Column 137 — A Missed Opportunity? Sick Eyes…

Category: Blog — @ 5:50 pm August 15, 2007

This week’s column is a conglomeration of a number of blog entries from last week centered around Sunday’s Memorial Park Concert, with a few new touches added. The point: the Memorial Park Concerts could become an important series that not only brings the city together for a music event but could also attract out-of-towners, if only more thought went into the event itself.

Column 137: Park Life
Sweating to the youngies.
I knew I wasn’t going to go to the Plain White T’s concert in Memorial Park Sunday night long before the king-hell thunderstorm rolled in from the west, knocking out the power to my house, leaving me covered in a thin layer of sweat until 2 a.m. the next morning when the linesmen from OPPD finally switched the blown transformer back on.

The event had been promoted as a kids’ concert, part of the City of Omaha’s outreach program to impress high school age (and younger) youth that Omaha really is a cool place to live. Were adults even invited?

The series began two years ago with once-Omaha-now-Van Nuys band 311 celebrating the city’s 150th anniversary with a concert in Memorial Park. By most accounts, there were in excess of 25,000 people at that concert, so many people that it was crowded even on the south side of the hill.

So pleased with the concert’s success, the City tried it again last year with Bright Eyes, a less-than-household name even in Omaha. Still, people came out to see the local boy that all the misguided, jaded rock journalists were calling “the next Bob Dylan.” The crowd count varied from a reported 10,000-plus to my eyeball estimate of about half that. By the end of the concert, Conor Oberst’s new neighbors found themselves soaked to the skin in a sudden summer downpour.

Now this year comes Plain White T’s. There was once a time when a band that had a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was unavoidable — you couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing it spin in heavy rotation. Somehow, though, the T’s single, “Hey There Delilah,” had topped the chart and become the top dowloaded song on iTunes without being heard by anyone over the age of 14.

I dropped in on the Memorial Park concert at around 4:30 and already the storm clouds were beginning to form in the north. The brutal heat had been somewhat abated by overcast skies, but it was still muggy and uncomfortable. On stage was Pomoroy, a bland KC band that once-upon-a-time had a following in Omaha. It was by far the loudest concert I’ve ever heard in the park — painfully loud, earplug loud. Maybe it was so loud because there were so few sweaty bodies to muffle the noise.

I talked to a cop cooling off over by the water station at the top of the hill. “What do you think? Is there a 1,000 people here?” I asked, looking down at a smattering of people baking on sun-faded blankets in front of the stage.

“Oh sure, at least 1,000. Well, probably 1,000,” he said, taking a long swig of water. “A lot of people are hidden under the trees.”

The following day, the Omaha World-Herald reported that an unnamed city official estimated the pre-storm crowd at 10,000. No idea who this mysterious head-counter was or how he pulled that number out of his ass. Perhaps he was also counting every passenger in every car that drove by on Underwood Ave.

The cop said he and his crew had been “briefed” on the oncoming storm, and expected it to hit at around 6 p.m. Glancing at the gray sky, it looked like it could start pouring at any moment. I rode my bike home before the monsoon struck like a mini hurricane. After the storm passed, I was surprised to hear that the show had gone on, based on the muffled echoes of the band heard from my house at around 7 p.m. I figured they’d cancel, but I suppose the City figured they might as well play on since they were going to pay The T’s whether anyone was there to see them or not.

According to OWH: “(Mayor) Fahey spokesman Joe Gudenrath said he was pleased with the turnout, especially with the storm. ‘It’s really a testament to how popular the Plain White T’s are, that so many people would come back,’ Gudenrath said.”

Spoken like a man who’s spent the last few weeks explaining the decision to book a band that, before their single exploded, would have been hard-pressed to draw a decent crowd at Sokol Underground.

There are a couple lessons to be learned from the event. First, it’s time for the City to hire a real promoter to book these park shows. I have no idea how much the sponsors shelled out for The T’s, but one assumes that for the same cash they could have booked a band with broader appeal, someone like Wilco or Beck or The Arcade Fire, a quality band that not only would attract local crowds, but also people from Kansas City, Des Moines, even Minneapolis, out-of-towners who could be discovering Omaha for the first time.

But I guess the city figured it already had its one “adult” park concert this year — the 4th of July extravaganza. Unfortunately, their idea of “adult music” involves bands that haven’t released a record in more than 30 years. County-fair circuit acts like KC and the Sunshine Band or REO Speedwagon, has-beens that your grandparents would recognize.

Second, don’t host concerts in the park in the middle of August, when there’s always a good likelihood that the heat index will soar past 110. Why not hold these concerts in early October or late spring when it’s cooler outside? Fact is, if the weather’s good, two guys farting into a paper bag on stage will draw 2,000 people to Memorial Park for a free concert. In a town with few options, families are starving for something — anything — to do.

It’s a shame to see such a great opportunity go to waste. A Memorial Park concert series could become an entertainment cornerstone in Omaha — for people of all ages — instead of just another sweaty afternoon in the hot August sun.

Just about every online indie publication (and Saddle Creek Records) has reported that Bright Eyes has canceled its upcoming European dates (Aug. 15-19, including V Fest) due to “illness.” What kind of illness, no one is saying. The fine folks over at Omahype reported that Bright Eyes’ core member Nate Walcott performed with Dave Rawlings last night at The Waiting Room (and something tells me he’ll be playing with Gillian again tonight in Lincoln). Is this a classic case of Amy Winehouse-style “exhaustion”?

Tonight, Lawrence indie band Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk (myspace) plays at The Saddle Creek Bar with Bears. $5, 9 p.m. .

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