To recap the 2022 music festival season:
The Maha Festival was a relative success, surpassing last year’s COVID-19-limited, single-day attendance of 6,400 with a remarkable two-day haul of 11,500 attendees (4,100 on Friday, 7,400 on Saturday, according to the good people who run the festival). The weather was grand, the music rocked, a good time was had by all.
The Outlandia Festival, from everything I’ve heard, was a relative success. I didn’t attend and there are no official attendance numbers (that I’ve seen), though I’ve been told around 4,000 were on hand Friday night and a similar-sized crowd attended Saturday — not bad for a first-time effort. The weather was grand, the music rocked, a good time was had by all.
But at the same time as Outlandia, there was Petfest — a one-day festival Aug. 13 held in the parking lot behind the Petshop art gallery in Benson. While Maha and Outlandia boasted thousands of attendees, Petfest pulled in only a few hundred, but in many ways this tiny local music festival was more important than the two competing giants.
As the photos attest, I was at Petfest, and the highlights were many:
- Hip-hop raconteur Marcey Yates kicked it with his clever flow. Telling the story of life in Nebraska rapped over deep, funky beats, Yates is an Omaha treasure.
- Rock ‘n’ roll survivor Darren Keen, aka Problems, unbuttoned his shirt and unfurled his nervous, frenetic, crack-beat-fueled spoken-word spiels about why he loves dogs (among other things).
- Young up-and-coming power trio Cat Piss, whose name says it all, brought the ’90s-era golden age of Omaha post-punk back to life for a new generation.
- The madcap rock-team from the future, Thirst Things First, dressed in (sort of) matching track suits, tore into a set of the funnest, tightest power pop you’re going to hear this side of The Faint.
- Garage-rock maestro David Nance and band rocked a new, funky, thick-beat sound that retained every bit of the glorious psych-rock riffage that has made him a household name with the Jack White crowd.
- No Wave post-punk goth rockers No Thanks proved again why they could have been, should have been, Nebraska’s next big thing, powered by force-of-nature frontman Castro Turf, aka Brendan Leahy, whose spaz-rock preening conjured comparisons to The Cramps’ Lux Interior.
And that’s just the tip of the spear. (If you missed it, most of the acts are playing Lincoln Calling at the end of September.)
What those bands, along with the rest of the Petfest performers, have in common is that they’re all from right here — they’re all local acts — and are among the most talented bands Nebraska has to offer. And these days, it’s becoming harder and harder to find a local stage for them to play on despite the veritable explosion of new venues being built or restored across the city.
A number of local musicians have mentioned the situation to me. In this post-COVID music world, touring rock shows not only start earlier — around 8 p.m. vs. 9 or 10 p.m. — they’re also ending earlier. The lineups are being limited to just two bands. And in many (most) cases, the opening act is traveling with the headliner. I’m told this is not just an Omaha thing.
Add to that the loss of what was arguably the best venue for local indie rock shows — O’Leaver’s Pub — and you’ve got a problem on your hands. (Yes, O’Leaver’s is still open, and it serves one helluva cheeseburger, but it’s cut its live rock shows to one per month.)
Benson club The Sydney, booked by Zach Schmeider (the same dude who booked Petfest), is trying to fill the void. But I’m not the only one who has noticed things just ain’t the same for local bands as they were before the pandemic.
In the early 2000s, Omaha became internationally recognized as an indie-music mecca, thanks in large part to the success of its local indie bands that have gone on to become indie-music icons.
If the Maha Festival showcases the newest national indie acts and Outlandia celebrates past national indie legends, Petfest is the ultimate Omaha showcase of the best musical talent this state has to offer. From that perspective, it’s also the most important festival we have, because it directs a spotlight on our local heroes, who these days are having a hard time finding places to shine.
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.