Live Review: Petfest 2023 was a red hot good time… literally…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , — @ 5:14 am August 21, 2023

A small, sweaty moshpit formed during Cat Piss’s set at a red-hot Petfest 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

If you thought this year’s Maha Festival was miserably hot, it didn’t hold a candle to Petfest last Saturday. With the heat index rising somewhere to around 105 degrees, the annual festival held behind Benson’s Petshop Gallery felt like a survival contest. No doubt the extreme temperatures put a damper on the BFF fundraiser’s attendance numbers, which, when I was there from 4 to 7 p.m., looked to only be around 100 sweaty, stoic bodies. 

Like last year, the festival performances switched between two stages – one inside the garage of Petshop, the other across the rock parking lot. Festival organizers hung colorful parachutes in an vain effort to provide something resembling shade. Goddamn, it was hot. 

Thirst Things FIrst try not to implode from the heat at Petfest 2023, Aug. 19.

Despite the extremes, Lincoln band Thirst Things First kept with their tradition and wore matching black track suits — stifling. A red faced Mike Elfers ripped into their set backed by this always entertaining band that is sort of a cross between Devo and The Faint but with a better sense of humor. Just like last year, their synth and guitar-heavy sound wowed the crowd. What will it take to get these folks to play a show in one of Omaha’s countless venues? The answer is $$$… or oil. 

Little Brazil perform under the parachutes on the “outside stage” at Petfest 2023.

Next up across the gravel-pit lot was Little Brazil. No matter the conditions, these guys bring the rock. They took the opportunity to roll out a couple new songs, which they say will be recorded and released on a 7-inch single early next year. On one of them, Landon Hedges played a unique dissonant chord progression countered by Shawn Cox’s funky middle-Eastern-sounding riff. 

Cat Piss plays a scorching set in the Petshop garage stage.

Omaha post-punk power trio Cat Piss followed inside the Petshop garage and even got a few sweaty kids slamming in front of the garage door. 

While there was plenty of booze to choose from, Petfest didn’t offer food options – in fact no food trucks or food vendors that I could find. Maybe Dundee Day or the Riverfront grand opening hogged them all (or they were just following Maha’s example). That forced folks to leave the festival to eat, and likely provided a cooling respite from the heat and humidity in one of the nearby restaurants. I also needed a break, leaving after Cat Piss’ set to go home and change out of my sopping wet clothes.

Head of Femur rips through another hot song on the Petfest “outdoor” stage.

But I was back an hour later to catch the full set from Head of Femur on the “outdoor stage.” The band has been around since 2001, fronted by guitarist vocalist Matt Focht, they’ve released albums on a number of indie labels including Spin Art and Grey Day Records and are critical darlings thanks to their intense, intricate yet catchy take on prog rock. 

Focht and company rolled out a number of new songs that were more melodic and less proggy than their usual fare. To my ear they sounded more traditional — and groovier — and a natural for a festival like Outlandia next year. Here’s hoping this new material is a  precursor to a new album. 

I split after Femur, though I could hear the festival echoing off the streets of Benson from my house a mile away. It’s a shame that the heat got in the way, but a good time was had by the hearty few who endured the inferno. 

The Petfest compound looking North. Yes, i was as hot as it looks…

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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.


Live Review: Petfest (Marcey Yates, David Nance, Thirst Things First, No Thanks)…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — @ 2:14 pm August 15, 2022
Petfest 2022 was held this past Saturday, Aug. 13, behind the Petshop Gallery

by Tim McMahan,

So by all accounts, Outlandia was a success. The festival lucked out with the weather, as Friday night and Saturday ended up being not only tolerable, but pleasant. All the photos I’ve seen from the festival showed lots of folks having a good time. I have no official word on the attendance though it looked pretty decent for a first-year festival with stellar headliners that appeal to mostly middle-aged indie music fans.

I’ve been told by folks who were that that there were no traffic snafus, no parking mishaps, and that Falconwood Park worked out well, and there already are talks about Outlandia 2 (or whatever they call it next year). Congrats to all involved.

As I mentioned, i didn’t attend Outlandia, instead opting for Petfest, which took place Saturday behind the Petshop in Benson. This year they really rolled out the red carpet… literally, as a large red outdoor carpet was placed in the center of the space between the two stages. Other changes included moving the entrance to the south side of the compound as well as moving the larger stage to the northeast corner of the lot so it faced the smaller second stage located in the garage area of Petshop.

Marcey Yates at Petfest 2022.

I arrived just as Marcey Yates’ set kicked off. It’s been a long time since I’ve caught his set and I was knocked over. I have a very narrow bandwidth for hip-hop (which can be summed up by old school ‘80s, Kendrick and Tribe Called Quest) and Yates stylistically hits it dead center. Deep beats and clever flow, very groovy. He was joined by Conny Franko for one number, who just walked right up and grabbed a microphone.

Problems at Petfest 2022.

After Yates, Problems a.k.a. Darren Keen, moved his table of electronic equipment to the large stage’s back tent and ripped into a set that included a number of thick-beat songs off his last couple releases, many of which are focused on Darren’s love of dogs (and why you, too, should love dogs). It’s kind of weird in a good way. Electronic scrunchy tone sounds atop a cracking beat was the bed of lettuce for Keen’s spoken-word life lessons, from a guy who, after years of touring has seen it all and has the respect as one of the most original performers in Nebraska.

