Column 301: The Return of Omahaype; MECA announces Red Sky Festival (and MAHA has nothing to worry about)…

Category: Blog,Column,Interviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — @ 6:01 pm December 16, 2010

Column 301: Omahype Returns

The notorious music blog takes on a new life…

by Tim McMahan,

Sometime in March 2009, a quiet sadness swept over the Internet when Andrew Bowen and Ian Atwood grasped firmly and pulled the plug on one of Omaha’s more original websites:

Omahype enthusiastically chronicled the local music scene through Bowen and Atwood’s acerbic music news bits, live reviews and leaked mp3 files that one assumes had to be illegal. The website had a wonderfully subversive streak running through it, and carried on an outsider’s tradition, giving voice to Hotel Frank, Slumber Party Records artists and the Antiquarium record store, powered by the duo’s uncanny good taste in music. Over the course of a couple years, Bowen and Atwood managed to make a small but significant mark, providing a fresh, young perspective that this scene was — and is — sorely in need of.

Now, almost two years later, returns, but without Bowen and Atwood at the helm. Instead, the Internet domain has been acquired by two other local music insiders — Will Simons and Laura Burhenn. Simons, who sings and plays guitar in local indie band Thunder Power, has been in the music news business for years as a writer for the now-defunct Omaha City Weekly. Washington, D.C., transplant Burhenn is the singer/songwriter behind Saddle Creek Records band The Mynabirds.

The duo acquired through local “youth branding agency” Secret Penguin, who count among its clients skateboarders, The Faint and Jim Suttle. “(Bowen) gave those guys the domain name,” Simons said. “It was Laura’s idea to get the whole thing rolling. She asked me earlier in the spring if I wanted to help with it, while Secret Penguin built the site.”

Burhenn had been rolling the idea of a local arts and music website around in her head for well over a year. “I got the idea from a friend in D.C. who runs a website called,” Burhenn said. “It’s a curated events calendar where you can find anything you might want to know about what’s going on in D.C.” Omaha, she said, had nothing like it.

Like, will cover more than just local music. “It’ll include everything from lectures to art shows to indie films,” Burhenn said, “any event that would be interesting to the youth culture.”

But what exactly is “youth culture”? Burhenn said it’s anything that’s inspiring about living where you live. “‘Youth’ is anybody from a teenager to who knows how old,” she said. “It’s not an age thing at all. It’s the creative, adventurous minds in Omaha.”

Simons and Burhenn said they’ll begin by scouring other online calendars for events to include in Omahype, along with (they hope) reader submissions. “We’ll start with events and editor’s picks, and it’ll grow,” Burhenn said. “We also want to be a blog aggregator, a jumping-off point for people to find out who’s doing things around town.”

Their site will be joining an already crowded webspace for local online event calendars that includes the new, improved Reader website at; the music-focused, which launches Jan. 24;, which provides a “personalized guide to events in Omaha;” the lilting; the Omaha World-Herald‘s; the bar-focused; local news/events website, and, of course, good ol’, which has been in the art/music events calendar business for more than a decade. And don’t forget the ubiquitous role of Facebook in keeping people up to speed with what’s happening around town.

Simons knows they’re entering a crowded room. “We don’t want to compete with other websites, we want to collaborate with them,” he said. “We all have the same goals in mind.” It’s a noble thought, but seems to ignore the fact that those other websites also have the goal of being Omaha’s “one-stop shop” — at least that’s what they’re telling potential advertisers and donors. Simons said somewhere down the road Omahype also will sell advertising space, but “our intention isn’t to make money; it’s to support the community.”

Burhenn said that partnering with artists, musicians and “progressive thinkers” to “put a new spin on an old story” is what will differentiate Omahype from the rest of the online herd. That new spin might include an artist creating a photo essay that explores the city from a different angle. “We want to be irreverent in nature,” Burhenn said. “We want people to join in the conversation and be honest with how they feel, but we want them to be positive. At the end of the day, I just want everyone to be nice.”

