Remembering John Heaston: publisher, visionary, friend…

Category: Blog — Tags: — @ 8:26 am June 3, 2024
Jeff Koterba unveils a portrait of John Heaston at the Omaha Press Club’s Face on the Barroom Floor roast held May 31.

by Tim McMahan,

About an hour before I left to attend the roast of John Heaston last Friday night where he was to be honored by the Omaha Press Club with the 178th “Face on the Barroom Floor,” I received word from a friend that John had passed away earlier that morning. 

To say I was shocked is an understatement. A real gut punch. I questioned whether or not they should go forward with the ceremony since many people would, like me, still be reeling. But in the end, it was the right decision as the roast turned out to be a fitting tribute to John and everything he’s done for the city and not just his work as publisher of The Reader, which is where we had our relationship. 

John’s brother, Ben, kept the crowd laughing as the roast’s emcee.

John’s brother, Ben, was the emcee and provided a lot of spicy quips about his big brother and the crazy, irresponsible things he did in his youth. His Creighton brother, Steve Hudson, echoed those stories with his own, while Leo Louis of the Malcolm X Foundation talked about John’s amusing early efforts to become part of the North Omaha community. Anne Schlachter spoke of John’s ability to talk people into taking part in his plans and ideas, no matter how crazy they were.

I, too, fell for John’s persuasiveness shortly after he began publishing The Reader back in ’94. Unlike many folks who credit John for their first writing breaks, I already had been writing for a regional music publication – The Note out of Lawrence, Kansas – for a number of years as one of their primary Omaha correspondents. I wasn’t interested in writing for The Reader… until The Note went belly up later in the ‘90s. I already had a full-time job at Union Pacific; my music reporting had more to do with acquiring free CDs and getting into rock shows. When John heard about The Note’s demise, I got the call, and he eventually talked me into becoming a freelance contributor and eventually a columnist. 

That was about 25 years ago. John always did what the best publishers and editors do: He backed me up, even when he didn’t agree with what I was writing, for better or worse. As the years wore on, it became obvious the internet would kill print publications. We all watched as the state of print journalism declined, but throughout the years, John kept hoisting the banner for print against all odds. The paper eventually went from a weekly to a monthly, and I think the only reason John finally stopped the presses with the September 2023 issue was because of his illness. 

If you want to read a complete history of the paper, it’s online right here, along with the rest of the content, at The Reader website, thanks to John’s hustle in his final year to reach a deal with Nebraska Public Media, who acquired The Reader and El Perico and not only will host the archive but will begin publishing new content under The Reader banner. 

The last time I spoke to John we reviewed edits to the Nebraska Public Media/Reader acquisition press release. He was clearly relieved the deal had been signed; his baby was now in good hands. But like always, we also dished on other topics, people we knew, music biz stuff, publications and the future, which we both thought we’d see together. He was a visionary, an optimist, a believer that the good guys and gals will always win in the end. He was a friend of mine, and I’m going to miss him. 

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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 © 2024 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Live Review: Wednesday, Draag; Breakers, Stephen Bartolomei tonight; Spoy, Pagan Athletes Saturday…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 9:49 am May 31, 2024
Wednesday at The Slowdown, May 30, 2024.

by Tim McMahan,

Before we get to the review of last night’s show at Slowdown, a head’s up that tonight, The Reader’s patriarch, John Heaston, is being honored by the Omaha Press Club with the 178th “Face on the Barroom Floor.” I can think of no one more deserving. I’ll be there and will try to snap some pictures or at least get a photo of the drawing. Speaking of The Reader, there’s news about the future of that publication, which I’ll pass along next week…

John Heaston, founder/publisher of The Reader, will be honored with Omaha Press Club’s “Face on the Barroom Floor” tonight.

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The band Wednesday ended its North America tour last night at The Slowdown, and as you might expect, there was a mad-cap looseness to the performance.

Frontwoman Karly Hartzman was particularly chatty throughout the set (and said so), proudly declaring it was their first time headlining in Omaha (They opened for Beach Bunny at The Waiting Room back in May 2022). With guitarist MJ “Jake” Lenderman by her side providing beautiful harmony vocals along with his snarly lead guitar licks, Hartzman and Co. played all the hits off last year’s Rat Saw God album, including a wonky, intentionally sloppy version of indie hit “Quarry.”

That song’s zany performance was driven by an introduction where-in Hartzman said folks in Denver (where they played a couple nights earlier) had told her people in Omaha don’t know how to mosh. She egged-on the crowd to form a mosh pit and the resulting “hop-and-jump” pit bounced around for the rest of the set. That’s one way to get people in Omaha to “dance.” 

I wasn’t aware Wednesday loved punk and/or metal, but it became obvious when Hartzman provided some genuinely throaty metal screams, especially during the night’s encore, which sounded like something by Destruction Unit. 

The night felt like an all-star performance with Hartzman’s versatile vocals that ranged from a soft coo to that growly scream, but the other heavy hitters were Lenderman, who carried the lead vocals on a cover of Drive By Truckers’ “Women Without Whiskey” — a highlight — and lap-steel guitarist Xandy Chelmis, who can turn any song into a twangy country ballad. In fact, the set also swung between quiet alt-country-esque ballads and gritty shoegaze noise rockers. In the end, the softer stuff won the day (for me, anyway). 

Draag at The Slowdown, May 30, 2024.

