I’ve always hoped to someday go to one of the big-time music festivals — one on the level of a Glastonbury or a Primavera Sound. But the lineups I’m really interested in are always a few airport layovers away, or money is too tight to justify spending $500 on the tickets alone. It’s a huge commitment if you don’t know someone in the city who will let you crash on their floor, or if you don’t have a great-great aunt who will pay for your trip out of the kindness of her heart. I have neither.
Does it matter to me? No, not really. Nebraska is fortunate each year to have two reliably solid mid-sized festivals that happen in the span of about a month. So, instead of looking forward to the major festival announcements each spring, I wait to see who will be playing Nebraska’s biggest fests — Maha Festival and Lincoln Calling.
The two are very different; Maha is outside at the end of summer and typically books a small lineup of the best artists it can find on the indie circuit, while Lincoln Calling is usually sprawling, with more than 100 artists most years spread out at multiple clubs in downtown Lincoln. Maha, despite a scaled-back lineup and the lingering effects of the pandemic, managed to sell out of tickets this year (they capped entry at 8,000 tickets sold) and went off without a hitch in late July. It was the most fun I can remember having at the festival.
This month, it’s Lincoln Calling’s turn. The festival runs Sept. 23-25.
In the past few years, Lincoln Calling has really upped its game, bringing in major acts like Charli XCX, Angel Olsen and Best Coast in 2017 alone. In 2020, though, Lincoln Calling took place exclusively online, doing its best to deliver a festival experience in the midst of a pandemic. The treat of seeing local and national artists perform via livestream on a couple days in early October was certainly a bright spot in our COVID existence, but it was pretty clear that laptop speakers were not suitable substitutes for the sonic impact of live instruments making you wish you’d worn earplugs.
Thankfully, Lincoln Calling will be back in real life this year. The festival’s lineup initially boasted more than 75 acts, but Munson and co. were forced to scale back in recent weeks as rising COVID-19 cases created uncertainty for indoor venues. More than 40 artists are still on the bill, now scheduled to perform on stages in the Duffy’s Tavern backlot, on 14th Street between O and P streets, and at Tower Square at 13th and P streets.
Like Maha, Lincoln Calling is operating on a budget, so packing this year’s bill with A-list artists was financially impossible. But the fest’s executive director Spencer Munson is pleased with the lineup he and his team put together. Their strategy? Track down and book the top talent in Nebraska and the Midwest.
“I know Lincoln, I know Omaha,” Munson said. “We just want to see our favorite bands post-pandemic. So it was about going out and finding and talking with the Nebraska all-stars.”
That’s how you wind up with local heroes Plack Blague, Kris Lager Band and Universe Contest at the top of the lineup, and the undercard stacked with artists like The Fey, A Ferocious Jungle Cat and Freakabout. This year’s headliners are Boston indie rock band Slothrust, South Dakota blues rock band Indigenous and Chicago EDM duo Birthdayy Partyy.
Even if these names don’t ring a bell, Munson thinks that’s part of the fun at Lincoln Calling.
“There are a lot of people that come to this festival that aren’t expecting a name that they know,” Munson said. “They come to this festival to learn something new and to explore and be turned on to new music.”
And despite the festival’s name, more than a dozen of the acts are from Omaha. Among them are J Crum (hip-hop), Dirt House (indie rock), Cat Piss (noise rock) and Las Cruxes (Spanish-language punk).
On Saturday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. at Duffy’s Tavern, a showcase featuring artists affiliated with North Omaha community center Culxr House is planned, and its founder Marcey Yates — who is also performing — is picking the nine artists. Munson said he’s especially excited to see R&B singer and Omaha native CJ Mills’ return to Nebraska, and to see Dominique Morgan, an R&B singer and the founder of Omaha-based prison abolitionist group Black and Pink.
“We’re just excited to show the Omaha love and hope some folks come down,” Munson said.
This year, I’m attending my first major music festival — Pitchfork Fest in Chicago. It was the right combination of an easy drive with a great lineup. Lincoln Calling is offering that, too, at a fraction of price.
“To think about being able to see [so many bands], for $20 to $50 is pretty remarkable,” Munson said.
Just don’t forget your earplugs. You’ll actually need them this year.
For the most updated Health and Safety information for Lincoln Calling, to to https://lincolncalling.com/health-and-safety/