They both acknowledged the legacy of the original “Omahype was great for what it was, a music blog,” Simons said. “We’re taking its spirit and expanding it to all the arts and creative communities. We’re not taking a hard-nosed journalistic approach. We want to have a fresh, youthful take on things.”

And while they will curate the site’s content, “I don’t want to be the person who says ‘This is what’s cool and this is what’s not,'” Burhenn said. “I’m interested in hearing from other people what they think is cool, and sharing it.”’s launch is being celebrated as part of the “Holiday Throwdown” at Slowdown Friday Dec. 17. The free event, which starts at 9 p.m., will feature performances by members of Bear Country, Conduits, Flowers Forever, Honeybee, Talking Mountain, UUVVWWZ and, of course, The Mynabirds, who also will be celebrating the release of their new 7-inch single. Local artists and designers also will have their wares for sale, just in time for Christmas.

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Yesterday, MECA, the people who run the Qwest Center and the new downtown TDAmeritrade ballpark, announced that it’s hosting the Red Sky Music Festival July 19-24. MECA is working with Live Nation to book 50 bands that will perform in and around the ballpark. Kevin Coffey at the OWH has the entire scoop right here.

So the first question that comes to mind: How does Red Sky impact the MAHA Music Festival? In theory, it shouldn’t. Based on what Kevin reported and what I saw this morning on KETV Channel 7, MECA isn’t interested in booking indie-style bands for their All-American family-friendly ballpark. MECA guy said something along the lines of “We’ll be booking the same kind of entertainment that we book at the Qwest Center.”

MECA will likely be looking for the biggest drawing bands they can find to fill their stadium — and other than, say, Arcade Fire (and even that’s a stretch), those aren’t indie bands. I suspect you’ll see a strong top-40 and country line-up, sprinkled with touring pop acts. Think Lady Gaga, Garth Brooks, the American Idol contingent, and legacy stars like Kenny Rogers and REO Speedwagon, just some of the folks you’ll find on the Live Nation website. You’ll also find Broken Social Scene, Killing Joke, Bear Hands, and Wu-Tang Clan. So the opportunity will be there if MECA wants to try to deep-six MAHA by booking a day or two of top-flight indie bands during its 5-day bacchanal, but something tells me that’s not going to happen. At this point, it’s all speculation.

Red Sky does force MAHA to dig deep and define itself in a way that’s thoroughly unique in the festival world. Right now, MAHA is kind of/sort of a one-day outdoor rock concert that features at least one upper-tier indie act along with a sprinkling of up-and-comers and locals. It’s just a big ol’ one-day concert. If it wants to be branded as a truly unique destination concert/festival series, it has to be more than that. But even if it remains on its current path, MAHA will survive and only get bigger, especially after it decides to leave Lewis & Clark Landing behind.

Here’s an idea: What if MAHA became a 3-day festival that was also held in and around a ball park — but this time the ball park is located in Sarpy County? Werner Park’s cozy 6,500 fixed seats and 9,000 total capacity is perfect for upper-tier indie bands like LCD Soundsystem, The National, Sufjan Stevens, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Yo La Tengo and Interpol — i.e., the good bands. Just a thought…

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Yesterday I asked who else other than Laura Burhenn was headed out with Bright Eyes on the tour supporting The People’s Key. Billboard published the answer today, right here — Clark Baechle and Andy LeMaster join Burhenn, Oberst, Mogis and Nate Walcott. Also included in the story is some insight by The Conor himself on the new record. I suspect we’ll be hearing a leaked track any day now…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Bright Eyes dates, Laura Burhenn (Mynabirds) joins BE team; another use for those picnic plates; Homeless For the Holidays Pt. 2 tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:48 pm December 15, 2010

by Tim McMahan,

Bright Eyes announced a handful of tour dates yesterday. You can see them right here. The interesting omission (other than a Nebraska show) is how the dates end on March 17 (in Nashville). And we all know what’s going on that weekend. Could Conor and the boys be contemplating a mammoth, heroic return to the South by Southwest Music Festival? It would be a great way for Saddle Creek to lock in one of the larger venues — such as Stubb’s — for a showcase. Stubbs is where PJ Harvey and Metallica have performed in years past. A Bright Eyes appearance might be enough to get me to return to Austin again this year.