Opener Draag showed extremes – between metal/industrial and seamless, ambient shoegaze. Frontman/guitarist Adrian Acosta is a vocal chameleon shifting between Dean Wareham/Galaxie 500 crooning and all-out metal screaming. Fellow vocalist Jessica Huang was the contrast with her cool, purring voice. 

Draag opened with the hard stuff and settled into the rich shoegaze halfway through their set, hitting their obvious sweet spot. I could see these folks opening for any of the major shoegaze bands as they continue to develop their own flavor of the genre. 

Wednesday has been selling out shows on this tour, but only managed to draw around 250 last night at the Slowdown, which made for a comfortable-sized audience for the big room (with the balcony closed). That said, it underscored indie’s weak appeal in the Omaha market and continues to explain why a lot of the heavy-hitting indie acts are bypassing our little town.

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Speaking of which, onto another rather sparse weekend for indie shows….

Breakers plays tonight at Pageturners Lounge.

Tonight at Pageturners, Breakers headlines. The trio of Chris Yambor, Robert Little and Matt Focht play a jazzy form of indie, sounding like a lounge version of Pavement or GBV. Very cool. Our old friend singer/songwriter Stephen Bartolomei opens at 8 p.m. No cover, but $10 suggested donation for the artist, please.

Then Saturday night Milwaukee noise-punk band Spoy headlines at Reverb Lounge. In the old days we’d call this math-rock – fuzzy guitar speed that sounds influenced by acts like Chavez and At the Drive In whereas they site US Maple and Black Midi as influences. Opening is Ivory Daze and Pagan Athletes. $12, 8 p.m.

And that’s all I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. 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 © 2024 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


An unexpected farewell: The Reader calls it quits; Say Hi tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 7:40 am May 31, 2023

by Tim McMahan.

I’m not entirely sure when I first started writing for The Reader. I know it was after the launch of its predecessor publication, which was going strong at the same time I was covering Omaha’s music scene for the regional magazine, The Note, published out of Lawrence, Kansas. Somewhere along he way, that predecessor publication became The Reader at around the same time The Note folded after its editor/publisher discovered he was losing a few thousand dollars with every issue published. 

The transition to working for The Reader was seamless; and I carried on covering Omaha (and national) indie bands and musicians through cover stories, features, reviews and columns, all while holding down my real gig at Union Pacific, wondering if someday I would leave the corporate world and take on more responsibilities at The Reader, never doubting the publication would be around forever.

Well, friends, yesterday the gut punch came a-punching, as editor/publisher John Heaston announced The Reader will quit publication after its September issue. You can read all the details in this letter from the editor, but the short of it is that John needs to focus on something more important than deadlines and ad sales. 

Reaction to the news has been extreme, ranging from “This will cripple the Omaha arts scene!” to “I thought they quit publishing years ago.” For those who have escaped into social media and left behind formal, locally produced journalistic publications, the loss of The Reader will hardly be noticeable, just like the loss of the Omaha World-Herald, which really died when Buffett sold it out years ago. 

But for those who run art galleries, produce plays, record albums, make films or partake in the products of all those endeavors, the loss of The Reader will be something more profound. In a metro (and surrounding area) whose population exceeds a million — a city currently experiencing an explosion in the growth of music venues, with a nationally recognized food culture and a globally recognized indie music record label — it’s both strange and unfortunate that there are no arts and entertainment publications covering it. With the loss of The Reader, that void will become even more noticeable. 

So say your goodbyes. I know I will. On top of everything else, I’ve written a column for The Reader continually since December 2004 – a little over 18 years. And while I’ve sweated them deadlines, I’ll also miss them along with the opportunity to share my voice and opinions in a print publication. I know there will be other places to publish my words. But will those words be forged with ink on paper? 

After more than 30 years of editing and publishing, Mr. Heaston deserves his chance to focus on the most important things in life. Maybe it’s time for someone else to step up and continue telling the story of Omaha’s creative class…

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Just a reminder that indie artist Say Hi is performing tonight at a home somewhere in Dundee. If you’re freaked out about going to a house show, bring a friend along. The two of you can share in the awkwardness and who knows, you might might meet some new friends. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here. Upon receipt you’ll be sent the secret address. The music starts at 8 p.m.

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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 © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


The Reader to reveal new design this afternoon (and free tacos!!!)…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 2:08 pm December 30, 2014

readerrenewby Tim McMahan,

I’m as curious as you are about what the “new” Reader will look like. I haven’t a clue what we’re going to see when publisher John Heaston and his team reveal the new design down at Sokol Underground at 3 p.m. this afternoon. It will no doubt be the beginning of a new era for a publication that’s survived as a weekly for the past 20 years.

Heaston also will be unleashing a new version of I’ve seen it and it is, indeed, an improvement over the current website, though it should be stressed that the new web design is only V 1.0, and that John says we’ll see even greater improvements in design and functionality in the near future.

Anyway, you’re all invited to the big reveal from 3 to 6 p.m. today. In addition to free copies of the new publication there will be free tacos, (some) booze and what’s been described as a “20 Year Maze” that walks people through the past 20 years of The Reader. No idea what this is, but it should be plenty weird.

If that wasn’t enough to set your curiosity ablaze, this first issue of the newly designed Reader will contain my annual Music Predictions for the Coming Year article — always a real crowd-pleaser.

See you this afternoon at Sokol Underground…

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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 © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.