Cat Piss at Petfest 2022.

I ducked out for an hour after Problems and came back in time for Cat Piss on the smaller Petshot stage. Shifting between the two stages meant one act could be set up while the other was performing, with only a brief sound check before each set, just enough time to grab another Zipline or whatever you were imbibing in. A lot of folks were imbibing in smoking substances, especially when the sun began to set. There was a cloud of ganga over where I stood most of the day along the north end of the compound. Pot is slowly becoming omnipresent in all outdoor festivals in Omaha, I guess I’m just going to have to get used to it.

Cat Piss is a three-piece power-punk band where drummer Nate Wolf and bass player Sam Lipsett trade vocals on songs that sound about as close to ‘90s Omaha post-punk as you’re going to find outside of a band that actually was around playing post-punk in the ‘90s (and there are a few of them still out there). Casey Plucinski ripped on guitar, but it’s that rhythm section that kept it all hopping. Great stuff.

I should point out here that I didn’t see anything less than a great set all day, which was a credit to sound engineer and show manager Ian Aeillo, who was running around like a whirling dervish all day, making sure things where plugged in and sounded great (which they did). In what was a unique set-up, music came from both PAs at once, providing a sort of quadraphonic effect. Alan Parsons, eat your heart out.

Thirst Things First at Petfest 2022.

Thirst Things First have been around at least for a decade, though I’ve never caught them before. I didn’t even know who they were except that they might be from Lincoln and that the band includes A.J. Mogis on bass — yes, that AJ Mogis, the dude who created ARC Studio with his brother, Mike, and who also plays bass in Criteria.

Wearing (mostly) matching track suits, the band tore into a set of the funnest, tightest power pop you’re going to hear this side of The Faint. Fronted by Mike Elfers of The JV Allstars and including someone I remember from Las Cruxes also on vocals, the band was powered along by Mogis and drummer Jordy Elfers, and was nothing less than remarkable. How have I missed them all these years? Who knows. Their set was a high-water mark in a festival flooded with talent. As David Letterman would say, “I’ll take all of that you got.”

Uh Oh at Petfest 2022.

If Cat Piss embodies Omaha’s ‘90s post-punk at it’s finest, Uh Oh is the embodiment of if Omaha indie jangle pop. The four piece plays big-hearted indie rock that borders on Get-Up Kids-style emo, and did a good job capturing the crowd’s attention.

David Nance Group at Petfest 2022.

They were followed on the larger stage by who, for me, was the festival headliner, David Nance Group. For this iteration, Nance was joined by Dereck Higgins on bass, Kevin Donahue on drums, guitarist Jim Schroeder, and Rosali Middleman on synths. In April, Nance’s band backed Rosali when she opened for Destroyer at The Waiting Room, and now she appeared to be returning the favor.

The band ripped into that killer version of “Credit Line” that they played a month or so ago at Reverb, a version that kicks ass thanks to a super-funky rhythm section — again, I wish they’d record this version of the song (a more rustic and non-funky version appears on Nance’s latest release, which was sort of a solo recording). Known as a garage psych-rock dude, Nance sounds like he’s shifting to a more swinging, funky style — and it’s a welcome change.

Of course that doesn’t mean he’s lost any of his sheer guitar power. Nance and Schroeder still traded guitar riffs back and forth, and ripped it up old school closing their set with a kick-ass version of “Poison” from the break-out Peaced and Slightly Pulverized.

Living Conditions at Petfest 2022.

Next up on the small stage was a metal/noise set from Living Conditions. This aggressive-noise style whose vocals consists mainly of pained yelling is not something I generally go for, but even here, they glowed for group of fans tightly gathered in front of the stage.

No Thanks at Petfest 2022.

The final Petfest performer for me was No Thanks, who announced from stage that this is their second-to-last performance, which I guess means the band is breaking up. If so, that would be a terrible loss for the music scene, as No Thanks is one of the best bands in Nebraska — as musicians, performers and songwriters. Frontman Castro Turf a.k.a. Brendan Leahy is a force of nature, who moves and vamps like a short, Midwestern version of Lux Interior, yelling and barking more than singing, a magnetic performer. But just is notable is this band, that has created a new version, authentic post-punk whose closest relative are bands like Preoccupations and Ceremony.

They hit their stride on their second song of their set — a glorious versions of “Hot Water Rising” (which just happens to be my favorite). It continued to rise from there, with Leahy pacing the front of the stage, taunting the crowd, before poring some sort of substance over his head (fake blood? motor oil? I couldn’t tell in the dark light). No Thanks was a band that had everything in front of them, and like so many other great band from Nebraska, never really got their chance.

That was it for me at Petfest. If Maha Festival showcases the newest indie acts and Outlandia celebrates past national indie icons, Petfest is the ultimate showcase of the best talent this state has to offer. From that perspective, it might be the most important festival we have, because it provides a stage and a spotlight to our local talent, who these days have fewer and fewer opportunities to shine.

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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 © 2022 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.