Omaha is gearing up for a full calendar of live music this summer. With annual events finally regaining their footing, new venues opening and old ones rebranding, Maha can be seen as having laid the groundwork for the city’s up-and-coming festival scene.
Two years after Maha had to cancel its 2020 production, the annual music festival is easing back into normalcy. The 2022 festival will again take place over two days in Stinson Park in Aksarben (2021’s festivities were limited to a single night). Community Village, the section of the festival dedicated to Omaha nonprofits, is back, too.
“This year, we are expecting more than 1,000 people to come together to make the festival happen,” said Rachel Grace, Maha’s executive director of communications and strategy. “And so that’s really kind of like what matters when you think about putting this festival on and who’s behind it, and kind of like the magic behind it. It’s really all of those different hands in it that make it so special.
”Maha will take place on July 29 and 30 featuring headliners Car Seat Headrest and Beach House. National acts including Indigo De Souza, Pup, Princess Nokia and Geese pad out the lineup, with names like Marcey Yates and Dominique Morgan representing the local music scene.
“These acts are really really hot right now and they’re gonna, I think, blow everybody away,” Grace said.
Car Seat Headrest last performed at Maha in 2016, where they were a fan favorite.
“We usually ask in our [post-festival] survey, like, who did you come to see? And a lot of people said Car Seat Headrest. We’re like, Alright, awesome. So we brought them back this year to headline Friday night. And they put on an amazing show…We think they’re gonna bring a lot of that spirit to Maha stage.”
The 2021 festival recruited 600 volunteers to handle on-the-ground operations. They’re compensated with free tickets and merch. This year, organizers are hoping for 1000, making it one of the largest volunteer events in the city.
“The Maha volunteers are genuinely just a giant family, and so each piece kind of relates to the greater picture of the overall festival experience,” said longtime festival volunteer Michaela Kanoski. “The reason I keep coming back are definitely the other lead volunteers, but other Maha family members that we have for sure.”
Kanoski is a key volunteer with the Community Village initiative, reviewing nonprofit applications and marketing the festival to the philanthropic community. Eighteen organizations will have booths at Maha this year to showcase their work and provide free activities.
“I think it’s just like a heartwarming part of the festival,” Kanoski said. “Tons of the philanthropic organizations in Omaha have been part of the festival. And I love that we get so much feedback later about it like, ‘Oh, I connected with this organization,’ or ‘Now I volunteer for this organization,’ or ‘Organizations have started partnering in other things because of the festival.’ So it’s just like this, you know, resource that just happens to be at a music festival.”
The thirteenth Maha Festival is arriving in a more crowded summer music season than before. Grace said Maha can be seen as having helped to make room for more, similar events. Besides, it’s not like there’s a finite amount of space. The water is warm, she said.
“It’s not something that happens overnight, right?” Grace said. “Like ‘Did you know Omaha’s actually a really cool place?’ You know, this is some of the feedback that we get. And I think that that kind of reputation being built up over the 14 years of Maha’s existence definitely helps more festivals enter the scene. We think it’s such an awesome thing. To be able to have multiple just pillars of things to look forward to in the summer is amazing, and we’re super excited.”
Tickets can be purchased and more information found at mahafestival.org. General admission passes start at $35 for a single day.
Where Maha is city-wide in scope, Petfest in Benson is neighborhood-focused.
Petfest, now in its fifth year, is the brainchild of Zach Schmieder and Annie Butler, who have both worked for the festival’s parent organization Benson First Friday (BFF) in various capacities. Petfest is an offshoot of Sweatfest, a similar event put on through the Sweat Shop Gallery, the precursor to BFF’s Pet Shop Gallery.
Schmieder, who also books shows at The Sydney in Benson, wanted to bring back Sweatfest. He went to BFF and pitched his vision.
“I just kind of was like, ‘Well, I can do this. I would like to do this. I would like to keep that going,’” Schmieder said. “They were all in for that. And so I booked with a bunch of bands. From there, it’s just become (this) crazy, gnarly thing where we do it every year.”
Petfest 2022 will take place on August 13 outside the Petshop Gallery at 2725 N. 62nd St. Headliners are Portland-based solo artist Amulets and Chicago-based electronic duo Hide. Local acts include DJ Crabrangucci and singer-songwriter and Petfest fixture Mike Schlesinger.
