Column 247: OEAA Fall Showcase review; Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Fortnight tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 6:53 pm November 18, 2009

According to MarQ Manner, who organized the OEAA showcase, all the venues did well “and if I were to guess there were 500 to 600 people around.” He said The Waiting Room swelled for Black Squirrels and Brad Hoshaw.

From an “issues” standpoint, he said the PS Collective had PA problems and that the singer for Song Remains the Same walked off during their performance — I guess Robert Plant would have done the same thing, so it fits with the overall “tribute” theme of the band. There also were some scheduling issues with the DJs, but overall, “We got through it and everyone once again seemed pretty happy, especially the people attending the event.”

Column 247: Shark Jumping
The OEAAs and Benson.

And so with last Friday night’s Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards (OEAA) showcase in Benson, another Omaha music festival season comes to a close. But did it go out with a bang or a whimper?

If you judge the event by its turnout, it would appear to be the former. When I showed up at PS Collective at around 8, the venue’s music room (where the stage is) already was mostly full. By the time the first band, Son of 76 and the Watchmen, began playing, it was standing room only. So crowded, in fact, that a couple of strangers happily shared our table in the back of the room while we scarfed down a pizza.

About a half-hour later, the scene was repeated (sans pizza) down the street at The Sydney where Jes Winter and her band were playing — every table was filled. And while it wasn’t SRO at The Waiting Room for Matt Whipkey and Midwest Dilemma, the crowd was respectable (It is, after all, a rather large venue). Keep in mind — this was all happening before 10 p.m. in a city where no one shows up before halftime.

While I saw the usual cast of lovable miscreants that make up the Benson music scene out and about, there were a lot of new, unfamiliar faces in the crowd, which one assumes were drawn to the showcase by its reputation for quality bands and a good time. So, a success, right?

But, there were a few cracks in the foundation. Some of the best bands nominated for OEA Awards played the following night at the very same venues. This may have had more to do with the late date in which the showcases were booked than the fact that the bands that played Saturday night actually got paid to play. Whether it’s their showcases or their big annual awards ceremony at The Holland Center, the OEAAs never have paid their performers. It is, after all, a non-profit organization.

The venues, on the other hand, are for-profit businesses and made profits Friday night, strengthening the theory that the OEAA showcases are pseudo-fundraisers for Benson music venues. But I’ve been down that road before.

For me, a bigger indication that the OEAA showcase might have jumped the shark is the fact that I only lasted a couple hours before heading downtown to see Simon Joyner (an OEAA nominee) and his band perform at Slowdown.

My capsule review of what I did see in Benson:

Jes Winter: The young, wizened music critic that stood by my side during her set made this brilliant statement: “If she did nothing but covers, she could make a killing in West Omaha.” Truer words were never spoken.

Son of 76 and The Watchmen: Gorgeous, bluesy Americana by a Lincoln ensemble fronted by a guy who sounds like he grew up on a steady diet of Tom Waits and Joe Cocker. You’re lucky if you discover one new talent at these showcases; this was the one for me.

Matt Whipkey: Proved that he don’t need no steenk-ing band; he can do just fine backed only by the über-talented Scott “Zip” Zimmerman on drums, his own mercurial guitar playing and the tightest pants in the business.

Midwest Dilemma: With his ensemble paired down below double-digits, I fear that our hero, Justin Lamoureux, will (fairly or not) forever be dogged with the Bright Eyes comparisons, as the person next to me who had never seen or heard him before said, “Is he kidding? Is he singing like Conor on purpose?”

Other than The Filter Kings, there wasn’t anything that tempted me to stay in Benson. As one OEAA show-goer who showed up later at The Slowdown put it: “Is that really the best that Omaha has to offer?” Of course not, despite the fact that every one of the performers had been nominated for awards.

The fact is, it’s been a long, long festival year. It started with the Lincoln Invasion in June and was followed by the OEAA Summer Showcase, the MAHA Festival (and its “play-in” benefit for The Waiting Room), the glorious RatFest, the Nebraska Pop Festival, Lincoln Calling and ended last Friday night with the OEAA Fall Showcase. Only half of those “events” were paying gigs for bands. Throw into that cauldron a plethora of benefit shows, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of good bands making little to no money. And after awhile, even the most kind-hearted of the bunch gets tired of playing for free.

With no bars outside of the Maple Street corridor involved (again), the criticism continues to get louder — and more credible — that the only ones benefiting from the OEAA program are Benson and its venues. And what’s wrong with that? Now if we could only find an organization that brought the rest of the Omaha/Lincoln music community together.

* * *

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band plays tonight at The Waiting Room as part of their “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now 25th Anniversary Concert Tour.” Show starts at 9. One Percent doesn’t list any opening bands. $15.

Also tonight, Fortnight is playing at The Barley Street with a couple Nashville singer/songwriters — David Condos and Charlie Hardin. The event is a pot-luck dinner — those who bring something to eat get in for $2, otherwise its $5. Dinner starts at 6:30 and the music begins at 7:30.

Tomorrow at Lazy-i: Brimstone Howl

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