Column 320: MAHA Vs. Red Sky, local stage considerations and the end of battle of the bands? (Keen)x5 tonight…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:49 pm April 27, 2011
Last year's MAHA Music Festival, July 24, 2010

The scene moments after the start of last year's MAHA Music Festival, July 24, 2010

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

This week’s column was posted at thereader.com yesterday morning, which is a bit out of the norm, but understandable concerning the “newsiness” of the topic. Here are a few more notes from the interview with MAHA Music Festival organizer Tre Brashear that didn’t make it into the column, which also follows below. If you haven’t read the column yet, scroll down and read it first, then come back up for the following addendum:

— The MAHA team is considering changing its process for selecting bands to play the local stage and dropping its “battle of the bands” format. “We are considering selecting all the bands to play MAHA this year and not having a battle of the bands approach,” Brashear said. “However, we haven’t decided yet on whether to make that change.” Regardless, MAHA will continue to host local showcases leading up to the Aug. 13 festival.

— In addition, festival organizers are considering moving the local stage from the embankment just west of the main stage to somewhere where the sun won’t be burning the patrons’ retinas. “We know that people have objections to how our local stage has been set up the past two years and are looking at alternatives and what those alternatives would cost,” Brashear said. “However, people should know the configuration of the Landing limits our options, especially since we need to keep the stages relatively close together so that we can use the same equipment for both.” Just moving the stage to the east side of the main stage would be a big improvement.

— The problem of having the Red Sky Festival flopping its 6-day-wide ass smack in the middle of July is not going to go away for MAHA. Red Sky will be around for years whether it sells tickets or not. Brashear said the MAHA team will address the scheduling problem after this year’s event concludes. “The Landing is a pretty popular place in the summer and there aren’t many open dates, so moving the date could require us to move the venue,” Brashear said. “However, since this is our first year on ‘this date,’ we don’t want to read too much into scheduling conflicts without getting more information.” The plan had always been for MAHA to grow into a multi-day event that includes camping options for travelers, making it a sort-of Midwestern Woodstock. With Red Sky nesting at TDAmeritrade Park, perhaps MAHA can find a home at the brand new Werner Park in Sarpy County, where there’s plenty of space for camping in adjacent fields.

And now, more Brashear comments about MAHA in this week’s column….

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Column 320: Guided by Voices, Cursive, Matisyahu to Play 2011 MAHA Music Festival

by Tim McMahan

The news is in the headline, exactly as it was announced Monday night.

To reiterate: This year’s MAHA Music Festival, to be held Aug. 13 at Lewis & Clark Landing, will feature among its main stage bands Guided by Voices, Cursive and Matisyahu. Take a moment. Breathe deep. Soak it in.

When you consider what the MAHA folks are now up against, not the least of which is MECA’s 6-day, 3-stage, infinitely budgeted, exempt-from-failure, yet-to-be-announced Red Sky Festival, one can only bow one’s head and tip one’s hat that they were able to pull off such an impressive line-up.

Considered an originator of ’90s low-fi indie rock, for this tour Guided By Voices boasts a reunion of its “classic mid-’90s lineup” — Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Kevin Fennel and Greg Demos. Cursive is one of the original crown jewels of the Saddle Creek Records triumvirate that included The Faint (who played MAHA last year) and Bright Eyes. Finally, there is Matisyahu, an American Hasidic Jewish reggae superstar. And that’s just the beginning. There will be at least three more bands named for the main stage, as well as a second “local stage.” All for a discount price of $30, three dollars less than last year’s ticket. Let’s face it, GBV alone is worth the price of admission.

For Tre Brashear and the rest of the MAHA organizers, the announcement is a triumph that comes at the end of a long winter and spring of frustration. This year’s booking process began in mid-January, a month after Red Sky announced its monstrosity at the brand new TDAmeritrade ball park, forcing MAHA to move its date to mid August instead of the festival “sweet spot” of July.