BTW, I don’t know who’s in Bright Eyes these days other than Conor, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, but reported today that Laura Burhenn will be a member of Bright Eyes, at least on this upcoming tour. Laura, who’s in The Mynabirds, played on the upcoming The People’s Key, slated for release Feb. 15, along with Andy LeMaster (Now It’s Overhead), Matt Maginn (Cursive), Carla Azar (Autolux), Clark Baechle (The Faint), Shane Aspegren (The Berg Sans Nipple), and Denny Brewer (Refried Ice Cream). How many more of those folks will comprise the core Bright Eyes touring band?

Read more about Laura’s other project — — in tomorrow’s column.

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In other news, our old friends, the Ames, Iowa band Poison Control Center, announced today that it’s releasing a limited edition 7-inch single on New Years Eve. What makes the item interesting is that it’s a plastic plate single. “Yes, I said PLASTIC PLATE SINGLE!,” says the press release. “All 100 limited edition 7-inch Plastic Plates were cut by hand. Cutting a vinyl record on a record lathe is one of the oldest methods of sound recording.” And so on.

I thought they were being cute with the “plastic plate” thing until I went to, who’s making the record. The Olympia, Washington company’s website says: “In the future, will offer cheap one-sided flexible picnic plate records custom made for you in quantities as low as 20, with no setup fee and a short turnaround time.” Go to lathecuts’ owner label website — — and you’ll see a large offering of “picnic plate” 7-inches from bands like Christmas, Electric Sunset and Black Prairie.

Sayeth piaptk (which stands for People in the Position to Know): “Over the summer, we’ve been focusing on putting the new record lathes to work making one-sided flexi singles out of picnic plates. The ‘tonal coloring’ and slight loss of fidelity that these records have hopefully adds to the experience and gives the songs a new flavor. You are helping to save a poor innocent picnic plate from the indignity of being used to hold hot wings and then carelessly discarded.” I think we’re seeing an entirely new sustainability model for the record industry!

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Tonight is Homeless for the Holidays Pt. 2 down at Slowdown Jr. The lineup includes Jake Bellows, Landing on the Moon, Beauty in the Beast, Lincoln’s Pharmacy Spirits and Panda Face. Show starts at 9.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Interview: The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn

The Mynabirds

The Mynabirds: Zen Songs

The existential sounds of Laura Burhenn

by Tim McMahan

Sometimes you just have to let it go.

But before you do, you have to acknowledge the situation — reach a level of acceptance — and then, move on. It’s a very Zen philosophy, and it’s worked for Laura Burhenn, singer/songwriter of The Mynabirds.

She’s applied that existential attitude throughout her career, starting as a solo artist before joining with former Q and Not U frontman John Davis for indie pop act Georgie James in 2006.

Georgie James checked off most of the items on the must-do list for indie rock success. They released an album on a respected label (Saddle Creek Records), toured internationally, had their video played on MTV and performed on a late-night network talk show (Late Night with Conan O’Brien).

“From an outsider’s perspective, you see those benchmarks and check them off and say that the band was really successful,” Burhenn said last week while sipping a Manhattan on the patio at Slowdown.

But less than a year after the October 2007 release of their debut, Places, Burhenn and Davis found themselves trying to communicate through walls, before finally splitting up. “We had different ideas of what we wanted to do musically and where we wanted to go with our lives,” she said. “It made sense to do different projects. I never wanted the band to break up. I figured we might go our separate ways for awhile and come back and do another album, but it wasn’t to be.”

