by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Omaha Reader music critic/reporter B.J. Huchtemann has been writing her “Hoodoo” column, which specializes in blues and roots music, for more than a decade. Like me, Beej wrote for the Lawrence, Kansas, music publication The Note before The Reader was even born. Simply put: No one — and I mean no one — knows more about the scene, style and genre than B.J. Her column is required reading for anyone who is into blues, jazz, R&B and good ol’ rock and roll.
At the beginning of this month, her Hoodoo column got cut back in The Reader from weekly to bi-weekly (hopefully, it’s just a temporary thing). So B.J. did what any other music writer would do — she took her words to the Internet and launched the Hoodoo Roots & Blues blogspot (check it out here). It’s the same content as her Hoodoo column, but updated more frequently, including photos from recent live shows.
My comments about modern blues acts being little more than cover bands has never gone unnoticed by B.J. “The scene that I’m involved in and the bands that are popular with the bulk of the audience are bands doing ORIGINAL music,” she wrote in an e-mail reply to a few questions. “Like any band, they may throw in a cover or two, but most of the bands on the local scene are invested in writing and performing original music…the same goes for the national players.”
Still, she said there’s no question that some people seem to naturally recoil when they read the term “blues” and as a result, she changed the name of her column last year. “I made the change about nine months ago trying to NOT scare the new generation with the word ‘blues,’ as it seems to me they will LIKE ‘blues’ and related genres if you don’t use the word blues,” she wrote. “And I write about everything from the weekly blues shows of note to the Sunday Roadhouse Americana series to funk and soul like Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears recent show or Curtis Salgado’s upcoming May 14 show in Lincoln.
“It seems more and more that the word ‘blues’ gets a stereotypical rap from folks who are not already fans, yet the sounds of the blues are so popular within contemporary music. Take Black Joe Lewis or Lukas Nelson, Willie Nelson’s son, as examples of blues-infused roots music.”
So what’s the current state of the local blues scene? B.J. said it’s a mixed bag.
“On the national scene, the shifting landscape of clubs closing (like Blues on Grand in Des Moines) and the specter of higher-than-ever gas prices this summer make it tough for the national bands to keep touring as they have in the past,” she said. “Blues festivals continue to be the place where musicians can get better pay and fans can get their music fix.”
However the more established bands are staying busy. “And younger bands, like Omaha-based Kris Lager Band, are rolling up their sleeves and making a name for themselves with aggressive touring in the Midwest region and beyond, so it can still be done,” she said.
Despite that, she said, the local scene is in transition. “After seven seasons, the extremely popular Playing With Fire blues concert series is winding down…dropping from four concerts last year to only one show (on July 16) this year, due to lack of a major sponsor to support the costs of doing a high-caliber concert stage with national acts down on the riverfront,” B.J. said.
In addition, Blues Society of Omaha president and longtime blues venue operator Terry O’Halloran is transitioning out of the scene.
“He’s sold his club The New Lift Lounge, which is now called The 21st Saloon,” B.J. said. “The venue has been the site of an extremely successful weekly 5:30 p.m. Thursday show that features some of the best in touring acts and up-and-coming acts.”
So far, the new owners are continuing to host the show with O’Halloran doing the booking, but the long-term status of the series depends on audience support, which has been great so far. “Ultimately O’Halloran hopes to relocate, probably to Austin, Texas, which will leave a big hole in the local scene, losing a knowledgeable booker who is truly interested in supporting the artists and the music,” she said.
“It’s a big time of transition for local blues and roots, but if the audience keeps coming out to support the music the way they have in recent years, I think Omaha will continue to be a bright spot.”
You can keep up with it all at Hoodoo Roots and Blues. Check it out, and let B.J. know what you’d like to see her cover. And hopefully her column at The Reader will be back to its usual weekly schedule in May.
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Tomorrow: The Rural Alberta Advantage, and the night Canada invaded Omaha…
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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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