In the aftermath of MAHA: What went right, what went wrong and where to go next…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , , — @ 12:51 pm July 26, 2010
Superchunk at The MAHA Music Festival, Omaha, 7/24/10

Superchunk at The MAHA Music Festival, Omaha, 7/24/10.

by Tim McMahan,

A more comprehensive review of MAHA’s music will appear as Wednesday’s column/blog entry, (though I found that 1,000 words wasn’t enough). The lead for that column: Have the MAHA Music Festival organizers gotten the monkey that was last year’s failure off their backs? The answer, probably, is yes.

I think no matter how you look at it, the festival worked. I certainly had a good time and so did the folks I spoke with. My personal highlight was Superchunk, whereas I think The Faint was probably the big winner — they’ll be the ones that people remember most. Spoon was merely OK, but I’ve never thought Spoon was a very good live band (I think they’re a very good recording project, though their new album is limp).

MAHA organizer Tre Brashear said that scanned ticket attendance was just over 4,000 (They won’t give actual ticket sale info). I thought the crowd seemed larger than that, especially during The Faint (When Spoon started its set, people began to head home). For a crowd that size, everything ran smoothly, which is a credit to Brashear, his team and their crack staff of volunteers.

Still, as is the case with any festival, there were problems. A couple people were arrested: “One idiot punched his girlfriend.  Another idiot punched the son of the Omaha City Prosecutor,” Brashear said. And apparently MAHA was unable to provide free waterbottle refills throughout the entire day — which is a concern at any outdoor festival. Brashear said it’s “the thing we’re most disappointed in ourselves about.” I didn’t notice it and didn’t hear about it until I read a complaint on Twitter after the show.

From a profitability standpoint: “Even though our attendance was below the 4.5K we were planning on, we came out ahead because of our beverage sales,” Brashear said. “We sold out of everything.  At the end, all we had left was Bud Light.” This underscores one obvious tragic misstep by organizers: I was unable to find a Rolling Rock anywhere on the festival grounds. Along with the water problem, this is something the MAHA committee must solve in 2011.

Brashear said he and the rest of the MAHA brain trust are going to “decompress” over the next couple of weeks and then begin planning for next year’s event. The two questions that burn brightest in my mind: Where will it be held and who will they invite?

I assume that they consider this year’s event a smashing success. Still, one has to consider that concerts like River Riot (or whatever it’s called) sell three to four times as many tickets as MAHA, thanks to the shitty pop bands that they book. If MAHA is going to keep its refined indie focus, it could take a long time until they hit those kinds of numbers — such is the nature of indie music. I’d hate to see them buckle under and book an 89.7 FM-style roster of bands to boost ticket sales.

In retrospect, this year’s main stage roster was a tip o’ the hat to ’90s-’00s indie — the kind of music that the organizers grew up listening to (presumably). Old ’97s, Superchunk, Spoon, The Faint, even Ben Kweller had his best music in the earlier half of the ’00s. The festival would garner a younger audience if it tried to book more up-and-coming acts, such as Sleigh Bells, MIA, Wavves, The National, Foals, Band of Horses, New Pornographers, along with the usual legacy acts. If they want to extend this event to two days, they’re going to need to book a couple huge bands — one to anchor each day. And I mean Pixies/REM/Wilco huge. That’s pricey. And risky. There are also those who think the line-up should be more diverse stylewise. Bottom line: You’re never going to please everyone.

Interestingly, the most modern bands were on the second stage, which is another thing MAHA needs to fix in 2011. The second stage was an abomination both soundwise and viewing-wise (unless you like your retinas burned off by the setting sun). If MAHA decides to stay at Lewis & Clark Landing, they’ve got to figure out the second stage “problem.” Maybe they can merely move it to the east side of the main stage, with the Mighty Mo as a backdrop.

More likely, MAHA will move to a new location that allows camping — that’s certainly part of the organizers’ vision. So is getting more involved in “the local scene.” The No. 1 criticism with the festival is their process for selecting the small stage bands — no one likes battle-of-the-bands contests where entrants perform for free. It’s cheap and humliating. It’s time that MAHA grow a pair and start selecting the bands themselves, or work with someone involved in the local scene to help select local bands. Considering the amount they pay bands for the event, they have their pick of the best Lincoln and Omaha have to offer.

Anyway… more recap Wednesday.


  • I think a homerun booking for next year’s headliner would be The Flaming Lips.

    Comment by Bart — July 26, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

  • “This underscores one obvious tragic misstep by organizers: I was unable to find a Rolling Rock anywhere on the festival grounds.”

    Pretty sure that if they brought in a 12 pack of RR for you they’d still have 6 to take back to their warehouse. the Tallgrass was a good move, they just should have had more of it. Or how about local brew, Lucky Bucket.

    Comment by Rob — July 26, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  • my only complaints were the way that the blue tent over the soundboard blocked the view of the stage from a large portion of the grounds and the use of drink tickets. i suppose i can understand the tickets from a logistical standpoint, but they sure seem like an attempt to squeeze out a few extra dollars from unused tickets, particularly when you run out of everything but bud light.

    Comment by Dylan — July 26, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

  • the city prosecutor’s son…. hahahaha… brilliant. I agree, re: choosing the local bands. I wish they’d put a lot more creativity into this, vs. mimicking what other festivals do. Get weird, this festival business is an art form. I’m happy it’s happening in Omaha now, though.

    Comment by Annie — July 26, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

  • Enjoyed your take on the event, and looking forward to reading more.

    However, I think your list of “up and coming bands” is a little off. How does an act like Sleigh Bells—flavor of the summer critical darlings with a debut a few months old—get lumped in with The New Pornographers, whose best work comes from that early 00s period you were talking about? Both great bands, but from The National to Wavves, I think your choices were a little disjointed.

    Agree that there is more work to be done on the local band selection process. Still, as it turned out, I think the locals acquitted themselves more than professionally. Just had to bring sun glasses to prove it…

    Comment by Jordy — July 27, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

  • I see where you’re coming from, Jordy, except that the new New Pornographers CD is (in my humble opinion) the best one they’ve ever made (better than anything they did in the early ’00s) and also has spent the past couple months in the CMJ top-20. The National also is a top CMJ band. despite being around for a few years. I think they could get Sleigh Bells and Wavves at a bargain basement price (at least compared to Pornographers/National).

    Comment by TMac — July 27, 2010 @ 5:54 pm

  • What are they putting in the water in Omaha? Spoon was OK? The Faint killed? I have to question your judgment. Just because there were more people at one set than the other doesn’t mean it was better. The Faint have a simple formula that was old after their third song. They are like watching the Transformers movies. Flash and redundancy.
    I was glad the crowd thinned out. That meant I didn’t have to spend time with half the drunk wankers.
    I also thought the second stage sucked. I came to see Spoon and the Mynabirds. I was disappointed that the Mynabirds didn’t have a better set up. Couldn’t they have put the second stage on the south end of the landing?
    Next years headliner possibilities:
    Animal Collective
    Wolf Parade

    Comment by Ab — July 28, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

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