by Andrew Norman
Everyone who wasn't swinging and smashing keyboards into the ground, or digging their knees into the stage floor and shredding nickel strings loose from their tuning pegs, was beating, banging, blasting drums like they were trying to bring back the dead. Instead, the gang on The Bourbon's stage was sending It's True into another long sleep, at least performance-wise.
Or, at least, that was the plan before last weekend's two final It's True shows, which sold out The Waiting Room on Friday and managed to make the huge Bourbon back room feel like an intimate gathering of friends on Saturday, ending with a trancy, rhythmic tribal jam featuring some of the area's best musicians. Drummer Matt Arbeiter, who was flown in from New York for the show, wailed on his set like he was directing traffic in a demolition derby. Flanked by his tom-pounding friends, he looked like he didn't ever want it to end. With frontman Adam Hawkins' very pregnant fiancee Katey performing in the band, the entire weekend felt like a real family affair. And among them were a couple extended family members from Lawrence, Kan.
It was fitting Cowboy Indian Bear's CJ Calhoun and Katlyn Conroy helped It's True finish off a blow-out weekend. The bands produced a split 7-inch last year, and Cowboy Indian Bear seems to play here every couple months. In doing so, they've built a strong fan base in both Omaha and Lincoln. And they've obviously connected with some of the area's best bands.
As a fan, I feel lucky to be able to see them play so often ― most national touring bands come through once a year at the most. It obviously makes sense that regional bands would stop here more frequently ― they can make a weekend trip out of it. But (as I pull out the Hear Nebraska soapbox) these regional ties are worth further strengthening if we want to build Nebraska into a national ― and eventually international ― tour stop and entertainment destination, which is literally our mission at Hear Nebraska.
So how do we do this? First, do your damndest to make it out when regional bands play. Buy their music and merch to put gas in their tanks. Talk to them after the show and tell them you appreciate them coming, and to please return. If you have space for squatters, host them for the night. And the next time they come, send out a Facebook blast and help get more people to come out.
These are small things, but done collectively, they can help us do our part to establish a strong regional music scene. People are working on doing this more locally between Omaha and Lincoln already ― building ties by putting on “Invasion” mini-festivals. Next week, 20 Omaha bands are playing at the Bourbon and Duffy's in Lincoln April 14-15 for Omaha Invasion, booked by longtime local-music workhorse Marq Manner. We could do the same thing with regional cities like Lawrence and Ames, Iowa, and Kansas City, and Oklahoma City and Chicago and Minneapolis and Denver.
By building a strong region, we can make it easier for our best bands to make a living making music, which allows them to make more music. A strong region will allow those bands to tour farther and extend their networks, and in the process, spread the word about why people should care about Nebraska music. It will take a lot of work, but I'm positive it can happen.
We Plains and Midwest folk are a hard-working lot. And we're largely friendly, genuine people who make strong impressions. Look past our chain stores and sprawling suburbs that reek of big-city envy and into our local businesses ― coffee shops, boutiques, bars, tattoo parlors, independent grocery stores, and others ― and you'll see the same authenticity that makes people (and bands) want to come back. It's not because we build a $344 million arena (though it's possible that could help). It's because when bands come here they make real friends who give them warm places to stay and cook them breakfast in the morning. It's because we honestly don't think we're cooler than anybody ― and that makes us cool.
I ran into one of the members of It's True Saturday night where I do most of my interviews ― in the men's room. He said that in the Waiting Room's green room, before the band's encore performance Friday, Hawkins talked about putting a touring band together again. It might be a long-shot with a baby crooner on the way, but who knows, maybe the family will take the show on the road. And maybe they'll pick up more kin on the way.
I wondered what other bands have made Nebraska their adopted, local scene. So I used Facebook's new Questions tool to see what other people had to say. The responses and votes were pretty interesting. Visit facebook.com/HearNebraska to find out, and to weigh in.
Andrew Norman edits and directs Hear Nebraska. He's really, really excited for Jay Kutchma to play here April 15-16, because "gospel punk with spurs" sounds as good as it sounds. Send love letters or hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.