More on 1%’s acquisition of Sokol Auditorium (and who will book it); BFF tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 7:15 am June 4, 2021
Marc Leibowitz, left, and Jim Johnson outside Sokol Underground circa 2003.

I wrote about 1% buying Sokol Auditorium (with a couple partners) for The Reader three weeks ago, but because The Reader is a monthly, the story ended up getting scooped by the Omaha World-Herald. Such is the the sad realities of publishing a monthly newspaper.

That said, there’s much in my story (that went online yesterday) that isn’t the Herald’s story, and some stuff included in the Herald story not in mine, including how much money was involved — $1.6 million was the purchase price with plans to pour another $2.5 million into renovations, according to the OWH. That’s a big chunk, but a far cry from the $105 million (though I’ve heard final costs could exceed $150 million) for the Omaha Performing Arts “Steelhouse” project.

The Reader article includes more details about facility upgrades as well as the future of Sokol Underground. Go read it.

Some interesting facts that I didn’t have room for in The Reader article include that Mammoth likely will handle the bulk of bookings at the The Admiral. Based out of Lawrence and KC, Mammoth has been around forever.

“Mammoth is much bigger than we are,” said Marc Leibowitz in the interview for the story. “We have one buyer, they have seven and are going to take a bigger role in booking. We’re the ones in Omaha, so we’ll have a bigger role in facility management, staffing and day-to-day.”

Leibowitz went on to say Mammoth books the whole territory, and can route tours through the area. You may not realize it, but Mammoth has been booking in Omaha longer than 1%, including bringing shows to Sokol Underground back in the day as well as Cog Factory, working under monikers that included Avalanche and Hunt Industries.

A glance at their Facebook page shows Mammoth books a lot of shows at the Bottleneck in Lawrence, and at their primary venue, KC’s Uptown Theater, including St. Vincent Oct. 7. They’ve also got a Future Islands show at Liberty Hall Sept. 29. I always thought they were more into metal shows, and I think they booked a lot of them at Sokol Underground post-1%. Fact is, they’re going to have to book a wide variety of styles if they’re going to fill The Admiral on a regular basis. Mammoth is clearly working with the big-name indie bands; and though there will be no Sokol Underground for the smaller touring indie acts I love, there’s still Reverb, The Waiting Room, Slowdown and who knows who else…

. ) ) ) .

Here’s the story:

History in the Making
Sokol Auditorium to become The Admiral Theater

As important as Saddle Creek Records and its bands were to the Omaha music scene, so were Sokol Auditorium and Sokol Underground.

Located on South 13th Street in the heart of Omaha’s Little Bohemia, Sokol Auditorium was a barn of a venue. Owned and operated by the Sokol organization — a Czech-American group dedicated to the sport of gymnastics — the giant concrete structure was indeed a gymnasium as well as a balconied ballroom that hosted polka dances, wedding receptions and the occasional rock show. In the late ’90s and into the early 2000s, the facility’s basement — named Sokol Underground — was home to live touring indie rock bands, including acts that would make Omaha famous — Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint — and national indie stars like Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Interpol and Guided by Voices.

Those shows were booked and hosted by 1% Productions — the dynamic duo of Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson — who called Sokol Underground their home until they opened their own club — The Waiting Room in Benson — in 2007.

Now more than two decades later, 1% Productions has bought Sokol Auditorium as part of a trio of investors that includes Kansas City’s Mammoth Productions and Lincolnites Sean and Becki Reagan, formerly of Orange Whip Productions, who now operate The Bourbon Theater in Lincoln. In fact, all three of the above parties also purchased The Bourbon earlier this year.

For Leibowitz and Johnson, the acquisition of Sokol Auditorium is a dream come true.

“Sokol Auditorium was where we produced our first show (Ani DiFranco in 1997),” Leibowitz said. “We wanted to buy it since ’97, but it was never for sale.”

During the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sokol organization received an unsolicited offer to buy the building from an out-of-state promoter. Sokol then approached 1%, suggesting they also put in an offer. In the fall of 2020, with their partnership, they did. After much consideration by the Sokol organization, their offer was accepted, and they closed the deal on April 1.

