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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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.


Maha Festival kicks off Friday with Alvvays, Turnstile; Youth Lagoon, Nina Keith tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 7:23 am July 26, 2023
Alvvays on the Javlin (smaller) stage at Maha in 2015. The band plays again at Friday night at the 2023 Maha Festival.

by Tim McMahan,

They’ll be a time when the Maha Festival and related events will extend over an entire week. We’re not there yet, but after Maha moves downtown to the Riverfront next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if you begin seeing weeklong Maha-related events popping up in an effort to both expand the festival and provide some extra options for those traveling to Omaha. Speculation is all that is. 

This year’s Maha will be a great festival/concert, however, it’s going to be hot as hell. I’m reminded of this debacle from 20 years ago, and I’m sure Maha organizers are getting a bit nervous when the heat index is forecast to be above 100 on Friday.

Friday, btw, could end up being the biggest draw of the weekend, thanks to Turnstile and Alvvays. Here’s a look at Friday’s schedule:


  • 4 p.m. – Gates Open
  • 4:30 p.m. – BIB
  • 5:15 p.m. – Hakim
  • 6 p.m. – Icky Blossoms
  • 7 p.m. – Ekkstacy
  • 8 p.m. – Alvvays
  • 9:30 p.m. – Turnstile

The festival’s most incendiary band just happens to be the first up. BIB is an Omaha-based national touring hardcore act that will leave the Maha crowd (if there is a crowd there at 4 p.m.) scratching their heads wondering what the hell just happened. Their last full-length, Deluxe, was released on Maryland’s Pop Wig Records. Touring has made them a known quantity throughout the country. Had I been in charge of the festival’s programming, I would have put them on right before Turnstile instead of a time where they’ll likely be playing mostly to volunteers and vendors. 

Hakim is another local, this time from Lincoln. I know virtually nothing about Hakim and couldn’t find his music in Spotify, but did find it on good o’ Bandcamp, which has his 2020 album, The Magnificent Obsession, released on Corn Coast Co. Check it below. 

Then comes Icky Blossoms, perhaps the most surprising “get” for this year’s Maha. The band hasn’t released anything since 2015’s Mask (Saddle Creek Records), but captured some exposure last year (or was it the year before?) when one of their songs, “Sex to the Devil,” was the soundtrack for a runway show in Paris. 

The band’s origins go back to the aught years when frontman Derek Pressnall was in a little tap-dancing sensation called Tilly and the Wall that stormed the country (including late-night TV). Tilly was a cute ensemble, some might say a novelty, but there was more to it than that (a Tilly reunion would have been a real hoot!).

After Tilly, Pressnall would go on to form Flowers Forever, a more straightforward indie band that recorded on Team Love – Conor Oberst’s offshoot label that also had released the Tilly debut. Then in 2011 Pressnall formed Flowers Forever with Nik Fackler and Sarah Bohling, releasing their self-titled debut the following year on Saddle Creek Records. Of the three Pressnall projects, Icky is musically my favorite though it never seemed to grab the attention Tilly gained back in the day – a time when anything associated with Saddle Creek indie headline fodder. 

I haven’t heard much about this reunion except there’s a lot of excitement for it.

Ekkstacy is another surprise booking this year. It’s a one-man producer-type project whose song, “I Walk This Earth All By Myself,” became a hit a couple years ago and is still played on Sirius XMU – the all indie satellite radio station. His latest album, Misery, was released last November and is more of the same stuff inspired by The Cure, Flock of Seagulls, New Order and so on. 

Then comes the first of what really are duo headliners for the evening. 

Alvvays played Maha back in 2015, and since then the band has only gotten bigger thanks to their 2022 album, Blue Rev, which made it on a lot of critic’s year-end favorites’ list (including mine). 

But the big push Friday night will be for Turnstile, a band whose current momentum may drive ticket sales above the Saturday’s levels. Turnstile’s music is described as “melodic hardcore,” though it bleeds into alternative metal territory. Big grooves, power beats, hyperactive rhythms and a frontman who can actually sing instead of just grunt/scream. This is one of those bands that gets a crowd bouncing. Their 2021 album Glow On (Roadrunner) not only was a Pitchfork “best new music” honoree but was also nominated for three Grammys. 

It should be a hot, sweaty good time. Tickets still available at Tomorrow I’ll cover the Saturday line-up.

