It’s been a busy year for festivals. The ones I can remember: OEA Summer Showcase, Lincoln Invasion, MAHA, RatFest, Nebraska Pop Festival and last weekend’s Lincoln Calling Festival, which is the subject of this week’s column. And it’s not over yet. The OEA Fall Showcase is Nov. 13 in Benson.
Column 241: Turning the Corner
Best year ever for Lincoln Calling…
After word got out that a reunion of legendary ’90s-era rock act Mercy Rule was going to replace Domestica last Saturday night at Lincoln Calling, I knew that I was going to make my first excursion to the festival after writing about it for the past six years.
Jeremy Buckley, Lincoln Calling organizer and “A-No. 1 Ass-kicker” (as designated from stage by Mercy Rule’s Jon Taylor) had texted me with the details. Ron Albertson — Mercy Rule’s drummer who had moved to Brooklyn all those years ago — was back in town to stay, and Mercy Rule was a band again. In Ron’s absense, Taylor and his wife, bassist/vocalist Heidi Ore, had formed Domestica with drummer Boz Hicks. I guess Boz simply stepped aside, understanding the obvious historical implications.
They were scheduled to play at 9 p.m., so we left Omaha at 7:30 in the Cooper. I can’t remember there being so much construction on I-80 — the speed limit shifted from 55 to 65 to 75 to 55 and so on, which didn’t matter since I was driving 85 anyway, and still almost missed the show when we flew past the 9th St. exit, not realizing our mistake until we got to Crete with the city in the rear-view mirror.
For many, Mercy Rule would be the highlight of the five-day festival. But not for Buckley. “The best thing I saw was Ideal Cleaners doing ‘Go, Go Big Business,’ a song that I always ask for but they never play,” he said.
It was the cherry on top for Buckley. This is the year that Lincoln Calling “turned a corner” from being a nice weekend of shows put together for the locals who probably would have been at the bars anyway, to an “event” that drew new blood in the form of people completely outside of the Lincoln/Omaha music scene.
Buckley called Monday night after spending the entire day in bed recovering from the weekend. He reported that total Lincoln Calling attendance was 3,590 patrons, a thousand more than the 2,500 he had been shooting for. Cash from the event’s ticket sales totaled $9,063 — an average of about $2.50 per patron. “(I) should probably try and figure out how to get that ‘per person figure’ higher next year,” he said.
Regardless, everyone that performed got paid — something that’s unheard of for most local music festivals. The worst-paying night was Sunday, where the light draw meant each band only pocketed about $15. For the rest of the weekend, “a couple solo artists got $30, and the rest of the bands got between $50 and $200,” Buckley said, explaining that their take was based on door splits. Every performer also received a free $30 all-access pass that let them into every show throughout the festival.
In the end, Buckley said most bands were happy with the way things turned out, except for Eagle Seagull, who had a “melt down” on the The Bourbon Theater stage on the festival’s opening night. Buckley said Eagle Seagull frontman Eli Mardock “left the stage in the middle of the third song and watched from the side. I think he made it through four or five songs total. People were in a bad mood afterward and talked about it all weekend. Eli said he was sorry, and that they would do a makeup show in December in Lincoln for free. Other than that, there were no major disasters.”
Statistically speaking, the highest grossing show was Sarah Benck’s Saturday night performance at The Zoo, which she had announced would be the swan song for her band. The room was a crush mob, and after only a few minutes of being in everyone’s way, we left with claustrophobia setting in.
From a pure attendance standpoint, Buckley said Friday night’s UUVVWWZ show at Duffy’s or The Killigans show at the 12th St. Pub took the prize. Each drew well over 300.
But forget about the numbers. Buckley pointed to other signs that Lincoln Calling is growing into a real festival: He watched as someone actually scalped an all-access pass outside of Duffy’s. Like Austin’s South by Southwest Festival, an “unofficial Lincoln Calling show” was held after hours at a nearby house for Bandit Sound. And two radio stations and a local TV affiliate approached Buckley to cover the event — another first.
Buckley said the seventh annual Lincoln Calling Festival would be “the year of sponsorship and board of directors and volunteers.” He missed too many of the shows this year because he was constantly being texted to put out fires along O St. Next year he wants to place a volunteer at every venue to handle flare-ups. He also is fielding offers to help with the event’s marketing.
For me, the festival’s highlight was that Mercy Rule show — something I never thought I’d see. But there they were on Duffy’s famous stage, Jon, Heidi and Ron, illuminated in the glow of their trademark floor floodlights, tearing into four classics (including “Summer” and “Tell Tomorrow”) and pointing toward their future with four new songs that were as loud and angry as anything in their crowded oeuvre. Taylor’s homemade guitar was still ringing in my ears as we made the long drive back home.
* * *
Tonight at The Waiting Room, Skypiper opens for Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins. $12, 8 p.m. Matt Whipkey opens for The BoDeans at The Whiskey Roadhouse/Horseshoe Casino. $23.50, 8 p.m. And Sarah Benck is playing solo at The Barley St. with PennyHawk and Adam Faucett. $5, 9 p.m.
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