Column 79 — Omaha, where the music is easy…

Category: Blog — @ 12:21 pm June 1, 2006

You have to admit, seeing live music really is a bargain in this town. We do have it good here. And it’s not only pricing, it’s the variety of shows, the sheer number of shows throughout the year. A few years ago, I was contemplating moving to Austin, figuring the weather was nicer and they had a better music scene. After a few extended vacations there, I changed my mind. It was too expensive. It would cost me three times as much to buy a house there like the one I have now. The bars on 6th St. were always overcrowded. And other than Emo’s and one or two other places, the music was mostly alligator blues or C&W… icch! I quickly realized that a lot of the bands that I liked that played in Austin eventually made it to Omaha, anyway. There were exceptions, though (there are always exceptions). A few bands that I’ve always wanted to see perform live — Silkworm, Yo La Tengo, Lloyd Cole, Morrissey, to name a few — just don’t make sense to local promoters when you consider the Cost/Draw Ratio — that’s the cost it would take to get the band to play here vs. the band’s drawing power in this city. For example, Silkworm, though hugely popular in Chicago and on the East Coast, would never draw enough people here to even come close to breaking even (that’s probably not a good example as Silkworm are no longer playing live after the tragic death of their drummer, Michael Dahlquist, in 2005). Anyway, I guess that’s what road trips are for. The message: get out and see see some live shows. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and when you show up and buy a CD or T-shirt, you’re helping a band that you love do what they love to do. It’s a better use of your money than dropping $20 to see The Da Vinci Code… Take advantage of what you’ve got here… before it’s gone.

Column 79: Flyover Country
Will cheapskates kill our scene?

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day about a show at one of our many fine establishments taking place that very evening. Never mind which show or where it was — doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this person loved the band and had for years. You going tonight? “No,” he said, “I like the band and all, but sheesh, $12? That’s way too much.”

Twelve dollars too much to see a band that this guy goes on and on about all the time? It’s the cost of a movie and a fizzy drink at your local Cineplex, about a third of what it costs to fill up your car and the amount you wouldn’t think twice about paying for a good CD. Twelve dollars — the price to see not one, but three bands, including a touring national act whose videos have aired on MTV, perform live for your enjoyment for one night only.

Well, let me let you in on a little secret, folks: Quality national bands are starting to pass Omaha by. That’s nothing new, but in the past year or so, it’s started to become more and more commonplace… again. Why? Because Omaha is known as a cheap-ass town when it comes to ticket prices, at least as far as mid-tier indie acts are concerned.

We’ve had it good here for so long that we’ve forgotten what it was like before Omaha became ground zero for the burgeoning national indie scene a few years ago. There now is an entire generation of concertgoers who don’t know what it’s like to have to drive to Lawrence or Denver or Minneapolis to see their favorite indie bands. Whether it was because of Saddle Creek Records or the tenacity of the two or three local promoters who keep the circus in town, Omaha became a destination spot for indie rock tours — no longer a gas-and-go drive-through city.

Well, things have changed. Bands that made Omaha a tour stop over the past few years aren’t so eager to make the stop again. Why should they when the night before they sold out a venue twice the size of Sokol for a ticket that cost twice as much? Suddenly taking a day off instead of playing here is looking a whole lot better.

I talked about the issue with a number of promoters last week. Some say I’m full of poo-poo. That Omaha ain’t New York or LA and that prices should be lower here. But others say it is a problem, and gave specifics. No one wanted to be quoted for fear of making their patrons sound like cheap-jack hustlers.

Regardless, look at the facts: When Gomez, one of the more popular indie bands with a broad age demographic, played here last month, they did it for the lowest ticket price of their entire tour — $15. Most of their gigs were in the $20 range, and their show at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium was $25… and sold out. The Omaha show only drew around 300. Wonder if they’ll stop by here again.

It’s not entirely our fault that we’ve become spoiled. Take the Saddle Creek/Team Love bands, for instance. The Faint and Bright Eyes charge twice as much for shows in other cities than they do here. Friday’s Tilly and the Wall show is only $5. Tilly’s charging $12 the following night in Des Moines. These bands play on the cheap because they feel indebted to the town that gave them their start. Nothing wrong with that, except that we’ve come to expect it, while the rest of the country is paying the going rate.

Is it just an indie thing? Sounds like it, when dinosaur acts at the Qwest Center sell out $100+ shows in less than an hour, and craphole (or kraphole) bands like Kottonmouth Kings have no problem drawing their usual head-banging crowd at $34 a pop. Suddenly $12 to $15 doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

But apparently it is. Omaha’s sweet spot when it comes to indie shows has always been $8 to $10. Once you get in the teens, it becomes a crap shoot for the promoters. Yet most mid-tier indie bands are now demanding at least that much to make it worth their time. The ones that do play here leave angry because they’ve made half as much as they did the night before, at a show that sold out.

It comes down to this: Ticket prices are going up eventually. Say bye-bye to the under-$10 show except for nights that feature “experimental,” up-and-coming local or unknown acts. The $12 to $15 (and $20 to $25) ticket looms large on the horizon. And if you want to keep your favorite indie bands coming here, you better show up and lay it out. If you pay it, they will come. If you don’t…

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