Welcome to the Backbeat column, where local music is the only music.
The toilet seat is gone, the sink runs only cold water, and the mirror is adorned with drawings in permanent marker of a phallic nature. But the bathroom’s functioning is the least of your concerns.
You’re here to see a show.
This could describe any number of DIY music venues — spaces run for the purpose of building community through music and/or art — and it might be an unfair stereotype if it wasn’t accurate. But that’s part of the experience: It feels unruly, like a venue run by and for outsiders ought to.
“The only thing you think about is the fact that you’re getting this weird and amazing euphoric high off of being in that moment,” said Anissa Romero, a member of the POP20 DIY events collective and a former promoter at the Midtown Art Supply DIY space on 26th and Harney streets.
For almost two years, Midtown Art served as one of Omaha’s go-to DIY venues, for touring bands in need of a show, new local bands in search of a proving ground, and young adults needing a break from the lethargy of their day to day. But in early 2020, developers purchased the venue’s building, and after a final two-day festival in March of that year, Midtown Art was done.
Cameron Leininger, who drums in the Omaha band Jocko, is one of the music scene’s leading figures and books many of the punk and hardcore bands that come to town. Without spaces like Midtown Art to rely on, Leininger said lining up DIY shows has been a gamble. It puts promoters in a bind when they’re booking, and the community component of the DIY scene is stressed. Consistency in a DIY scene’s familiar venues is not essential, but it’s a plus when you can head to a show without typing the address into a GPS app.
Leininger could book at bars like O’Leaver’s or Pageturners Lounge, which are often supportive of the DIY community. But they’re 21-and-up venues — supporting all-ages crowds is a principal tenet of DIY. So Leininger has had to try out some new venues and hold out hope that people will show up.
“I hope people just love the music enough they’re gonna follow it to where we can have it and have it still be accessible,” he said.
Leininger hosted his first post-pandemic show in early October for Milwaukee hardcore band Big Laugh. The venue? A barn behind Jocko bassist Benji Molczyk’s house in North Omaha. Leininger estimated about 100 people came out for the show on a Tuesday night.
But he has concerns about parking and bothering the neighbors, not to mention the people trying to sleep in Molczyk’s home. The barn is a placeholder.
What about OutrSpaces? The Little Bohemia arts rehearsal and performance space hosted Jocko’s first show back from the pandemic. Nearly 200 people showed up, Leininger said, to see Jocko, new Omaha band GLOW, Militarie Gun from Los Angeles and Yambag from Cleveland. Omaha electronic punk band Pagan Athletes also has its album release show scheduled at OutrSpaces for early November. Could it be the venue to pick up where Midtown Art left off?
“To be transparent, no I don’t think OutrSpaces can fill that void,” said OutrSpaces executive director Philip Kolbo. The nonprofit provides a rehearsal space for the music community, but its mission extends into workshops and the arts.
“I think OutrSpaces has a chance to open another door or two in the future, but I believe the community is better off with planning to open more independent venues.”
When The Reader talked to Romero in May of 2020, just a couple months into the pandemic, they were planning POP20’s next steps in the aftermath of Midtown Art’s closing and getting ready to secure a new venue space. But when I talked to Romero for this column, the acquisition had fallen through. They weren’t sure what the future held, and without a venue to book at, they’re not sure where to start.
“I’m standing by until I can get my toes back in the water,” they said.
Leininger said his first few shows back have been heavily attended by people he didn’t recognize from before the pandemic, and many were young faces. That’s a good sign. To keep them involved and to keep things consistent, he plans to book a few shows soon at Reverb Lounge in Benson, which allows all-ages crowds. Benson won’t produce the feeling of a disheveled DIY space bathroom, but Leininger is betting on people following the music to Reverb.
“You just want to keep stoking that fire,” he said. “And I don’t know if Reverb can be the answer, but at least I’ll ask them to come.”