by Tim McMahan
I can only imagine what it was like backstage at the Omaha Girls Rock (OGR) showcase moments before the night’s first band, The Jellybeans, took the stage. Utter chaos? Faces gripped in panic-fear? Tears? Nervous laughter?
For most of the 24 girls who took part in this, the inaugural OGR band camp, it would be their first time on any stage. Many had never held an instrument before signing up. Now here they were, formed into six bands — The Jellybeans, Cherrybombs, I Just Don’t Like Trees, Mischieff Managed, Urban Scrunchies and Pandas Of Peace — about to perform their own songs in front of an audience of more than 200 that likely included their proud, nervous parents.
OGR volunteer Jenn Bernard, a professional teacher who also performs in indie rock band Fortnight, said volunteers did their best to prepare the girls for their moment under the lights.
“Before the doors opened, we took each group on stage and showed them their mics and where their instruments would be,” Bernard said. “Then, to distract them, they took a tour of the Saddle Creek (Records) warehouse. After the tour, we sang the ‘camp song’ a few times together and got ready to go on stage. The girls’ instruments were all ready to go and everything was very organized.”
Even I was nervous when the four Jellybeans were introduced to hoots and applause. They took their places behind their instruments and microphones, and then did something most of us could never do. A little redheaded firebrand in a purple outfit grasped the mic like a miniature Janis Joplin and belted out her words with absolute, utter confidence while two friends joined in on guitar and keyboards, the fourth tapping out a rhythm on a drum set.
No, they didn’t sound like the band in School of Rock. They sounded better than that, because what they were doing was real — fun and goofy and filled with charming mistakes.
It was only a matter of time before someone organized something as smart as Omaha Girls Rock. The talent that created Omaha’s indie music scene a decade ago — a scene that’s become world-renowned — has grown up and had (or will have) kids of their own. And though those musicians may not make a “living” making music, they’ve figured out a way to keep music in their lives. Now they’re passing on what they’ve learned to the next generation, who will carry on the tradition in their own way, in their own voices.
Everyone left The Slowdown that evening with grins on their faces, and for the organizers, a few proud tears. Find out more about OGR and make donations at omahagirlsrock.com. Get involved.
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Who knows, maybe some day one of the OGR campers will emerge as talented as Sharon Jones, who along with her band, The Dap-Kings, performed Saturday night at this year’s Playing With Fire concert in a sauna called Stinson Park.
Blame the heat for a crowd that looked to be around 2-3,000, not the 7-8,000 organizers had hoped for, and maybe that was a good thing considering the size of Stinson Park, located in the newly minted Aksarben Village. The venue, a last-minute substitute for the flooded Lewis and Clark Landing, worked out well. The crowd, with its lawn chairs and bug spray, had plenty of room to roam along the grassy bowl, while vendors hocked pizza and beer from tents along the closed Mercy Road.
Playing with Fire organizer Jeff Davis said the concert was successful, all things considered. “First we worked three days in heat indexes over 100 degrees,” he said. “Second, Aksarben Village squeezed us in between three other events. This required our load-in and load-out logistics to be timed perfectly. We made gates at 4 p.m. and were well ahead of schedule on move out. That was one of our success measures. We were pleased with everything about the show / venue / crowd, except the heat. It impacted the size of the crowd by at least 30 percent. That impacted our vendors, none of whom did well.”
No doubt MECA’s Red Sky Music Festival, being held this week at the TD Ameritrade ballpark and surrounding griddle-like parking lots, also will see attendance impacted by the blistering, painful heat. Why not simply hold these outdoor events earlier or later in the year?
“We didn’t do June because it interfered with the College World Series. NCAA said no,” he said. “(The) August date we gave to the MAHA (Music Festival) since we had cash for just one show. September never works because of Big Red. May means graduations, weddings and rain. We settled on July 16 because that was the date we could get Sharon.”
That was reason enough. It was one of those shows where you felt lucky to be there, to be able to say you saw and heard this incredible band live and in person. Jones, age 55, performed with more energy than most R&B divas one-third her age — singing, dancing, grooving, pulling guys on stage to act as foils for her “you-better-do-me-right” rockers. I’ve never heard a band half as a good playing this style of R&B.
“It was cool to see people of all ages, color and backgrounds having a great time,” Davis said. “That is the true power of music.”
As for next year, “We are going to make an attempt one last time to gain sponsorship dollars,” Davis said of the Playing With Fire concert series. “We would do this forever if we could just break even. Unfortunately, the heat took that away from us this year. Wish us luck.”
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It’s been a monumentally slow week for shows. Finally tonight there’s something going on worth talking about. At The Barley Street Tavern it’s the return of Lawrence indie pop band Cowboy Indian Bear with KC band AcB’s and veritable BT house band All Young Girls Are Machine Guns. $5, 9 p.m.
No, it’s not Deerhunter playing at The Waiting Room tonight; it’s The Dear Hunter, a Providence R.I.-based indie prog-rock band on New York label Triple Crown Records. Opening is Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground (members of Gatsbys American Dream), and Atlanta experimental band O’Brother. $14, 8 p.m.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — 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 © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.