Column 307: Local Boy Done Good (; The Reader reorgs; new Digital Leather; Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings…

Column 307: A Kind of Homecoming
Local boy Andy Norman launches

by Tim McMahan,

hearnebraskaTo understand the vision for — the new online music-directed website that is more than a website — you must understand its creator, Andy Norman. launched Monday morning. I’m not going to go into great detail here about the site because you can discover its multitudes on your own simply by typing into your browser. I will tell you that its goal is to provide resources and a voice for bands, artists and members of Nebraska’s creative class — as well as the businesses that support them — in an effort to make the state a globally recognized cultural destination. I know that because I helped write the mission statement.

Full disclosure: I’m on the Board of Directors, so bally-hooing the site will seem somewhat self-congratulatory until you realize I get nothing from its success other than knowing that Andy and his lovely wife, Angie, are one step closer on their quest to acquire health insurance.

It didn’t have to be that way. Norman could be sitting in a fancy office on K St. in Washington, D.C., right now contemplating his next deadline had he followed his initial career path.

OK, let’s start at the beginning.

Shortly after graduating with a degree in journalism from University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2003, Norman headed to Omaha to work with former Omaha World-Herald columnist Jim Minge and a cadre of others (including The Reader‘s own Eric Stoakes) to create Omaha City-Weekly, an alt-weekly competitor to The Reader, in 2004. His tenure as managing editor at OCW was short-lived, as he ended up at The Reader in June 2005, where, among other things, Norman was my boss as the paper’s managing editor.

Three years’ worth of deadlines later, and Norman left The Reader in May 2008. “I was looking for a new challenge and didn’t want to work for any other paper or alt weekly,” he said. “I just wanted to go back to school.”

He found a program that offered a Master’s in Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. “Basically, they teach you how to find and produce environmental stories by taking dry science and making it compelling,” he said. Norman paid his tuition by working as a grad assistant and editor of MSU’s award-winning EJ Magazine. He went on to spend the summer of ’09 covering environmental legislation on Capital Hill for Congressional Quarterly.

It all sounds very impressive, doesn’t it? “I had picked environmental journalism because I was trying to position myself and my career,” Norman said. “I wanted to learn about new media; I wanted to know how to transition in a rough journalism climate that hadn’t even gotten rough yet. I thought I was ahead of the curve.”

But something funny happened on the way to picking up his future Pulitzers — the economy died, along with journalism. “The housing bubble busted and the economy went to shit and no was buying newspapers anymore,” Norman said. “It was all about sports and entertainment. Lifestyle reporting was safe. Environmental journalists and foreign correspondents were disposable.”

Norman hadn’t even graduated from MSU yet and he was already second-guessing a career in environmental journalism. Instead, he and Angie were having drinks in a dive bar in Lansing and the conversation turned as it always did, to Nebraska music.

“We talked about how no one in Michigan knew about Nebraska music, and if they did know something it was only about Saddle Creek Records,” Norman said. “The idea popped up to create a statewide website that increased Nebraska’s music presence nationally.”

He took the idea to his advisors at MSU, and became Norman’s master’s project — a project that had nothing to do with the environment. “My advisors were incredibly supportive,” Norman said. “They said if you can make a job out of this or if it helps you get a job, we’re in no position to stand in your way. There was this air that no one had a fucking clue what was happening in journalism or how to navigate the waters, so they were open to it, and I had a pretty good pitch.”

Among his biggest supporters were Cliff Lampe, one of the founders of nerd/geek tech site, and Jonathan Morgan, a reporter for the New York Times and the Detroit News, who was behind a neighborhood hyper-local online application.

So after receiving his master’s in May 2010, Norman began to piece together the non-profit from his new home, back in Lincoln. Despite the unmistakable death knell of print journalism, with his credentials Norman still could have landed a cushy reporting gig somewhere. Instead, he followed his more financially modest dream.

Why didn’t he go for the money grab? “It’s not what I want,” Norman said. “I want to live comfortably. It would be great to have health insurance, but I lived in D.C. for a summer and worked for one of the best political papers in the country and I saw the lifestyle and how fast everything moved and how much I would have had to focus on my career as opposed to my family and friends, and that’s not what I wanted. I didn’t want to chase those ambitions.

