Column 27 — VH1 raids Omaha?

Category: Blog — @ 12:17 pm May 25, 2005

When I say VH1 has talked to almost everyone in town, I mean everyone. You name it, and Eli Lehrer has talked to it. Like I say below, it’s a departure from the usual national media coverage: A reporter blows into town, hangs out at the Saddle Creek offices, goes to a Saddle Creek show, goes to The Brothers with Saddle Creek staff, and then leaves. A month later the writer’s definitive article about “the Omaha scene” comes out, and it doesn’t mention a single band that’s not affiliated with the label. I can’t say I blame the writer — it’s the Creek bands that will be playing at Webster Hall or North Six in the coming months, not The Monroes or Kite Pilot. Still, when you say you’re covering the Omaha scene, you gotta go beyond Creek, or else you’re really just covering Creek. VH1 sounds like it’s going beyond Creek, but something tells me all the hoopla’s for nothing…

Column 27: Behind the (Omaha) Music
Why is VH1 sniffing around town?

Just when you thought that every media outlet already had passed though our fair city looking for the Next Big Thing, out of the blue comes an e-mail from Eli Lehrer of VH1 Development.

Seems Lehrer had been sicced on Omaha by one of the powers that be at the cable station to find out all he could about the Omaha music world. Lehrer wanted to know if I, too, would be willing to share my breadth of knowledge with him.

Turns out I wasn’t the first person that Lehrer had contacted. Far from it. He’d already talked to a number of local scenesters and musicians, and they all wanted to know the same thing: What does VH1 want with Omaha?

Sure, the Omaha indie music scene is now world-renowned thanks to Bright Eyes, The Faint, Cursive and the rest of the bunch at Saddle Creek Records, but isn’t indie just a tad bit off the mark for a station whose prime demographic appears to be 30- to 40-year-old housewives? On the other hand, I admit that I watch VH1 tons more than MTV and its embarrassing menu of sophomoric “real life” humiliation plays, bling-bling-powered look-at-my-shit “Cribs” shows, and 24/7 T&A spring-break extravaganzas, none of which have anything to do with music. VH1 is now the closest thing to “music television” on Omaha cable — from the classic “Behind the Music” series to last year’s “Bands Reunited,” which I proudly programmed into my TiVo Season Pass list.

After a few back-and-forths, Lehrer and I finally met over the phone, where we talked for a couple hours about the Omaha music scene beginning back in the ’90s through the glamorous present. It quickly dawned on me that Lehrer and his unnamed VH1 Sith Lord had something different in mind than the usual New York Times/Fader/Spin magazine pieces that only looked at Omaha through Saddle-Creek-colored blinders. In the past, whenever a national journalist called for expert perspective, they weren’t in the least bit interested in anything beyond Saddle Creek. Every time I listed a dozen or so other great local bands, the writer would clear his throat and say, “That’s nice, but what’s Conor really like?”

That didn’t happen with Lehrer. In fact, most of our time was spent talking about Omaha’s incubator-like environment for creating unique singer-songwriters who seem uninterested in “making it big.” Instead, they’re busy trying to line up a gig down at O’Leaver’s, or figuring out ways to get studio time or buy a van for their next tour.

Like the half-dozen or so that spoke to him before me, I pointed Lehrer in the direction of a half-dozen others who I thought could add their own perspective to the Omaha story. Though weeks into his research he said he still hadn’t spoken to anyone from Saddle Creek — yet another sign that this wasn’t going to be just another Conor lovefest.

But what exactly was it going to be? The Fabulous Life of Matt Whipkey? I Love The ’90s Omaha-style? An Episode of Storytellers featuring Simon Joyner? Lehrer didn’t know and couldn’t even say if anything would ever come of the interviews.

But one thing’s for certain — the project isn’t over yet. Lehrer said he’ll be visiting Omaha sometime in the next couple weeks to put faces to names. When I told him I was writing a column about his research, he became skittish and quickly called me, imploring that I not make a big deal about it, emphasizing that the odds are good that nothing will ever come of it.

But, of course, something already has. Whether or not a VH1 camera crew ever lands at Eppley, the fact that the channel is interested in Omaha music — and not just Saddle Creek — is a pretty good sign that people are beginning to wonder what undiscovered treasures lurk in Omaha that Saddle Creek hasn’t discovered.

Look for an interview/profile of Kasabian online tomorrow morning.

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