs.

Music has taken Klein in different directions than it has Junginger. Klein has been working in the music industry for a few years. In her junior year of college, she started as a music director for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln campus radio station. She has interned with media and radio promotion companies, and she has done marketing for livestream shows.

Klein does a lot of work behind the curtain, but she loves the stage as well — and she goes to shows as often as she can.

In their individual careers, both have major life changes on the horizon.

This summer, Klein will be heading to New York City after graduation. Maggie Vlassakis of Terragram will be taking the helm as lead vocalist. Junginger will be pursuing a doctorate in jazz studies.

In the meantime, before Klein and Junginger leave town, they have a busy summer ahead. Midwest Coast has been selected for the Nebraska Arts Council’s Touring Artist Roster. They are also planning an EP for release this year.

Their next show will be at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln on May 6, with another the following night at the Slowdown in Omaha. These shows will be Klein’s farewell, with Vlassakis taking over as lead singer.

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