by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
With nothing newsworthy happening — and this being “Throwback Thursday” — let’s dip back into the Lazy-i wayback machine to Sept. 1, 2005, and an interview with The 49’r’s Mark Samuelson shortly after word leaked that his bar would be cutting back on live music. Mark tells us why and gives us a brief Omaha music history listen at the same time…
The 49’r Takes Five — Sept. 1, 2005
You can’t stop the music at the midtown tavern.
Within the past few years, The 49’r has established itself as one of the city’s more important music venues, hosting a few national acts but mostly concentrating on providing a stage for up-and-coming local bands. It’s arguably the best place to see snarling, hard-ass rock and punk from bands like The Monroes, Anonymous American and Race for Titles.
So when word leaked out a few weeks ago that The Niner was cutting back on live music, it came as a disappointment both to the bands and the fans of those white-knuckle acts.
Rumor and conjecture did abound. Had The 49’r reached the end of the live music business cycle? A cycle that goes something like this: A bar suffers from a lull in business. A few bands that hang around the place ask if they can play some gigs there, and the owner figures why not, it could help drum up some business. More bands are booked and crowds grow like kudzu. Before long, folks start coming out just because they dig the bar, the staff and its jukebox, and before you know it, the live music becomes a nuisance for the regulars who just want to drink in peace. Seeing an opportunity to cut costs, the venue puts an end to the stage show.
That theory, in this case, is only partially correct, says Mark Samuelson, owner of The 49’r. During the height of his nightclub business, Samuelson ran four successful Omaha bars simultaneously: The Partners on 42nd and F, the legendary Howard St. Tavern in the Old Market, its “upstairs bar” called The White Rabbit, and the good ol’ 49’r at 49th & Dodge.
Today only The Niner remains, which Samuelson still operates along with his other businesses, Aksarben Fixture and Supply, an ATM business, and some real estate ventures. The degree in which he operates The Niner, however, has changed. Samuelson says he’s somewhat removed from the bar’s day-to-day operations.
“I listen to my help,” he said when asked about the shift in the venue’s live music policy. “I think we got over-saturated, and every band wanted to play here. The staff was hearing that we were doing a little too much music. Now we’re only choosing the best bands that really draw people.”
He pointed out that The Niner’s live music policy differs from the way the Howard St. was run. Back then, Samuelson said he started booking new music acts because blues was such a tough sell. And it didn’t take long for the club to become a national tour stop for tomorrow’s superstars.
“We had the Smashing Pumpkins come in for a $140 guarantee and two vegetarian pizzas,” he said. “It’s crazy to think about that today.”
Unlike the Howard St, The 49’r doesn’t offer guarantees. Instead, bands take home whatever cover charge they can generate. “So if you’re just playing for the door, it doesn’t make sense for the big bands to come here,” he said.
There are exceptions, however, such as when the staff wanted to bring in New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain. “If they have a good idea, I just stay out of the way,” Samuelson said. So far, it’s worked well.
But if anything, The 49r’s biggest draw is its location in the heart of Dundee, or as their matchbooks used to say: “In the middle of everything and no place to park.”
“We’re not in the middle anymore. We’re downtown,” Samuelson said, laughing. “We’re so busy because we have so many people who live close to here. The .08 (drinking) law is really hurting a lot of clubs. No one wants to risk it.”
Better to tie one on at The Niner and safely stumble home then to get behind the wheel of a car.
So does the bar’s already-packed weekends without bands spell the end for The Niner’s live music? Hardly. In fact, Samuelson said the venue will get back into the swing of things later this fall. “It’s gonna pick back up,” he said. “I anticipate doing more than just a couple of shows a month like we’re doing now.”
And really, how could he ever stop? For it was at The 49’r back in the early ’70s that a 15-year-old Samuelson’s own band, Hat Trick, had its first gig. Ironically, the band’s second gig would be at The Howard St. Tavern. — Sept. 1, 2005.
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Well, we all know what happened next. The 49’r would get sold to CVS in 2010, but the actual deal would get tied up by Ben Gray in the Omaha City Council. Then, for reasons that are still unclear, Gray would change his vote and the walls came tumbling down. Hard to believe it’s been five years. I think about The Niner every time I drive past that CVS on Dodge Street, or see Ben Gray at some public function or on TV….
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OK, a couple shows worth mentioning tonight.
Over at The Waiting Room it’s Zammuto, featuring Nick Zammuto, a co-founder of classic indie band Books. Zammuto has a new album, Anchor, on Temporary Residence. Opening is Dosh (Anticon, Graveface Records). $12 9 p.m.
Also tonight, Caravat, featuring David Ozinga and Teal Gardner of UUVVWWZ, headlines a show at fabulous O’Leaver’s with Laughing Eye Weeping Eye and L. Eugene Methe. $5, 9 p.m.
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In this week’s column, Pt. 2 on my Lumo Lift experiment. You can read it in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here.
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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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.