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Tonight at Slowdown is a band that would have been a nice fit for this year’s Maha Festival.  On his new album, Heavy Is a Junkyard (2023, Fat Possum) Youth Lagoon, a.k.a.Trevor Powers, turned his songwriting back on himself after suffering a vicious health scare. The record’s style is obviously more personal, and as a result, much more interesting than his earlier stuff. Up-and-coming singer/songwriter Nina Keith opens at 8 p.m. $25.

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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.


Big Thief, Turnstile headline 2023 Maha Festival, July 28-29…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 1:54 pm February 22, 2023
Big Thief will headline day 2 of the 2023 Maha Music Festival.

by Tim McMahan,

If you’re anywhere near social media you already know that the 2023 Maha Music Festival Lineup was announced at today at noon. The 15th annual festival takes place July 28 and 29 at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, which (rumor has it) may be the last time at that location.

Big Thief is the festival’s Saturday headliner. Arguably one of the most popular and critically acclaimed bands in indie, Big Thief started their careers releasing albums on our city’s very own Saddle Creek Records before heading off to 4AD Records a few years ago. Last year’s double album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, was on many critics’ “best of” lists (including mine). This isn’t their first trip to Omaha. Big Thief played the late, great Lookout Lounge (opening for Yuck) way back in 2016, and returned a year later to play at O’Leaver’s.

Festival headline gigs are usually high-energy affairs. Can Big Thief bring the party? While I love their music, it’s pretty low-key folk rock, and you have to wonder how many people around these parts even know who Big Thief is. Then again, how many people had heard of Khruangbin when they headlined in 2021 or, for that matter, Beach House last year?

Vancouver indie pop band Peach Pit should provide a peaceful, easy lead-in to Big Thief Saturday. Their low-key songs tell stories about love and relationship, etc. Indie in name only, they record on Columbia Records, and played a sold-out Slowdown Jr. back in October 2018.  

Pop New Zealanders The Beths also are on the Saturday list. They played Slowdown Jr. in July 2019 and released the fetching Experts in a Dying Field last year on Carpark Records. Another familiar band, Saddle Creek Records stars Black Belt Eagle Scout, also play Saturday. They just released The Land, the Water, The Sky on The Creek a few weeks ago. BBES played Reverb back in September 2018. Then along comes a couple bands I’m not familiar with. Naples by way of Nashville hip-hop/R&B artist Terry Presume has a Saturday afternoon slot along with disco-pop trio Say She She (Karma Chief Records). And then there’s the locals. Omaha hip-hop legends M34N STR33T, local rockers Garst and singer/songwriter Ebba Rose.

If Saturday’s Maha bill sounds like a pleasant afternoon in the park, Friday night’s line-up really is the party. Headline Friday night is Turnstile. Their 2021 album Glow On (Roadrunner Records) is over-the-top power emo at its finest. Expect an overly caffeinated, energized, jumping crowd, pounding the Stinson Park turf with either pogos and/or moshing. 

Second-billed Friday night are critical darlings Alvvays, who played Maha back in 2015. Their 2022 album Blue Rev (Polyvinyl) also topped a number of critics’ best of list last year (including mine). The only thing I know about electronic dance maven Ekkstacy is his single, “I Walk This Earth All By Myself,” which has received solid airplay on Sirius XMU. Maybe the biggest surprise fo the entire Maha 2023 line-up is the return of Icky Blossoms. I think the last time I saw them play was back at Slowdown in July 2015. They’ve been on a hiatus for a few years, though their music recently showed up on a runway show in Paris! No idea what their appearance at Maha means for their future. Local hip-hop act Hakim also is on the Friday bill. Kicking things off is the incendiary, brutal hardcore rock of BIB — something tells me their set will be the one that people talk about weeks after the festival.

This is a very indie-heavy line-up and something of a surprise considering how 1% and The Slowdown have really pulled back on their indie bookings over the past year. In many ways, it’s a catch-up festival for bands that skipped Omaha over the past couple years.

Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. CT at VIP tickets are $130 for Friday, $160 for Saturday, and $240 for two-day, and include air-conditioned restrooms, an exclusive viewing area near the main stage, complimentary food from Omaha restaurant Via Farina, and more. NOTE: If you intend to go, I suggest buying VIPs. You’ll thank me later. General Admission tickets are $50 for Friday, $60 for Saturday, and $100 for two-day; GA prices will increase once the limited quantity of Tier 1 tickets sell out — not entirely sure what that means.

Maha says they expect more than 13,000 total over the two days. That seems to assume they expect light draw for Friday, but I think Friday could draw as many or more than Saturday because Turnstile has never been here before (that I know of) and their live shows have a rep for being somewhat epic, much like concerts by The Faint. 

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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.