Column 236: Fest Vs. Fest Vs. Fest…

Category: Blog — @ 5:44 pm September 2, 2009

More notes from last weekend before we get to the column:

— A couple people commented at MAHA that Little Brazil was as good or better than any of the nationals that were on the big stage. They did sound particularly good, and it makes me wonder why others aren’t picking up on their potential (national press, etc.).
— Appleseed Cast was a droning wall of sound, atmospheric and somewhat interesting, though afterward no one would be able to hum one of their songs by memory as there’s no central melody to their music (or at least none that sticks out). Hopefully Old Canes, a band that shares some Appleseed members and that just signed to Saddle Creek, will be different.
— Army Navy were a fun band with a solid indie-pop sound that was culminated in the fact that they covered Maxine Nightingale’s “Right Back Where We Started From.” I’d like to see these guys again at TWR or Slowdown.
— We’re still waiting on official word of MAHA attendance. I’ve been being told (unofficially) that as many as 2,500 tickets were either sold or given away prior to Saturday, and that the landing was packed during G. Love, but that the crowd dwindled to around 400 for Dashboard Confessional. So the question isn’t whether MAHA lost money; the question is how much, and was it enough to pull the plug on a festival for next year. I hope not.

— Matt Beat, the guy behind the Nebraska Pop Festival, clarified that the new Mav Radio HD channel will in fact include all the indie and local music programming that’s now at the center of the station, and that the jazz/blues content (mentioned in the Gateway article) would be aired during overnight and hours when the station isn’t manned. Now if only people had HD radios…

— RAT Fest is the first effort of Derek Pressnall’s new event “production company” called OAF (Omaha Action Force). Look for more OAF events in the very near future.

Column 236: Festival vs. Festival
Three music festivals jockey for patrons on the same weekend.

We decided to leave the car parked in front of Malara’s since we were only six blocks from the address on the flier. We’ve all heard stories about this area of town, seen the walking dead along its sidewalks, read about bodies in dumpsters, have been told that it’s no place to go after dark. But we went anyway.

We made our way along 24th Street, open road under orange phosphor street lights, and didn’t see a soul let alone a dangerous one. We were fine until we got to Leavenworth and realized we were lost, peering into the closed and empty 11Worth Cafe, looking vainly from building to building, until we spotted a couple guys standing ominously in the shadow of a doorway of an unmarked building across the street.

“Hey guys, do you know where 2406 Leavenworth is?”

“What are you looking for?”

“It’s uh… well… uh… we’re looking for RAT Fest.”

It was nearing the end of a long weekend of festivals, with RAT Fest as the capper. It started Friday night with the Nebraska Pop Festival in Benson. The event actually had started the night before and would run through Sunday night. A four-night festival seemed like a tall order after an already long summer of multi-band festivals, most of them held in Benson. This one, a benefit for UNO’s Mav Radio, was a particularly hard sell since the majority of the bands were completely unknown in this market.

So it was no surprise to find upon entering The Waiting Room only about 20 people watching Talking Mountain put on a theatrical show complete with a small bank of colored lights, fog machine and the lead guy in his trademark hand-made furry monster mask. They were followed by a six-piece band from Seattle called Poland that played some amazing pop featuring two violinists, and a NYC band called Strega that sounded as if they had been weaned on Factory Records. Both bands had traveled to Omaha on their own dime — and weren’t making a dime that night — but seemed happy to be there anyway, playing to a crowd that consisted mostly of other band members.

Nebraska Pop Fest organizer Matt Beat said he was “disappointed” by the weekend’s turnout. “We only made $211 for the radio station,” he said. “Saturday night was the busiest night, but there were still only about 50 people there (that’s including band members).”

On the bright side, he said the bands were phenomenal and “no one seemed to mind that they were not getting paid for the event, despite some of them coming from overseas. As it turns out, if we had to pay the musicians, we would have lost money.”

The next day was The MAHA Festival at Lewis and Clark Landing. You couldn’t have asked for better weather, but it wasn’t enough to bring people to the event. When we arrived at around noon, maybe 100 folks were walking along the patio under Rick’s Boatyard Café, checking out the row of concessions while swabbing on free sunscreen offered by Alegent volunteers.

Appleseed Cast sounded pristine on the mammoth stage, if not loud. After their set, Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship played on a small stage atop a walkway just to the west of the main stage. The sound, again, was amazing for an outdoor venue. In fact, the whole MAHA Festival was well run, first-rate and professional. Too bad so few people saw it.

MAHA Fest organizer Tyler Owen didn’t have any attendance numbers to pass along on Monday, but said kudos should go to the folks on the ground and the volunteers. When we left after watching Little Brazil rip it up, there were between 200 and 300 people camped out on the patio. I’m told it filled up nicely later in the evening, but I’m guessing that ticket revenues didn’t come anywhere near what organizers had hoped for.

And then came RAT Fest.

Any fear we had moments earlier was gone as we made our way up the long dark stairway of the broken-down warehouse where we were greeted by a smiling young lady who took our $5 and directed us to the keg (free beer, but $5 for a cup, you know the drill).

The room — a former practice space for The Faint and Tilly and the Wall — looked like a converted Manhattan loft with a stage in one corner and a smattering of comfortable couches and chairs along the opposite wall. I had feared that RAT Fest would be a hipster fest, but there was nothing but smiling faces and people having a good time.

The one-man band Brainworlds played ambient noise-washes that sounded like an undersea sound track — the only thing missing was whale noises. After him, a new incarnation of Flowers Forever took the stage — a huge improvement over their original sound — dancier, more electronic and just more interesting. Six more bands followed before the “fest” ended before 3 a.m.

RAT Fest organizer Derek Pressnall (who fronts Flowers Forever) said around 350 people came through the door by the end of the night. “Not bad considering everything going on in the city and that I put it together a week and a half out,” he said.

Not bad indeed.

The three festivals were a portrait in contrasts: The overly ambitious four-night Nebraska Pop Fest vs. the mammoth scale of MAHA vs. RAT Fest’s one night in one room furnished in early poverty.

I’ll let you decide which was the most successful.

* * *

Tomorrow, Lincoln Calling info, family trees and the beginning of a brief vacation hiatus..

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