I often hear people talk about how boring Omaha is, about how all the great artists never come here and how there isn’t much to do around the city. To which I am constantly dumbfounded. Not only is Omaha a bustling hub for some of the most impressive independent musicians and upcoming artists, it also is constantly being visited by powerful performers who might blow the artists you’re waiting for out of the water. I want to help you, your friends, anyone in your life who’s waiting for Omaha to suddenly become a hotbed for the most popular musicians out right now. Guess what? Ya don’t need ’em!
The hotbed is cooking, and your pal Fernando is here to give you a guide of some of the wonderful shows coming to our boring, little city. As the summer ends and fall and winter start to settle in, some of you might be looking for the comforts of a cozy concert to warm and inspire your cold bones. I’m telling you to look no further. The end of the year has a myriad of incredible jazz and classical concerts on tap. If you saw the words “jazz and classical” and rolled your eyes, considered turning the page, but then stopped, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the lineups waiting to grace us with their presence.
- LOVAM Jazz Festival
- Saturday, Sept. 3
- Turner Park / 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Let’s start with something that appeals to everyone. Jazz! Well … jazz itself might not be for everyone, but “free” and “outdoors” tend to be things people love. Especially when it comes to concerts. Even if you aren’t the biggest jazz enthusiast, it would be worth it for you to make your way to Turner Park at the beginning of September. Kicking us off we have the LOVAM Jazz Festival. LOVAM gives us internationally (yeah, read it again — INTERNATIONALLY) known legend Peter White. His skills on the acoustic guitar are nearly unrivaled on the jazz scene, and maybe even other genres if we’re being honest. He is THAT good. White, this master of the contemporary jazz scene, is best known for combining pop and even classical guitar into his music.
He creates his own brand of jazz that is recognizable and prolific enough to bridge the gap between genres you know and a new one you might learn to love.
Alongside the legend comes another superstar on the scene, the No. 1 flute player on the Billboard charts, Ragan Whiteside. If you thought Lizzo was good, just wait until you hear Whiteside. The reasons she has climbed the Billboard charts become wildly apparent once you hear her play. Not only is she dynamic and explosive, but her style of playing is more face-melting than if Jethro Tull and Chuck Mangione formed a supergroup. Whiteside’s mastery of the flute makes her not just a thrill to watch, but also helps you understand why rats were so drawn to the Pied Piper. Her rhythm is in time and the energy is through the roof. You’ll probably wind up dancing before her set is up, and you might even follow her out of the city with a small group of entranced jazz fanatics.
If you love supporting local musicians, here are two more reasons why you should check out the LOVAM Jazz Fest in September. Acclaimed local artists Chad Stoner and Ed Archibald grace the stage with White and Whiteside.
Be there or be somewhere significantly less awesome.
- Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox: Life in the Past Lane Tour
- Sunday, Oct. 16
- Holland Performing Arts Center/7:30 p.m.
Let’s say that, maybe, LOVAM isn’t quite enough for you. You’re potentially enticed but not entirely sold because you’re just not a jazz fan … but you want to give it a try. You just need something that feels a little more familiar. That is where Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox: Life in the Past Lane Tour will hook you. One of the coolest things about the band is its YouTube channel with more than five million followers. Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is a beautiful, exciting, masterfully crafted mix of modern hits and the familiar music styles from back in the day.
Postmodern Jukebox is an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping fusion of classic jazz sounds from previous eras and some of the best modern hits from the ’80s to today. Have you ever wondered what Radiohead’s “Creep” might sound like if it were written during the prohibition era and performed in a smoky Chicago speakeasy? Listen no further, Scott Bradlee has you covered. Maybe you need a more modern example. Are you a Billie Eilish fan? The Weeknd? Lorde, Meghan Trainor, Lady Gaga? Maybe these are a little too modern. How about Guns N’ Roses, Toto, No Doubt, Journey, Abba? Postmodern Jukebox takes these artists and so many more, breaks down the songs, builds them again, breathes new life into them by injecting styles from older eras into the heart of the songs and raises a Frankenstein’s monster of musical experiences just for you.
Even if you don’t like covers, this is a talented group of musical artists coming together to turn classic hits AND modern classics into something new. And sung by some of the strongest, most passionate voices in the business. Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox doesn’t just breathe new life into old-school styles and hits from bygone eras, it crafts new experiences from songs that already sit in our hearts as classics.
Each modern song will evoke the spirit of old jazz styles, boozy lounge-singer hits, and moments of old-school swing music magic. A true marriage of modern classics expressed in classic style. This is a show you will not want to miss.
OK, so maybe jazz isn’t your thing, you consider yourself a bit above modern songs and older classics. You prefer something with a bit more sophistication and a bit less improvisation. How about a three-time Grammy winner who has worked with such artists as Spike Lee, The Grateful Dead, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan and Don Henley? Another powerhouse musical talent, this time joining the Omaha Symphony and Conductor Rob Moose.
Join Bruce Hornsby as he and Moose lead the Omaha Symphony in some of his newest works, and a few of his timeless classics.
- “X: The Life and Times of Malcom X”
- The Orpheum Theater
- Friday, Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m. / Sunday, Nov. 6, 2 p.m.
The final event on our list, though not the final event in the city, is a show I wasn’t sure whether to place in the classical or the jazz section. It’s an American opera sure to turn heads and maybe even change minds. “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” written by cousins Anthony and Thulani Davis, is told through a series of vignettes leading us through Malcolm’s boyhood to his assassination in 1965. (See Leo Biga’s feature story on Page X)
Anthony Davis wrote this opera about the Omaha icon with the intention of infusing jazz with a more contemporary score.
“X” is not just special because of the score or the subject matter, it’s the people involved in making this project soar. Robert O’Hara is attached as director. O’Hara was nominated for a Tony in 2020 for his Broadway show “A Slave Play.”
Produced in partnership with the Detroit Opera, The Metropolitan Opera in New York, Lyric Opera of Chicago and The Seattle Opera, “X” will play in Omaha before heading to the Met in 2023. Opera Omaha always seems to be at the forefront of change and excitement in the opera world.
So anytime your friends say there is never anything to do in Omaha, drag them to some of these events.
Art in Omaha is thriving. All it needs is for you to find it, and to cherish it so it can grow into a culture so strong, no one will say
Omaha is boring again.
Fernando A. Montejano is an ardent lover of the arts and hosts the “Classical Saturday” show on KVNO. He is a spoken-word performer, a Holland Community Opera Fellow with Opera Omaha and a former teaching artist for The Nebraska Writers Collective.