“It has been more difficult this year,” Brashear said of booking MAHA. “The change in date has been a problem, and I’m not knocking Red Sky in saying that.  It’s just a fact.  The weekend we moved to is in direct competition with Outside Lands in SF, Way Out West in Sweden and Summer Sonic in Japan.  Combine that with the fact that lots of artists head to Europe in August because that’s when the European festival schedule starts up and it has meant that quite a few of the performers that we would like for MAHA simply weren’t available.”

Then there’s the fact that Omaha has become a virtual runway for big name national indie acts thanks to One Percent Productions (who helped book MAHA) and venues like The Waiting Room and Slowdown. “Artists like The Decemberists, Iron & Wine, New Pornographers, who would be perfect for MAHA, are already coming through this area for a routed show,” Brashear said. “Then you throw in the increased interest Stir Cove has shown in booking indie acts and you end up with lots of challenges in booking for MAHA.”

Stir Cove, which is part of the Harrah’s Casino money-printing factory in Council Bluffs, already has announced big draws The Black Keys, Flaming Lips and Mumford & Sons among its summer series lineup. Another prized act, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, has been snagged for the final Playing with Fire series July 16.

But the perceived 10 million pound gorilla has always been Red Sky, despite conventional wisdom that RS will target the same stale acts that MECA books for the white elephant currently called The Qwest Center. Indie will likely be completely off the Red Sky radar. In fact, other than the date change, Brashear wasn’t sure of any Red Sky impact. “When you are told an artist isn’t available, you’re usually not told why,” he said. “So we won’t know if those ‘not available’ responses were Red Sky related until after they announce their lineup.” An announcement that could come in days, or weeks.

If Red Sky was never interested in indie, why bother changing the MAHA date? “We never considered keeping the date we had originally,” Brashear said. “First of all, we use MECA parking lots for MAHA parking.  Second, we would have had to fight with them for publicity.  Third, we don’t think our sponsors and donors would have appreciated us engaging in a ‘battle’ with Red Sky.”

No doubt. MAHA has done an amazing job holding onto — and growing — its primary sponsors. “TD Ameritrade and Kum & Go are returning as our main and local stage sponsors, respectively,” Brashear said. “Also, McCarthy Capital, Alegent Health, Proxibid, Centris, the Owen Foundation and Stinson Morrison Hecker are returning as sponsors (as is Weitz Funds). Our new sponsors this year include Whole Foods, HDR and Walnut Private Equity.”

It’s those sponsors, along with last year’s attendance numbers, that helped drive the ticket price down to $30 this year. “Since we are a nonprofit organization run by volunteers, making as much money as possible has never been our focus or intent,” Brashear said.

If there’s a criticism to be leveled at the “so far” line-up, it’s the age of the acts themselves. GBV’s heyday was in the ’90s. Cursive’s biggest-setting album was released eight years ago and Matisyahu’s breakout album was released in 2004. The thought that MAHA could be considered an “oldies” indie festival hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“We are constantly evaluating our demographics and whether our lineup is too old, too male, all of that,” Brashear said. “We want our lineup to be a good cross-section of all things indie, so to do that well, we’ve got to feature ’emerging’ national acts.”

Which is exactly what MAHA is targeting for the final three main stage bands. Who knows when that announcement will come. Until then, MAHA can take pride in already having landed the best lineup for any local festival in 2011.

Tix go on sale this Saturday for $30 at etix.

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I generally don’t hype Lincoln shows because, well, they’re in Lincoln and I’m here in Omaha. The exception is when the show is particularly exceptional, like tonight’s “World’s Hardest Working Musician (Darren Keen)” show at Duffy’s. The lineup is five different Keen projects — The Show is the Rainbow, High Art, Touch People, Darren Keen and the Fellowship of the Ring and Bad Speler — with DJ Darren Keen filling in the holes between sets — all for just $5 starting at 10:30. It’ll be Keen’s last performance as a bachelor, as he’s getting married this weekend. In fact, he’s about to kick off  a 10-month “Honeymoon Tour” that will take him around the world three times with each of his one-man bands. That tour starts May 20 with The Show Is the Rainbow’s Tickled Pink CD release show at Bourbon Theater.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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