The Mynabirds - What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood

The Mynabirds - What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood

While Georgie James was still in full swing, Burhenn had continued writing and performing as a solo artist in her former hometown of Washington, D.C. “I had been holding back songs for the next record,” she said. “I wanted to write a record about reflective consciousness, something really political and heady. I was trying to mathematically work out this symphony.”

But Burhenn knew after recording demos that the concept was too complicated and wasn’t going to work. Wanting to make a complete break from her Georgie James past, Burhenn was convinced by friend and fellow musician Orenda Fink to move to Omaha in the fall of 2008 and to also join her on tour as a keyboard player and backing vocalist for Fink’s project, O+S.

“That experience was totally life changing,” Burhenn said. “Orenda’s a songwriter that isn’t afraid to approach music as art.”

When Burhenn returned from the tour, she threw out almost everything she had been working on and started over. She took her new material to the Oregon studio of personal musical hero Richard Swift, a singer/songwriter whose 2007 album, Dressed Up for a Let Down, was a huge inspiration. “The first time I met (Saddle Creek label chief) Robb Nansel I said, ‘You have to hear this record. It’s amazing.’ And he kind of laughed and told me that Saddle Creek put it out overseas.”

The label facilitated connecting Burhenn and Swift, and the two finally met at the South by Southwest Festival in 2009, where they agreed to collaborate on her record, with Swift focusing on the arrangements and the two playing almost all the instruments. Joining them on the recording was Fink, musician/engineer/producer AJ Mogis; Tom Hnatow (These United States) on pedal steel; and Nate Walcott (Bright Eyes), who arranged the horns.

The result was What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood, a 10-song collection of rootsy, gospel-influenced songs about love, loss and resolution that reflects soberly on the past but looks forward with a glass-half-full optimism.

Among the opening numbers is the piano-pounding rocker “Let the Record Show.” With the lines “Let the record show, you gave a real good fight / And let the record show, so did I,” the song is an after-the-fact account of a relationship gone wrong.

The Mynabirds Laura Burhenn

"The album is a very simple story about loss and recovery.”

“It’s the most cathartic song on the record,” Burhenn said, acknowledging its thematic connection to Georgie James. “The idea is that it’s not going to help anyone holding onto a terrible experience. It says, ‘I don’t know what happened here, but I’ll figure it out eventually. Let it go.’ It’s about forgiveness.”

That healing theme continues with the dense, gorgeous heart-breaker “Right Place,” that looks back at a failed relationship, and closes with the line “I haven’t changed my mind, God knows I tried.” Burhenn said it was the last song written for the album.

“Until I wrote it, I didn’t think I had a song in this whole story that made peace with anything. That song went there,” she said. “There’s something sad and kind of mean at the end, but resigned. I tried to sing it from my perspective as well as imagining John Davis singing that song. The idea that we tried our best, it didn’t work, and it’s where it needs to be.

“The album is a very simple story about loss and recovery,” Burhenn concluded. “I turn to music to lift me out of dark times.”

With the album in the can, Burhenn said other labels were interested in releasing it, but that she stayed with Saddle Creek Records despite reservations she would be “mixing business with pleasure.”

“I was thinking, ‘These are my friends who I’ve grown to love. Is this healthy?’ But then I thought why wouldn’t I want to put out a record with people I trust and admire? Saddle Creek puts out records that they love or by people that they love. I always admired Saddle Creek because it’s like a found family.”

Burhenn once again looked to Orenda Fink to help put together yet another found family — her touring band The Mynabirds. The group is a who’s who of Omaha talent that includes Johnny Kotchian (drums), Dan McCarthy (bass and vocals), Pearl Lovejoy Boyd (vocals), Ben Brodin (guitars and vocals), and Alex McManus (guitars, horns, and vocals). Plans call for a short northeast tour in early June, followed by a full U.S. tour later in the year.

The Mynabirds play with The So-So Sailors and Jeremy Messersmith, Saturday, May 1, at Slowdown, 729 No. 14th St. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $8. For more information, visit