“I’m proud of Nebraska, and I realized in Michigan that I had become this huge cheerleader for the state. I want to help it grow. I’m a Nebraska guy. It just makes sense to be here.”

* * *

Speaking of The Reader, there have been a ton of changes at the paper which you may or may not know about. The executive suite sees the departure of Sarah Wengert as Managing Editor. Sarah’s not leaving town, she’s just looking to try something new. You’ll be seeing her byline out and about in various publications, including The Reader. Her replacement is Sean Brennan, who you might recognize from the ol’ Omaha City-Weekly. But there’s also a bunch of new warm bodies that have been added to The Reader‘s torch pile, including news writer Lincolnite Hilary Stohs-Krause, a name you may recognize from the blog. And something I didn’t have room to mention in the above column — Andy Norman also continues to contribute to The Reader in a news capacity — you didn’t think he was paying his bills doing, did you?

And then there’s maybe the most earth-shaking change of all, a monumental shift that very likely will have a quantum impact on the Omaha music scene — Chris Aponick has been added to The Reader staff as its new music editor. I’m not sure what his actual title is, but Aponick is now responsible for assigning music coverage as well as writing the weekly “Backbeat” column.

In the driver’s seat for only a couple weeks and Chris already has snagged his first exclusive. In his column this week he reports that Digital Leather has signed a deal with Tic Tac Totally Records to release their upcoming album, Infinite Sun, sometime this summer. This is the album that was partially funded through a successful Kickstarter effort, so if you, like me, laid down some cash you’ll be getting your limited edition copy sometime soon. TTT is a Chicago label whose roster includes Bare Wires, Wavves, So Cow, Meercaz, and Omaha’s very own trash-punk deviants, The Shanks. Pssst… just between you and me, Digital Leather is one of my favorite local bands…

* * *

Finally, the Playing With Fire concert series announced yesterday that Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings is the headliner for their July 16 concert at Lewis & Clark Landing. It’s a huge announcement that sends shockwaves through the local festival circuit. SJ&theD-Ks is one of those bands that cuts through multiple genres — blues, R&B, rock and yes, indie — as well as age groups. Everybody thinks they’re cool because they are. Huge. Red Sky very likely never even considered booking them, but SJ/D-Ks would have been a perfect get for the MAHA Music Festival. This ups the ante even further. Can MAHA top it?

* * *

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 © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Top-20 List (theirs and mine); Hear Nebraska benefit tonight; Lash LaRue Toy Drive (Noah’s Ark) Saturday…

Category: Blog — Tags: — @ 7:33 pm December 3, 2010

by Tim McMahan,

The Reader‘s Top-20 / Next 15 list of the best local bands was not easy to derive this year.

As we do every year, the music reporting team at The Reader convened a few weeks ago at an Old Market restaurant/lounge with our lists in hand and then set about arguing back and forth over bands until a final list was agreed upon. Although there were many bones of contention that we gnawed on, there was one thing we all acknowledged: Man, the number of quality bands in Omaha has really dwindled. Adding to a general lack of new talent is the fact that a lot of bands and performers are just giving up and walking away from the music biz, which created one of the major argument points: Should we include bands that have broken up? I argued that even if a band disbanded sometime during the year it didn’t lessen its impact within that year — we are, after all, looking at the year that was, not that will be (that’s for the Next 10). But I lost the argument, and as a result, you didn’t see It’s True on The Reader‘s list even though the band made a sizeable impact during the first half of the year, including out-of-state touring and gigs at SXSW.

And, I would be willing to bet a body part that we haven’t heard the last of It’s True…

Anyway, it’s just a list. At the very least, it’s a good way to draw attention to a handful of artists who are making a mark locally and nationally. It’s just for fun (unless your band’s not on the list); and it gets people talking. I’ve been asked over the years about the selection criteria — the answer: It’s entirely subjective. Each writer approaches the selection his or her own way, and then it’s up to that writer to form a consensus among the other writers to include his or her bands on the list. At least 70 percent of a writer’s list matched the other writers’ lists — this isn’t rocket science. On the other hand, there were bands that were included on individual lists that reflect specific tastes and interests. For example, you won’t find any blues bands on mine. That doesn’t mean they don’t belong in the final draft. And so on. One oversight on my original list was Son of 76/Watchmen, who I simply forgot, but thankfully no one else did. Ain’t democracy grand? So…