This will be Petfest’s biggest year, Schmieder said — though he admitted he says that every year. The festival typically attracts between 350 and 500 attendees. But word is spreading now more than ever, and the festival is picking up steam.
“Before I even started working on having a lineup, I have people coming out of the woodwork to ask if they can play Petfest,” he said. “It’s definitely one of those things where people are longing to play this thing every year….So it’s becoming a bigger and bigger thing for sure.”
Schmieder’s philosophy in booking acts is to pursue the bands whose music he is personally interested in. Hide is one of his favorites.
“I was like, ‘Well screw it, I’m just gonna shoot my shot, see if I can get them,’” Schmieder said. “And when they wrote back and they’re like, ‘Wow, this seems really cool. Yeah, we’d love to be a part of it,’ when that happened I kind of lost my shit a little bit.”
Butler said the priority is selecting bands that support BFF’s mission as a nonprofit.
“At the end of the day, it is still a fundraiser,” she said. She cited Mike Schlesinger as an example, an Omaha favorite who doesn’t do many live engagements. “You know, we’re only able to offer so much money to them, but he’s supporting BFF. And, like, that’s what matters. So, like, of course we’re gonna invite him back every year.”
Butler said something that sets Petfest apart from other area music festivals is that all of its organizers are doing it as a side gig, a passion project. Most of them have full-time jobs.
“It’s DIY-run; it’s grassroots,” Butler said. “You know, it’s unlike any of the other festivals. We’re kind of just doing this from the ground up.”
Petfest is the Omaha music festival for those with an aversion to huge crowds and parking fees — neither of which you’ll find in Benson on August 13.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t want to go to huge festivals,” Schmieder said. “But that’s why we want to offer something smaller for the community and for the neighborhood and for just Omaha in general.”
In its inaugural year, Outlandia is the Omaha metro’s newest music festival. The two-night event in and around Falconwood Park in Bellevue kicks off August 12 with headliner The National. Wilco takes the stage August 13.
Outlandia arguably has the biggest names of this summer’s slate. Band of Horses, Silversun Pickups, Local Natives and Margo Price help to round out the lineup with Omaha musicians Mesonjixx and Clarence Tilton opening on respective days.
Omaha live production company 1% Productions (which is celebrating its 25th birthday this year) is behind Outlandia in partnership with Falconwood Park. Ariann Anderson, who’s working on Outlandia’s social media and branding — she joked that her unofficial title is “director of vibes” — said the festival is the result of some of the organziers’ favorite bands going on tour at the same time.
“Many of the organizers have been involved in the music business in town for decades, literally. And collectively for even longer than that,” Anderson said. “And they’ve all kind of had a dream lineup. That one day if, you know, the stars all align correctly, they would love to have bands, A, B, C, D. And the stars just sort of aligned correctly this year.”
In other words, the bands came before the festival.
“The dream of putting these headliners together and bringing this collection, this curated collection of artists and musicians together — yeah, that happened before the festival itself happened,” Anderson said.
Though 1% has been putting on concerts in Omaha for two-and-a-half decades, a whole music festival is unfamiliar territory, particularly in the middle of a pandemic when entire tours can be canceled unexpectedly. Things were touch and go for a while.
“To watch the way that the Outlandia lineup came together was, it was dramatic,” Anderson said. “There were a handful of artists that we originally, maybe had on the lineup that that ended up not being able to do it. But we got so lucky that once it all came together, again, like a game of Tetris, all the pieces just clicked into place beautifully. And it was a big, giant aha moment when we were able to look at those 12 acts together and say, ‘This looks really fun.’”
With single-day tickets selling for $79, Outlandia is by far the priciest festival of the three. Part of the pricetag is due to the 160-acre festival grounds, which includes Falconwood and the old Salvation Army campground adjacent to it. There will be food trucks and vendors in an “Outlandia Bazaar.” Anderson promises an immersive experience with an “adult summer day-camp feel.”
“A music festival is so much more than just the music,” she said. “It’s the experience. And I personally am going to ensure that it is above and beyond, that it’s an outlandish experience for everyone whether they are there to see the concert or whether they’re there to play for the concert-goers. I’m excited about making this something that’s just a little outside of the ordinary.”
Visit outlandiafestival.com for tickets and more information.