Oh, Maha Music Festival, what has become of thee…? 

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 8:15 am February 22, 2024
The location where the Maha Music Festival was to be held in 2024…

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

Last Thursday morning, I (along with other donors) received an email from Maha Music Festival President T.J. Twit that announced the decision by the Maha Board to “pause the festival in 2024 in consideration of upholding the Maha brand experience and its future sustainability and scalability.”

Wait, what?

The decision was made, Twit wrote, because over the past few years “the worldwide festival industry has faced an unprecedented increase in costs for talent, transportation, labor, security and insurance.” In fact, he said, costs increased about 50%. The Board also considered Maha Festival’s “model and forecasted resources,” which sounded like a veiled reference to the fact that two of Maha’s primary organizers, Emily Cox and Rachel Grace, both resigned from Maha last September, just months after the Maha announced it was moving the festival from Stinson Park in Aksarben Village to the newly remodelled Heartland of America Riverfront Park in downtown Omaha.

The plan for ’24 was to bring in a contracted production company to operate Maha’s day-of-show production and festival operations . For, as Twit said in this November 2023 article, “We signed a contract with MECA and as of right now plan on having a two-day festival the last week of July (2024).” 

But after months of searching, the organization never settled on a production company, who knows why but one assumes overall cost had something to do with it. There also were questions regarding how the Maha organization could mobilize the 800 volunteers who helped put on the festival in 2023 – a year that saw the return of pre-pandemic-sized crowds, with 12,000 in attendance over the festival’s two days (but that’s still more than 2,000 short of the record attendance enjoyed in 2019).

Last year’s fest suffered its share of bumps, one brought on by the weather. At one point during the Saturday festivities, Stinson Park had to be evacuated due to storm warnings. The evacuation and the dreadful process of getting everyone back into the park ate into afternoon concession sales. That wasn’t the only hit — Maha didn’t host food vendors inside festival grounds last year, either, forcing concert-goers to leave the park if they wanted to get something to eat. 

Add those hits to the “unprecedented increase in costs” and money becomes a central concern, especially when you’re moving to a new location where some costs are uncertain. 

Maha wasn’t the only long-running festival to cancel in 2024. Memphis’ Beale Street Music Festival, Detroit’s Mo Pop Festival and Columbia Missouri’s Treeline Festival also were casualties, and NME has written about how a number of festivals in the UK have been cancelled or postponed due to not being “economically feasible.” That NME article points to continued escallating costs in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Twit said in his letter that “Maha’s Board of Directors will spend 2024 recalibrating and exploring options and opportunities for Maha Festival to return in 2025, including looking into national partnerships.” National partnership? What could that mean? Perhaps National sponsors? “The Maha Festival, brought to you by Pizza Hut?” Maybe… If so, be prepared for drastic changes in format. It would be a shame if Maha moved away from the recipe — and the kind of musical line-ups — that made it so unique.

Immediately after the announcement, a number of local “experts” took to social media and declared the end of the Maha Festival, saying 2023 will wind up being its last year. Many of those “experts” have railed against Maha since its debut, mainly because they don’t like or listen to indie music or because their personal favorites haven’t been booked. No doubt none of those naysayers ever bought a ticket to a Maha Festival before, anyway.

Still, beyond last week’s press release, Maha has yet to do anything to dispel the rumors (and their own post on Facebook is rife with critics making unchallened inaccurate comments). I guess they think silence is the best approach, after all, you have to assume they’ve retained many of the large corporate sponsors who signed on for 2024 and beyond. If they’re serious about 2025, Maha needs to continue communicating on social channels (and with the local media) about how things are progressing throughout this year for next year. At least share their plan and vision going forward.

Because there’s one festival we’re definitely going to be hearing about this summer — the Outlandia Music Festival. With its announcement last week of its Aug. 9-10 dates, people are getting excited to find out the lineup. Outlandia now stands alone when it comes to local college rock/indie music festivals. And for their third year, we all expect big things…. 

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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 © 2024 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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