Here’s the actual Reader Top-20 list:

Little Brazil
Talking Mountain
Southpaw Blues Band
Matt Cox Band
Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies
Darren Keen
Son of 76 & The Watchmen
Brent Crampton
Capgun Coup
Conor Oberst
Landing on the Moon
Satchel Grande
The Faint
Digital Leather
Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship
The Mynabirds
Simon Joyner
Matt Whipkey
Box Elders

And the actual Reader “Next 10” list:

All The Young Girls Are Machine Guns
So-So Sailors
Honey & Darling
Baby Tears
Once a Pawn
Dim Light
Platte River Rain

And as an act of full disclosure, here is my Top 20/Next 10 list submitted to The Reader as part of this process:

1. Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst
2. Cursive/Tim Kasher
3. Digital Leather
4. Box Elders
5. Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies
6. Little Brazil
7. The Mynabirds
9. Brimstone Howl
10. Mercy Rule
11. Conchance
12. Simon Joyner
13. Darren Keen
14. Talking Mountain
15. Landing on the Moon
16. Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship
17. Matt Whipkey
18. Capgun Coup
19. It’s True
20. Bloodcow

And here is my “Next 10”:

1. Conduits
2. So-So Sailors
3. Honey & Darling
4. Dim Light
5. Pharmacy Spirits
6. The Bruces
7. Yuppies
8. Baby Tears
9. Once a Pawn
10. McCarthy Trenching

I hope next year there’s a lot more arguing due to having so many more new bands to choose from. I’ll leave it at that.

* * *

It’s another quiet weekend of shows. If you’re in Lincoln, head over to the Hear Nebraska fund-raiser at The Bourbon Theater’s front room. is a nonprofit website that’s yet to launch designed to support local music. I’ve heard none of the three performers’ music before (Sean Sparks and the Wounded Animals, Bandit Sounds and Orion Walsh), but what do you want? It’s a benefit, fercrissake. $5, 9 p.m. Here’s a video commercial about the event.

Tomorrow night is another benefit, this time at The Waiting Room for Lash LaRue’s Toy Drive. Among the bands slated to perform are Reader Top-20 band Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship, along with Vago and “Next 10” band All Young Girls Are Machine Guns. Show starts at 9 and admission is either $10 or an unwrapped toy of equal value.

* * *

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.


Little Black Stereo says goodbye; wants you; Lincoln Calling additions; Fruit Bats, Yuppies, Peace of Sh*t tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 12:44 pm August 26, 2010

by Tim McMahan,

Nick Semrad of Little Black Stereo emailed to say that LBS is calling it quits. In fact, tonight’s show at The Barley Street Tavern is their last Omaha gig. Tomorrow’s Zoo Bar show in Lincoln is the band’s official “last show.”

I asked Nick what the story was behind the breakup. “Well, part of it stems from a guitar player moving to Nashville, and I’m headed to LA within the year to be a session player…” he said.

Despite their long history, I’ve never seen a full set by LBS. It’s not like I’ve gone out of my way to avoid them, it’s just been one of those things. Also playing LBS’s farewell show are Landing on the Moon, Lawrence band Cowboy Indian Bear and Barley Street regular Kyle Harvey. $5, 9 p.m.

* * * isn’t the only new effort designed to improve your online search for music news. The Reader is in the process of a bottom-up redesign of its website at I’ve seen the initial drafts, and they’re a huge improvement over what’s out there now. As part of the process, The Reader is asking folks to take a little survey and tell them what they’d like to see on their new site. That means you, so click here and fill the dang thing out. Watch for the new Reader website to launch in the very near future.

* * *

Lincoln music promoter and all-around good guy Jeremy Buckley says that if you want in on the discounted $30 pass that will get you into all of this year’s Lincoln Calling performances, you’ve got ’til the end of the day. The discounted tickets can be purchased online from etix, here. Tomorrow, the price goes up to $40.

There’s also a brand new Lincoln Calling website that just went online at that will answer all your questions about the festival, and includes performance schedules, venue and ticket info, everything.

