When the first band takes the stage at this year’s MAHA Music Festival (at exactly 12:30 p.m. this Saturday), event organizers can take pride in knowing they’ve pulled together a program that not only tops last year’s event, but also establishes itself as the area’s premiere indie music festival.
Lord knows, it wasn’t easy. Along the way, their difficult path was filled with unexpected turns, frustrating indecisiveness, and last-minute demands. And though everything is in place just days before show time, as is the case with any outdoor festival its success is far from guaranteed — even the best-made plans mean nothing in the face of monsoon rains.
But why even consider such a bleak possibility?
Regardless of the weather, they’ve got a lot to be proud of. Saturday’s MAHA concert will mark the third-to-last appearance ever of Guided By Voices (see story pg. __), as well as a reunion of the original Cursive lineup (with powerhouse Clint Schnase on drums) and a rare Midwestern festival appearance by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. It’s going to be a veritable smorgasbord of classic indie rock.
On the downside: You won’t see a single female musician on stage the entire afternoon. Not one. It’s a fact that MAHA organizer Tre Brashear said couldn’t be avoided, despite all of their efforts.
“Realistically, I think it shows how in demand female performers are,” he said of the scheduling challenge. “We made several offers (to female-fronted bands) because we think it’s important, but just couldn’t get it done. Looking back, the time we ‘lost’ waiting for commitments that didn’t happen impacted our ability to secure female artists, because those female artists were committing to other shows during that time.”
In fact, Brashear said dealing with indecisive bands was the hardest part of piecing together this year’s program. “We received several tentative commitments that ended up backing out,” he said.
In the end, he was more than satisfied with the final lineup, so much so that this year MAHA marketed beyond the city limits. “We have advertised more nationally,” Brashear said. “Also, our street team work has been much more regional, with people at the 80/35 Festival, Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and Kanrocksas.”
But despite the extra marketing, ticket sales are “pretty comparable” to last year at this time, he said. “Although this is also when we see a surge, after people have seen the weather forecast and know that they have no other conflicts that weekend.”
Brashear said ticket sales comprise roughly half of MAHA’s revenue, with sponsors filling in the other half. “We don’t have a set number of tickets that we have to (sell) to keep doing MAHA, but sales do matter in terms of showing that this whole effort is ‘worth it,'” he said.
Keep in mind that MAHA is the product of a nonprofit organization — it isn’t designed to make money. The goal always has been to fill a void in the local music calendar for an indie rock festival. However, organizers don’t want to lose money, either.
“Since we started doing this, much has changed,” Brashear said. “There’s Kansrocksas, Red Sky, indie shows at Stir, increased success by 1% (Productions). Heck, even Hullabaloo (held last week at River West Park) is meeting a need for ‘camping and music,’ Given all that, ticket sales matter because they show that people like our event and think it is different than what is out there. Positive comments in social media are nice, but people ‘vote’ with their money.”
They also vote with sponsorships. MAHA continues to attract support from some of the area’s largest companies, including TD Ameritrade (main stage sponsor), Kum & Go (local stage sponsor) and Weitz Funds. This year Whole Foods joined the project as a sponsor, vendor, even filling the bands’ riders.
That extra help will come in handy, as the seemingly unending Missouri River floods forced the event from its former home at Lewis & Clark Landing to Stinson Park at Aksarben Village. Despite the benefit of Stinson’s fixed stage, the move from the Landing will mean higher costs for things like fencing, generators and overnight labor (everything has to be cleared out by Sunday morning, in time for the weekly Farmer’s Market).
Helping them figure out how to pull it off was last month’s Playing With Fire concert that featured Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings — an event that also had been moved from Lewis & Clark Landing to Stinson Park. By watching PWF, Brashear and his team not only saw how their event could look and sound, they saw ways to improve on PWF’s event design.
“We learned that you need to work to integrate the east side of the area so it doesn’t get ‘forgotten’ with all the activity on the north and west ends,” Brashear said. “We also learned that the park is so big that you need to have a satellite beer/drink stand.”
As a result, MAHA is moving the entrance and the drink ticket windows to the northeast corner of the park, on Mercy Street, forcing patrons to walk past the vendors, which this year includes Mangia Italiana, Parthenon and eCreamery. Featured nonprofit organizations, such as Omaha Girls Rock, Joslyn Art Museum and Omaha Public Library, will see their tents located on the park’s east end to improve foot traffic in that area.
“As for the satellite drink stand, we’ll have one located along the south side, in addition to the primary tent on Mercy Street,” Brashear said. Refreshments will include Lucky Bucket Lager and IPA, PBR, Coors Light, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, three kinds of premade mixed drinks, and for you teetotalers, Pepsi products, Red Bull, iced tea and bottled water.
Sounds like they got it all covered. Even Accuweather is predicting 82 and sunny. Will it be a record year for MAHA? Buy a ticket and find out.
Lazy-i is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on the Omaha music scene. Check out Tim’s daily music news updates at his website, lazy-i.com, or email him at email@example.com.