Live Review: Neither rain nor blistering heat could stop Maha 2023…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 7:25 am July 31, 2023

The crowd on the second day of the 2023 Maha Music Festival.

by Tim McMahan,

Was the last Maha Festival to be held at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village the best one ever? No, but last weekend’s festival definitely was in the top-3, and as far as operations goes, went off with only a couple hiccups…

Look, you can’t do anything about the weather, right? Friday’s blistering heat and wilting humidity was only topped by the rainstorm that divided the evening’s festivities. Actually, the rain wasn’t the problem; it was the massively long line to get back onto the festival grounds that was a major bummer. The 4-person-wide line stretched for blocks, from the park entrance to the Residence Inn and then around the corner. But whaddaya gonna do? Security is security, I suppose. And though it seemed like it would never end, it only took about a half-hour to get back inside after the gates reopened, but by then Icky Blossoms already had begun their set. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

BIB on Day of of the 2023 Maha Festival.

I was pleasantly surprised at the crowd size when BIB took the stage at 4:30 – despite a heat index well past 100. The humidity was brutal and yet there was at least a couple hundred people gathered around the second stage – one of the larger audiences I’ve seen for a Maha-opening band. 

And BIB delivered. The Omaha-based hardcore act played a honed set of bonebreak punk that even had a couple dudes aimlessly trying to start a pit by the stage. This was the first time I’ve seen them live, and they were intense despite the small crowd and crazy heat. One photographer asked why they weren’t playing later in the day.

I’ve said this all before — it’s nice to include local bands in the festival, but I’m not sure how much they’re being helped exposurewise when playing to a mostly empty field. I’ve been told by organizers in the past that my solution of having one of the touring acts open the festival to draw a large initial crowd is impracticable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that no touring band would voluntarily take the time slot. That said, I promise you if Guided by Voices opened the festival you’d have a big-ass crowd on hand – a crowd that would hang around the rest of the day Just sayin’…


HAKIM plays as the storm begins to form in the background.

BIB was followed by another local act, rapper HAKIM, which I learned is always ALL UPPERCASE. If you want to find HAKIM on Spotify, use that caps lock key. This was another introduction to the band and their impressive sound, production and flow. Very groovy stuff that deserves more research. 

Throughout HAKIM’s set, the edge of the frontal boundary crept closer, eventually blocking out the sun and cooling things down. Just over HAKIM’s shoulder majestic thunderheads loomed like a scene from Oppenheimer. The end was nigh.

Sure enough, just as Icky Blossoms finished their soundcheck the festival was “officially closed” temporarily because of the imminent storm. We were told to shelter in nearby parking garages until the coast was clear. I high-tailed it to a well-air-conditioned Pauli’s and watched the wind and rain sweep through. As quickly as it started, the storm was over. Figured I could just walk right back in where I went out, but no – I was directed to the main gaits where the aforementioned line of humanity was in the streets. 

The line to reenter the festival after the storm passed went on for blocks.

In addition to security screening, everyone had to rescan their tickets – sure hope everyone held on to their stubs. As the line inched closer to the gates the rumble of Icky Blossoms echoed off the buildings. For many including myself, seeing the band’s reunion was a festival highlight not to be missed. But missing it we were.

Icky Blossoms takes the Maha Union Pacific stage.

In the end, I only missed about half their set. By the time I was back to the stage, the Ickies were just finishing “Babes” and about to crank into “Sex to the Devil,” and they were killing it. The triumvirate of Derek Pressnall, Nik Fackler and Sarah Bohling was joined by Sara Bertuldo on bass. The band never sounded harder, faster or louder, and was absolutely on point. “Why aren’t they together anymore?” asked a dude to my right. Because life has a way of going on, I said. No doubt if they wanted to, they could make a go of it again. 

They ended their triumphant set with their traditionally set-closer, 2011’s “Perfect Vision.” It was like a rainbow after a storm. 

Ekkstacy on the second stage at Maha 2023.

The rest of the evening went off without a hitch. Ekkstacy played next on the small stage. The band is somewhat known for their single, “I Walk This Earth All By Myself,” a synth-driven quick-beat thumper that sounds like something right out of ’80s college radio. Live, however, the band was all guitars and reminded me Standing On the Beach-era Cure — riveting, chiming tones and straight-on drums capped by Ekkstacy’s crisp vocals. Something tells me we’ll be talking about this set in years to come…

Alvvays at Maha 2023.

That was it for the small stage. Alvvays took the big stage next and played a flawless set, if not somewhat uneventful. There wasn’t much to see. I did notice was how many great songs Alvvays have in their song book, one after another, I caught myself saying, “Shit, I forgot they play that one, too.” Frontwoman Molly Rankin has a pure, flawless voice; it was like listening to a recording. 

