by Andrew Norman
Tired of pretending to play the video slots game at the Smoke Shak in Lyndon, Kan., the little boy wearing cowboy boots and blue jeans shrugs his way back to a low table. It's a few feet away from the floor stage where an old man who resembles a Latino Jerry Garcia has just finished strumming an Allman Brothers song on a 12-string while singing into a headset.
After a nice round of applause from the Sunday evening patrons, the musician announces he's going to play requests.
The little boy, sitting down and tearing the tab off his empty Sprite can, looks up and says something to the long-gray-haired musician.
"I know you want to hear 'La Bamba,'" the man says, looking down to make eye contact with the boy. "And Grandpa will make sure you get to hear it. And you can trust that because when a grandpa makes a promise, he keeps it. But I'm not ready yet, because 'La Bamba' takes a lot of energy. We're going to have to work up to it. Grandpa had a rough night."
The grandson isn't sympathetic. He tosses his arms out in the universal gesture for "I never get to para bailar 'La Bamba,'" stomps through the crowd to the back of the bar, slams open the men's room door and vanishes as his grandfather plays Neil Young's "My My, Hey Hey."
That moment between the two family members — a generation apart — amused me to no end both because the boy was so animated, and because of its contrasting silly intensity. While about 20 people eating ribs and drinking tall pints of beer waited for the grandfather to play another song, he took the time to make his case to his kin, knowing that there would be repercussions if it landed flat.
It did. And the boy still hadn't emerged from the bathroom by the time we left. I pictured him in there furiously singing "La Bamba" to himself, unable to read the toilet graffiti written by another man who once sat in that very room, just like him, "all broken hearted."
The scene made me miss writing this column, so I'm taking it back up. I'd stopped at some point to concentrate my time on other Hear Nebraska projects. But I think in doing so I lost track to some degree of what I really enjoy about this project: The ability to tell stories. So I plan to find time for it, once again, every week.
For now, let me catch you up on some significant ongoings at the HN camp:
• The Nebraska Music Retreat: Mark your calendars for Aug. 24-26, and join us at the gorgeous Niobrara Sanctuary near Bassett, Neb., for a relaxing weekend with friendly people who all have some sort of involvement in producing art in Nebraska. In its second year, the retreat aims to bring together artists, musicians, photographers, writers, painters, poets — and even world-class drinkers — from across the state to meet, collaborate and enjoy each other's company while tubing down the Niobrara, playing songs around a campfire and riding around in the back of pickup trucks. RSVP here.
Note: We need street teamers in cities outside Lincoln and Omaha to hang up fliers for the retreat. If you're interested, email me and I'll make sure you get some HN merch (see below) in exchange.
I'd like to especially thank Ron Klataske at the Audubon of Kansas, who is the sanctuary's steward, and who is graciously allowing us to stay there that weekend for free. Therefore, your only cost will be food and tube rental (if you'd like to float the river).
• Maha Music Festival's Community Village: In my opinion, Maha is one of the coolest things that happens in the state. Featuring independent bands (and a bunch of locals), it's doing its part to broaden Nebraska's collective music pallette. We're a media partner, and we're extremely proud of that association. We're also proud to announce we were chosen to take part in this year's inaugural "Community Village," wherein local nonprofits get creative to add to the Aug. 11 festival in a way that advances the traditional, passive booth setup. We're going to do a couple things that will be interactive, and hopefully fun for the kids, too. We'll release more details as it nears.
• Hear Lincoln: In this partnership with the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, we're booking bands to perform a free show from noon to 1 p.m. on Fridays through August on the northwest corner of 13th and O in downtown Lincoln. It's a great spot, as the acoustics roll both ways down O and 13th streets during the lunch hour. This week, Universe Contest shreds threir throats and sings about killing snakes with mic stands for the business-folk audience. RSVP here.
That evening, they play another free show, this time the HN/Maha showcase at The Bourbon. It was their job to curate their openers, and they chose The Renfields and The Lepers. Great picks.
Come listen to them play twice that day if you can.
• Merch: Finally, we have have Hear Nebraska T-shirts and koozies on the way for all of you shirtless, cold-handed folks. They'll take a few more weeks still, but we're receiving another round of stickers this week. Follow us on Facebook to learn where you can get your hands on them.
• Lynden Lyme Benefit Show: A very dear friend of mine, Lynden Eckery, has contracted Lyme Disease and at least three of its co-infections. Having recently graduated with her clinical doctorate in occupational therapy, her illness leaves her unable to work much, and her medical bills are growing fast. Four excellent bands — UUVVWWZ, Dim Light, Solid Goldberg and Dads — are performing at the Waiting Room Lounge beginning at 7 p.m. Friday night to help raise funds for her. Please support the cause if you can. RSVP here for the show. And you can't make it, please consider donating (and learn more about her condition) here.