by Michael Todd
Hold on for a minute as I compare my life to a dog's. Growing up in Alliance, Neb., I understood only Alliance. Sure, we took trips to California, Texas and Florida, we drove to Lincoln for state basketball, and Carmen Sandiego was one of my closest cartoon friends. I knew of the rest of the world, but I didn't understand it.
Similarly, my dog, Macie, knows only a few places. Let's be clear: I haven't ever asked her, but she does seem to enjoy her smaller world. When Western Nebraska is mostly all you know, it's not as small or empty. As we grow up, though, the world gets smaller, and the smallest parts of the world start to matter less.
Luke Redfield is a musician who supports a shift back to a younger point-of-view. Redfield lived in Alliance, too, for six years as a young man while his father preached at St John's Lutheran Church. While he understands the relative middle-of-nowhere-ness that pervades the small Panhandle town, he's returning to Alliance for a third time in less than two years this Friday after he plays Lincoln's Bourbon Theatre tonight. He sees value in small towns and potential for entire art scenes to move to them.
Rather than discuss his latest album, Tusen Takk, released in March, we talked about why he keeps leaving I-80 to drive northwest past Lake McConaughy and turns onto Highway 385 into Alliance. Redfield takes the stage at the Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln tonight at 8 p.m. Friday in Alliance, he plays 17fc Studio, a semi-private show. Next week, Redfield comes back through Nebraska for a show in Omaha on Friday, Oct. 12 at Barley Street Tavern.
Hear Nebraska: I'd like to talk mostly about your experience with playing Western Nebraska. What brings you back for the third time in less than two years to Alliance, and for musicians in Omaha and Lincoln, why should they consider Western Nebraska shows?
Luke Redfield: I like how crazy it is to play a show in Western Nebraska because no one else does. There are people there that are receptive, not only in Western Nebraska but everywhere: in California, Oregon, Texas. With less than 10,000 people in Alliance, the audiences I've had are receptive with good turnouts.
Everybody appreciates the show, whereas when you play a show in Omaha, there’s shows every night. You’re not as much of a novelty. Also, in Alliance specifically, it has this quirky, Carhenge, middle-of-nowhere vibe, and there are a few good artists. With the railroad, it reminds me of Marfa, Texas. While Alliance isn't quite there, I think that’s the future of American art: leaving saturated American cities and moving to smaller towns to establish all-new scenes.
HN: What would be the advantages for an artist to leave bigger cities for smaller ones?
LR: I think it could open up finances first of all. It costs so much more to live in a city than in a town in the middle of nowhere. You don't go out to bars and restaurants as much, you are more likely to be sustainable with a garden, making your own food. Getting off the grid makes you focus more on your art, too.
You might otherwise be sidetracked in a bigger city with the lights and glamour and all of the stuff that can distract you. So I think that as an artist, going from a big city to a small town, it puts things in perspective. People are living a simpler life that’s not so much a ratrace. You do your own thing in a small town.
HN: Talking specifically about your show in Alliance on Friday, I'm not familiar with the venue. Where is it?
LR: It’s some sort of art studio, a semi-private show where you request tickets. I'm not totally clear on where it is, so there’s an element of surprise to this show, which is sort of what I was talking about earlier. A small town can turn into a burgeoning art scene. This is a small step for Alliance, but it's an opportunity for something cool and mysterious.
HN: You've traveled around the country, playing big and small venues, and you've lived in Nebraska before. How do the audiences compare?
LR: The audiences are definitely different. I’ve played a lot of college towns near the campus, and you get a built-in crowd. On a different night, you might be in a warehouse district where not so many people come out. The Bourbon has somewhat of that college audience if I remember right.
I think the Midwest crowd is pretty similar. It’s a lot of good people: Scandinavians, Germans, who are celebrating Oktoberfest now. In the Midwest in general, a lot of these venues are comparable. The West Coast is a different animal. But all in all, you never really know what you’re going to get for a show until you play it.
HN: What keeps you on the road, and do you hope to settle down anytime soon?
LR: That’s a good question. I’ve been on the road for the past four or five months. I’ve been touring quite a bit. I’m in the process of moving back down to Austin, though. I'm thinking I'll hunker down there, and make that my home.
I’ve been trying to hit the Midwest twice a year lately. I love Colorado and Nebraska, and right now, this just seems like the best tour route. It always feels like home, seeing old friends and meeting new friends.
I like driving through here, especially in spring and fall. I love the "letting go" aspect of fall, how the leaves die, the colors change, winter is coming on. Then in spring, there's the rebirth, feeling new and wonderful again. You get all four seasons here, and it brings my heart closer to where I want to be.
Michael Todd is Hear Nebraska's managing editor. He enjoys working in the UNL forest by the silver tree on the warmer fall days. Come join him if you'd like. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.