Column 301: Omahype Returns
The notorious music blog takes on a new life…
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
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.com.
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, omahype.com 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 Omahype.com 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 brightestyoungthings.com,” 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 brightestyoungthings.com, Omahype.com 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 thereader.com; the music-focused hearnebraska.org, which launches Jan. 24; towncommons.com, which provides a “personalized guide to events in Omaha;” the lilting underground-omaha.com; the Omaha World-Herald‘s Omaha.com; the bar-focused omahanightlife.com; local news/events website omaha.net, and, of course, good ol’ slamomaha.com, 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.com. “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.”
Omahype.com’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 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 © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.