Shag was packed last night for the Omaha Entertainment Awards showcase, absolutely packed. Lots of rock stars walking around, guys wearing tons of eye make-up who I assume were in one of the bands that I missed. I didn’t stay long. Some of us have to work in the morning. I did catch Anonymous American, Sarah Benck, Monica Eby and one of the slam poets, who was drowned out by the crowd. If last night’s draw is any indication, this could be a successful deal for the OEA organizers. But last night was free. Can they get those same people to plunk down $25 a head on Jan. 4? We’ll see. Shag is always a surreal experience. It reminds me of every 72nd St. pick-up bar circa 1983, which explains why the place is probably packed every night. They just don’t make them like that anymore.
A caveat about this week’s column: My criticism of the Omaha World-Herald isn’t targeted at any of the reporters. Niz is a hero in how she’s tried to cover local music, just like Laue before her. No, the crosshairs are aimed directly at the paper’s policies, and editors. I have been told by employees of said paper that the policy mentioned below does, in fact, exist. It’s a myopic approach to covering a community that you’re supposed to serve. But when you’re the only game in town, you can do whatever you want…
Column 102 — For ‘Biggest Oversight’ by an awards show…
The nominees are…
Before I get into this, I must tell you that I’m one of those hallowed few who have been asked to be a member of “The Academy” for the Live Music portion of the Omaha Entertainment Awards. And I also must explain that The Reader is one of OEAs’ media partners, if not one of its chief organizers. So one could yell “Bias!” at these words, but one would be incorrect, as I hold no allegiance to the organization and have just as many gripes as you about the Nominees list published last week. Instead of griping for gripe’s sake, however, I wanted explanations.
So I picked up the phone and called Tony Lange, the guy responsible for how the OEAs are being conducted. Lange comes to Omaha from Cincinnati, where the CEAs are in their 8th year. He said they were the boilerplate for the OEAs, right down to how bands were nominated. Anyone (as in you) could have submitted a nominating ballot, and Lange said around 2,000 of you did — not bad for the first year. A five-person committee (of which Lange is a member) developed the categories with the help of a few others who were brought in to “broaden the knowledge base.”
That brings us to the nominees and my list of gripes, first and foremost being the inclusion of South Dakota blues act Indigenous under the category of “Traditional / Indigenous” music. Anyone who’s ever heard a lick of the band’s Stevie Ray Vaughan blues-hammer aping knows that they don’t belong in this category, and that South Dakota ain’t Omaha (or Nebraska).
Clarification No. 1: Any performer from a 75-mile radius of The Holland Center was eligible for nomination, which explains why all those Lincoln bands are on the list (but doesn’t explain why the awards aren’t called the NEAs (N as in Nebraska instead of O as in Omaha)).
Lange admitted that, yes, Indigenous isn’t from Nebraska, and no, they don’t play indigenous music, and yes, the whole thing was a mistake. “That’s one that slipped by us,” he said. “We’ll take the blame. It’s a result of me not growing up here. It should have been caught.”
Some of the categories, however, were tougher to explain. Why, for example, group “hard rock” and “metal” together? Everyone knows they’re different genres. Apparently not everyone. “I know there’s death metal and speed metal and hate metal,” Lange said. “Next year we may consider separating the categories.”
“Next year” also applies to including a “Singer/Songwriter” category, an omission that is the awards’ biggest oversight, as Omaha is known nationally as a singer/songwriter town. Lange had no real explanation for this, other than to say he wanted to include the category but that other committee members preferred naming it “Adult Contemporary.” This, of course, makes no sense, but “that’s what you get when you deal with a committee.”
Lange is not apologetic about the “Cover Band” category. “Cover bands are the core meat of the local entertainment business,” he said. “Their art is just the same as anyone else’s. Remember, this award is based on entertainment.”
Complaints about who got nominated falls squarely on you, the voter, and your favorite bands’ inability to “get out the vote.” Lange admits that there always will be acts that simply aren’t comfortable lobbying for themselves. That may explain why local jazz legend Luigi Waites was overlooked under the “Jazz” category or why Breathless wasn’t nominated under “Hip-Hop/Rap.” It also explains why there are no punk bands under the “Punk” category. Would a real punk band lobby for votes? Go ask Johnny Rotten.
For the first go-’round, the list of nominees isn’t horrible, especially under categories “Alternative Indie” (rightfully dominated by Saddle Creek Records acts), “Folk Americana Roots,” “Hard Rock” (I’m leaving metal out of it) and “Live Music Event.” The full list is available online at oeawards.net. Yes, there are omissions, but hey, give them a break, it’s the first year.
The most glaring omission is in how the local media have covered the event. Yes, The Reader is a sponsor, right along with NRG Media on the radio side. That shouldn’t preclude the great, gray Omaha World-Herald from covering an event that has the full support of the Chamber of Commerce and a plethora of important local arts organizations.
The fact is, the OWH has historically put its own needs in front of its readers when it comes to covering anything that’s sponsored by rival media, whether it be an alt-weekly newspaper, radio or local TV station. They need to let the paranoia go and realize what everyone else already knows: They don’t have any competition. No one’s going to steal away any of their potential advertisers and/or readers, certainly not The Reader. Acknowledgement of the OEAs by the OWH and other media is critical if this thing is ever really going to get off the ground. But I’m afraid that the polarizing, Citizen Kane mentality of local media will never let that happen, even for an event that’s designed not to make money (OEA is a 501c3, nonprofit organization) but to celebrate this city’s talent. Let’s do this, before all that talent finds a more grateful place to play.
One other important point that didn’t make it into the column: It’s absolutely imperative to the future of the OEAs that a Saddle Creek Records artist performs at the award ceremony. It doesn’t have to be one of the “big three” (though that would be the best scenario) – just someone from the Creek stable. Omaha’s music scene has been defined by Saddle Creek bands for the last decade. Their absence would be a crippling blow to the credibility of a program designed to honor the best and brightest from our community. The only thing worse than not having a Creek band perform would be not having Oberst show up to accept whatever award he will win that night.
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