Maha had announced after the storm that all the bands would still play full sets despite losing an hour of festival time. That meant Turnstile wasn’t going to go on until well past 10 p.m.  An incredibly long stage switch out pushed that start time past 10:30, and by then the crowd had ballooned in size. I don’t know the attendance numbers yet, but Friday night’s crowds seemed larger than Saturday night’s. 

Turnstile closes out Day 1 of Maha 2023.

Turnstile finally hit the stage with the same energy captured in their YouTube performances. Their music — an intense, riff-driven rock that borders on ‘90s Nu-Metal crossed with modern emo (but with better vocals and better melodies) — forces listeners to bounce, and so they did. 

And while the sound throughout the entire day earned an A+, Turnstile’s set was hampered by technical problems, including something wrong with the lead guitar, which kept cutting out. Frontman Branden Yates, whose vocals are booming on their recordings, oftentimes was lost in the mix. Despite this, the band sounded somewhat awesome… for the five songs I saw them perform before heading to the gates. 

Ebba Rose kicked of the second day of the 2023 Maha Music Festival.

Saturday’s line-up was less interesting than Friday’s. I made an effort to be there at 2:30 to see Ebba Rose. About 100 folks were on hand to catch the performance by singer/songwriter Erin Mitchell and her band. She’s surrounded herself with first-class musicians, including a great drummer and lead guitarist. Her music is more pop than indie, more Jewel/Sheryl Crow/Taylor Swift, and nothing like the current female-led indie movement heard on college radio. It’s a matter of musical style, and that doesn’t take away from the fact she’s got a voice clear as a bell and can belt out modern rock as well as anyone on American Idol. 

Terry Presume at the 2023 Maha Music Festival.

I left the park after Ebba Rose’s set and didn’t return until after 6 when Terry Presume was on stage finishing his performance of by-the-numbers hip-hop that had the crowd moving. I’m not familiar with his music, but it sounded good, though nothing I hadn’t heard before. 

It was just before The Beths took the small stage that I noticed how small the crowd seemed — smaller than the crowd Friday night at the same time. But halfway through The Beths’ set, the crowd seemed to double in size. 

The Beths closed out the small stage on Day 2 of the Maha Music Festival.

Of all the bands that played Maha, I heard more compliments about The Beths than any other. Folks just loved their songs. Very much like Alvvays, they’re first and foremost masters of infectious indie pop songs driven by great hooks and great vocal lines. Indie rock candy. 

That was the first time (other than a headliner) where a band came back and played an encore. 

Peach Pit at Day 2 of the Maha Music Festival.

Then on came Peach Pit, a peaceful easy-feeling band that bordered on jam territory. At one point during a song the guitar lines morphed into the harmony guitar solo from The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” Not my thing, but there’s no question a lot of folks were at Maha to see them because after their set it looked like a mini exodus to the gates as lines of folks picked up and left. 

That said, the crowd on hand for Big Thief was enormous, and what a lucky crowd it was. While I dig this band— from their early Saddle Creek Records releases right up to their recent double-album — I questioned their status as a festival closer. Well, I was wrong.

Big Thief closed out Day 2 of the Maha Music Festival.

With a stripped down mostly empty stage that held the four members and their instruments, the band came out and crushed their set, opening with a couple new songs that were just gorgeous before tearing into “Certainty,” the single from their last album and one of my favorites. 

Frontwoman Adrianne Lenker has a star-quality voice that stands right up there with Tammy and Loretta and Kitty — just a pure voice rich in soul, sounding even better on stage than on her records. The entire band – Buck Meek on guitar and backing vocals, Max Oleartchik on stand-up bass and James Krivchenia on drums, were somewhat amazing. 

It was about halfway through “Certainty” that the band stopped so medics could go into the crowd and help someone out, then the band picked up right where they left off. I’m told the same thing happened later in their set as well. While it was warm out, it was nothing like the day (and night) before. 

Usually when acts just come out and play — just stand there — it bores me to tears, but there was something about Big Thief and Lenker’s voice that is mesmerizing. So, in the 15 years that I’ve seen Maha, that was one of my favorite headliner sets. 

As I made my way back to the parking garage I thought about how much I’m going to miss Stinson Park as the venue for Maha. It’s just so damn… comfortable. Everything about it, from the access to set up, from the staging to the peripheral areas, was going to be difficult to beat when the Maha Festival moves downtown next year for what is bound to be an even bigger concert experience. Let’s hope it doesn’t lose any of its charm. 

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