Where to now, Maha? (in the column) and one guy’s view of where it should go…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 12:42 pm August 16, 2012

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

The Maha Blackbird

The Maha Blackbird

In this week’s column, sizing up Maha and getting a bead on its future from Maha organizer Tre Brashear. With this year’s record crowd, does the festival have room to grow or will it be content being a one-day concert event? Read it in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here.

Some other thoughts about Maha…

One of the most successful things about this year’s festival had nothing to do with the performances. Two years ago, no one knew what Maha looked like. This year with the help of Oxide Design, Maha became a recognizable brand that resonates with its audience. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like that blackbird emblem. You don’t get 40 people tattooing that symbol on their bodies unless they think it’s cool. It looks good on posters on T-shirts on everything and I have a feeling we’re going to see it all over town all year ’round. I don’t know what it cost the Maha folks, but it was worth every penny. Maha now has a graphic identity, and I can’t even begin to tell you how important that is.

In its fourth year, Maha took its first real step in defining itself. As successful as it was, Maha can’t be satisfied with merely repeating what it accomplished this year. If year five is just another one-afternoon/evening concert event it’ll be wasting any momentum gained last weekend. They’ve got to do something different and better in 2013.  So what would I do if I was running Maha and didn’t have to concern myself with such things as budgets and schedules and sponsors and vendors and the legacy the festival has built?

Raise the ticket price. If what they’re saying is true, Maha is henpecked by its thirty-something-dollar ticket price when it comes to being able to draw larger-name band(s). Price the festival in conjunction with what your biggest name’s tickets would sell for. Jane’s Addiction is $45-$65. Morrissey is $55+. We gladly pay for these shows that feature really only one band (We don’t even think about who’s opening). With Maha, you could pay for the headliner and get the rest of the festival for free. That’s a good deal, especially if you’ve got a couple additional kick-ass bands on the docket.

Ease into expansion. When they talk about goals, the Maha folks rarely mention attendance numbers; instead they talk about wanting to expand the festival to a full weekend. What’s the easiest way to expand Maha to two days? Start it the night before. Book the park for two (or three) days. Set up the stages on Day One and work the bugs out of the system by hosting an evening of bands the night before the main day. Maybe only use the small stage. Bring in the vendors; open the beer garden. Make it a pre-show party from 7 to 11. Get people psyched about tomorrow. You might even sell some more tickets to the big show. (And yes, get a headliner for the preview night, and charge for it. Sell a package that gets you into both.)

Decide on a theme. The Maha folks seem to have more luck booking legacy indie acts than current indie high fliers. Look at the past four years of headliners; Garbage (’90s band), GBV (’90s band), Superchunk/Spoon (’90s bands) Dashboard Confessional (dreadful ’90s band). I see a theme here, and it ain’t necessarily a bad one. To my knowledge, there’s no festival that’s declared itself as “thee” national classic indie rock festival. Maha could be that festival. We’re talking booking ’90s legends like The Pixies, Pavement, Cat Power, Sonic Youth, Dead Can Dance, Ride, Daft Punk, Pulp, Jesus Lizard, Stereolab, Weezer, Portishead, GYBE, Aphex Twin Cocteau Twins, Sugar/Bob Mould, Magnetic Fields, Built to Spill, Chavez, Jeff Mangum/NMH, The Lips, friggin’ Fugazi, heck just about anyone on Matador / Touch and Go / Sub Pop / Merge / Mute / Thrill Jockey / 4AD / Drag City from the ’90s (or before), The trick, of course, is getting more than one, and market them as if they were gods.

And no, I’m not suggesting this because I’m an old guy who likes “his music.” If given a choice between listening to a new album recommended by Chris Aponick or Jeff Runnings or that scores high on Album of the Year versus listening to a ’90s album I’ll pick the new album every time. The fact is that  Lolla, ATP, Pitchforkfest, Coachella and SXSW have cornered the market on attracting the hottest new indie acts (not to mention all the UK festivals). There’s only so many weekends per summer and you’re never going to be able to compete with those huge festivals for those weekends. But as Maha has proven, they can get the ’90s bands. And believe me, folks in their 30s and 40s will take time off work and travel if they think they’re getting something that can’t get anywhere else.

Reunited (and it feels so good). To coincide with that ’90s theme, host at least one, if not two, classic Omaha or Lincoln band reunions. Think about the possibilities: Mousetrap, Sideshow, Ritual Device, Secret Skin, Cellophane Ceiling, Digital Sex, Grasshopper Takeover/The Kind, Secret Skin, Cactus Nerve Thang, Culture Fire, Commander Venus, Fullblown. A one-time reunion of one of these bands would actually sell tickets versus Maha’s current model, which places bands that play regularly around town on the second stage. Icky Blossoms was awesome and one of my favorite performances from this year’s festival. They’re also playing Sunday night at Slowdown.

Get them there early. I know I know I know I know — no “headliner”-quality band wants to play at 2 p.m. You’ve got all this money riding on a band, you can’t afford to waste it by putting them on stage to play for crickets. I’m just saying, for one year, try it. Maybe you can get a band headed to Lawrence or KC willing to play an early afternoon show on their way to Missouri. Imagine how much your vendors would appreciate have a few thousand people in the park at 2 p.m.

What else?

I realize this was their fourth year, but in a lot of ways, this was Year 1 for Maha. It’s emerged with a new identity and is riding a wave of success. The organizers are going to face some big decisions in the coming months that will determine if Maha will become the festival that they want it to be, or will remain just another concert in the park…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


  • Half your all 90s headliner premise is shaky. Sure Spoon released two albums in the late 90s but all of their commercial success and public relevance happened in the last ten years. Dashbore didn’t even release anything until 2000, according to wikipedia

    Comment by Chris — August 16, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

  • You’re right of course. Dashboard’s big moment was in the early 2000s. That was still a decade ago. That guy was a has-been by 2005. Spoon… a lot of the bands I listed are still very much active. I guess the point was these guys aren’t exactly cutting edge anymore.

    Comment by tim-mcmahan — August 16, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

  • I would have zero qualms paying $10-30+ more per ticket for expanded possibilities in booking. That’s still an affordable ticket; people have most of a year to save up. If parking remains free and drink prices stay reasonable, the audience is still money ahead.

    You’ve suggested a lot of great acts. I was just thinking today that Portishead would be an amazing “get” for Maha.

    Comment by ihatesnow — August 16, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

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