People who have read drafts of this column have pointed out a couple argument-points: 1) There are a number of all-ages venues currently in operation, including The Mosaic Center, The Rock and Ted & Wally’s. That’s true, but none of them are really anything like The Cog Factory. Mosaic Center and Ted & Wally shows are few and far between. The Rock has a rep for being a Christian club. Is there a venue around town that runs regular (as in three or four a week) all-ages indie/punk shows? 2) I seem to have overlooked a lot of bands that play at other clubs around town. No, I haven’t. For the most part, those bands aren’t indie bands and would probably be insulted if they were grouped with indie bands, judging from their comments on a couple local webboards. And let’s be honest, we all know they don’t fit into this discussion.
Column 87: The Kids Aren’t All Right
Omaha’s impotent indie music scene.I was leaning against the rail at O’Leaver’s as the evening’s show promoter, Joe Vavak a.k.a. Joe Someday a.k.a. Joe Disco, told me about Bob Latham, the talented, clever, story-telling local folkie who had just performed as an opener for touring band Fishboy. Then Joe says to me, “It’s getting harder and harder for me to find bands to open shows here.”Joe explained his strange, unbelievable predicament. Unbelievable because just a few years ago Omaha had been ordained by the national press as ground zero for the under-the-radar indie music world. Not only were there dozens of local bands scratching to get attention, but bands from beyond our borders were beginning to move here “to exploit the booming music scene.”And now, here was Joe Vavak/Someday/Disco telling me there were no bands left to play his opening slots at O’Leaver’s. Joe ticked off the reasons and it began to make sense.The old reliables from just a few years ago were gone. He pointed to Fizzle Like a Flood — Doug Kabourek’s band. Doug quit playing live, having officially retired like so many before him. People get old, people give up. Then there’s all the talent that’s moved away. Denver Dalley a.k.a. Statistics now calls California home, along with film maker/budding rocker Nik Fackler of The Family Radio, Nick White of Tilly and the Wall and Austin Britton of Kite Pilot. They’ve joined all the others who managed to escape Omaha’s comfortable vortex. What about Lincoln bands? Joe says he can’t pay them enough to make it worth their time, what with gas going for more than $3 a gallon.Finally, there are the success stories. Ladyfinger — now known as Ladyfinger (ne) — has outgrown O’Leaver’s tiny room even if their lead singer still tends bar there. So have Little Brazil, Tilly and the Wall, Neva Dinova, and the rest of the Saddle Creek stable whose shoes have been resized to walk the festival circuit.Moving on, moving away, moving up — all are inevitable and accepted, until you glance at the empty bench and realize there’s no one waiting to take their place.Was this just a Joe thing? Nope. Marc Leibowitz, who runs One Percent Productions with Jim Johnson, acknowledged the problem, but said that most medium-sized touring bands that he books at Sokol Underground come to town with their own support. “So there’s not that many shows we can add locals to anyway,” he said. “But in the end, we have the same problem as Joe. Bands are either too big to support all these shows or too small to help the attendance.”Unlike Joe, Leibowitz said the next generation is out there, somewhere. “We’re getting old and out-of-touch,” he said. “When’s the last time Joe went to any show other than his own? Does he expect to find new bands while in the basement of his house? The same applies to Jim and I. We’re too busy to go scout new bands.”Scout new bands? Where? That, Joe says, is the crux of the problem.His simple explanation for the current talent deficit: Omaha is feeling the impact of the void left after The Cog Factory closed its battered doors. For those too young to remember, The Cog Factory was a beloved shit-hole located on the scary side of Leavenworth that acted as an all-purpose incubator for Omaha’s indie rock scene. Back in its ’90s heyday, every Omaha band of merit — including the entire Saddle Creek stable — played at The Cog Factory, usually to crowds that counted in the dozens. It was an all-ages proving ground for bands that had nothing to prove. Cog owner, DIY punk guy Robb Rathe, wasn’t in it for the money. He just wanted a place to see the bands he loved and for his friends’ bands to fall flat on their faces in front of a crowd.When Rathe moved to Portland in ’98, he took the spirit of the Cog Factory with him. Sure, it hung on for a while, run by those who loved it. But eventually it slid into insolvency, closing its doors five year ago and leaving the kids with no place to play… literally.So where will the next generation of Omaha indie bands come from? Joe hesitates to say that this could be the end of the line, but pointed out that “there is no all-ages venue that supports young, unknown bands. The Cog Factory took those bands under its wing. I don’t know where they could play today. There’s no place to put on a show that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and where you don’t need connections to get booked. Sokol is too big and O’Leaver’s is over-21.”But the funny thing is, as Leibowitz pointed out, the building that housed The Cog Factory is vacant and available right now, along with dozens of other vacant shit-holes more than adequate to host the next Cog Factory. Too bad no one’s willing step up.So don’t bemoan the loss of The Cog Factory — it was only a building. Bemoan the loss of the Robb Rathes of the world, the ones who epitomized the DIY lifestyle, the ones willing to give a kid a hand. And ask yourself what will happen to our scene without them.
Interesting show tonight at O’Leaver’s. Minty Fresh Records band The Living Blue headlines with Someday Stories and the debut of Coyote Bones, which, according to their Myspace account, consists of ex-members of Jet by Day. Since Now It’s Overhead’s Andy LeMaster helped record their three-song demo, expect the usual cadre of Saddle Creekers at the club this evening. You may just want to leave your comb at home. 9:30 p.m. $5.
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