Buckley also announced today that he just locked in a handful of additional bands and performers for this year’s festival, and they are:

Andreas Kapsalis and Goran Ivanovic Guitar Duo

Blue Martian Tribe

Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies

Carrot Carrot


Dirty Talker

Down With the Ship

The Envy Corps

The Filter Kings

The Flatliners

High Art

If Only He Had the Power

The Killigans

Landing on the Moon

Little Brazil

The Machete Archive


Midland Band

Mitch Gettman


Pablo’s Triangle

Pecha Kucha Volume 3

Pharmacy Spirits

The Photo Atlas

The Renfields

Ted Stevens



The Vingins

Voodoo Method

Those additions bring the total number of bands and performers to around 100, which has got to make this the biggest music festival in Nebraska. Lincoln Calling is Sept. 29-Oct. 2.

* * *

There’s a lot happening tonight in addition to the LBS swan song concert:

Tonight at O’Leaver’s, noise-riot-punk brawlers Peace of Shit is headlining a show with Mosquito Bandito and The Spooks. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Also tonight, Sub Pop band Fruit Bats are playing at The Waiting Room with Nathaniel Rateliff and Hospital Ships. $10, 9 p.m.

And finally, everyone’s favorite messed-up art punk garage kids, The Yuppies, are playing at The Hole with Daikaiju (Alabama surf-rock), Ampline (Cincinatti rock rock), and Butchers. $5, 8 p.m.

* * *

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.


Column 273; R.I.P. City Weekly?; High Art, Baby Tears tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 10:16 am June 3, 2010

Like last week’s column, this week’s column is a retread of old blog content, due to the fact that all of The Reader‘s deadlines were pushed back four days because of Memorial Day. That means Column 273 is/was this review of last Thursday’s Thunder Power CD release show — ancient history, I know. By the way, a couple people commented on that review, including one that translated the alien-robot-language singing quoted in the story:

Ar-ee op-bop whep bep bay / Op bet tee.”


Sorry ’bout winning this one… for the team…

A clever line. I wonder if the rest of the lyrics are that good.

Week-early deadlines mean outdated columns. But I guess I shouldn’t be complaining about deadlines, considering the word on the street is that The Omaha City Weekly is ceasing publication. While I haven’t confirmed that directly from the horse’s mouth, one of the paper’s columnists — MarQ Manner — made the statement on Facebook, and a non-City Weekly editor said the same thing. If it is true, it’s the end of an era. The City Weekly has been around for a long time. Not as long as The Reader, but long enough to be a legacy in this town. Its closure would drop the number of weeklies from four to three (The Reader, Shout! and Go!). I’m sure the survivors are rejoicing, but anytime you lose a publication it’s one less outlet for readers… and writers. Manner said he intends to continue writing his column for Shout! I have no idea what’s going on with CW music critic Will Simons. Hopefully he also will land on his feet, though he’s plenty busy with his band Thunder Power, which just released an EP and is working on a full length. I’ve read and enjoyed Simons’ stuff for years. Just like I enjoy MarQ’s column and Kevin Coffey’s writing (and Niz’s and Christine Laue’s before him at The OWH). For a brief time, I taught a News Editing class at UNO in the evenings. I always told my students that despite the elbowing-though-the-crowd, get-the-story-before-the-other-guy competitive nature of journalism, as a writer I never felt as if I was in competition with anyone — especially fellow writers and critics. And I still don’t. You can only learn from other writers and their work. They should inspire you, not threaten you. We’re all trying to do the same thing — express ourselves and our opinions through the written word. I’ll leave the competition to the publishers, who have to duke it out for advertising dollars in order to pay our meager wages (and I mean meager).

Anyway… I’ll believe the CW is dead and gone when I don’t see it on the stands for more than a month. They went through a similar shut-down earlier this year, only to return from the dead.

* * *

There are two solid shows going on tonight. At The Waiting Room, it’s the Omaha stage debut of High Art, Darren Keen’s new project, which I wrote about in some detail right here. Also on the bill are stdz and DJ Kobrakyle. $7, 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, at O’Leaver’s, it’s Doom Town Records‘ crown jewel Baby Tears, with Capricorn Vertical Slum (ex-Vampire Hands) and La Casa Bombas. $5, 9 p.m.