I didn’t ask Leibowitz the price, but he did say it will cost more money to renovate the facility than what it cost to buy it.

Renamed The Admiral Theater as a sort of tribute to the classic movie houses that once populated Omaha (another 1% project, a La Vista-based venue/amphitheater about to break ground, is called The Astro), Leibowitz said rehab work will commence as soon as permits are in hand and will include a lot of modernizing to bring the building up to code. That means installing an elevator, fire suppression, an alarm system and modern HVAC. They’re also renovating and enlarging the bathrooms, adding real dressing rooms, production offices, showers and other amenities artists want.

“We’re rebuilding the infrastructure for the curtaining and rigging that was almost 100 years old,” Leibowitz said. “The sound and lights are being sold. We’ll have brand new sound and lighting. We’ll fly the PA from the roof of the building.”

The auditorium’s “tumbling room,” built over the entranceway steps, is being converted into a “VIP experience” that will require club membership for access. The VIP room, which will have its own bar and bathrooms, will open onto the auditorium’s balcony.

Speaking of bars, a “proper bar” will be constructed along the auditorium’s north wall that will include much higher-end offerings than the old Sokol.

“We’re trying to fix as much of the customer experience as possible,” Leibowitz said, “but we can’t fix the parking yet.”

The auditorium’s parking lot can support only a fraction of an audience that can attend a show. Leibowitz has plans to clear as many spaces as possible for customers, but “part of going to a show at Sokol is parking in the neighborhood,” he said. That’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

And while the name will change — in fact they legally cannot use the Sokol moniker — Leibowitz said they won’t completely erase the old Sokol.

“There’s going to be things that remind you of the historic nature of the building,” he said. “We’re keeping as many old touches as we can.”

The target for The Admiral’s grand opening is February 2022.

So what about the old Sokol Underground? Leibowitz said the facility’s basement that once hosted hundreds of indie rock shows (and also once had a four-lane bowling alley) will be treated as a separate business. “It’s not going to be a music venue,” he said. “We’re demoing it at the same time as the auditorium, putting in infrastructure, HVAC, elevator and bathrooms, and then we will sit on it a little while.”

Leibowitz sees the irony of no longer hosting shows in a room that played a big role in establishing 1% Productions, but he also can’t see a need for yet another 300-capacity club in Omaha.

The Admiral Theater, with a capacity of 1,400, will fill a unique entertainment void.

“The Holland Center’s capacity is around 1,900; the Ralston Arena around 3,500, Sumpter is around 2,500. Sokol has always held a unique position in terms of capacity,” he said.

In fact Leibowitz said many shows booked at smaller venues over the years would have been hosted at Sokol Auditorium if the venue wasn’t universally considered a dump.

“If the Sokol as an entity would have invested in their facilities, there wouldn’t have been a Waiting Room or a Slowdown, but they never did,” Leibowitz said.

Now it’s happening. The decision to go all-in on Sokol was a gutsy move taken at one of the most challenging times in our country’s history, when no one was sure what would happen with live entertainment. Leibowitz shrugs off the risk.

“I like our business, the music industry and our venues,” Leibowitz said. “The timing wasn’t great when the Sokol deal came up, but how do we not do it? It was our dream venue, something we wanted to do back when we were doing 20 shows a month in the Underground. We always thought it would be amazing if we could own this place.”

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

It’s the first Friday of June which means Benson First Friday. It’s a special Pride Month edition, which explains all the little Pride flags along the sidewalks throughout Benson. There’s lots of art throughout and DJs at a couple places but no live indie rock. See the full lineup of events here.

Show-wise, Matt Whipkey opens for The Samples Saturday night at The Waiting Room. $50, 7 p.m. Rex Granite Band is at Reverb Lounge Saturday night. $10, 7 p.m. That’s about it for shows. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. The world may be reopening, but rock ‘n’ roll hasn’t quite caught up with it. We’ll get there… Have a great weekend.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — 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 © 2021 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

1 Comment »

  • Infinite Video, Cable Network, and Owen Justice playing tonight at Down Under Lounge!

    Love your write up on this acquisition. Excited to see more from The Admiral!

    Comment by Cody Rathman — June 4, 2021 @ 2:39 pm

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