From the beginning, Hear Nebraska thrived on its storytelling engine. Its features, reviews, photos and videos are at their best when they take the deep-dive into some element of Nebraska music, one of its central figures or one of its seminal works. Whatever the medium, the editorial team based decisions on a can-do spirit, pushing stories and story ideas to their brink or pouring everything into tried-and-true methods to properly convey their subjects.
As we move forward into the next frontier — its merger with The Bay to form Rabble Mill — former managing editors Chance Solem-Pfeifer and Michael Todd and current editor Andrew Stellmon opened the annals of Hear Nebraska to dust off their top five favorite features of all time. As a list, they encapsulate the aspirational, the whacky, the visually-stunning, the illuminating and the gut-busting stories from seven years of scene-wide coverage. Relive history with Chance, Michael and Stellmon below.
Chance’s Top Five
This list came together a little backwards. Fueled by 60-some Chrome tabs and my best 2014 playlists, I thought first of the folks who shaped Hear Nebraska’s editorial side circa 2014-15 and then chose work that typified their best efforts and qualities. You’d be hard-pressed to call any one piece the most important HN ever produced. As an editor, I had my favorites — the ones that tended to gestate longest and observe closest. But the beauty of producing work specifically for a community was that every photo or news mention theoretically meant something to someone. These five pieces still speak to me.
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The Best Photos of 2014
by HN Staff | Dec. 31, 2014
Starting a “best of” list with a “best of” list is really gunning for this year’s “Best Editorial Faux Pas” countdown. I know it’s not “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” but this photo compilation jumped immediately to mind when recalling the happiest I ever was uploading a feature. Because so much of HN’s internal and external ethos was driven by shout-outs, props and love, hitting “Publish” on anything that celebrated a large group’s hard work was a thrill. It’s still a mystery to me how the HN photographers got after it every night of the week and produced work that seemed both of the show they attended and so much more than the stage, instruments and faces. Also, they snapped so many pictures of people standing in place with electric guitars that when someone — let’s say, Molly — got to shoot something wild — let’s say, Sam Herring looking as though he was trying to remove his own face — well, they really earned the spectacle.
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The Box Awesome Oral History
by Andrew Stellmon | Aug. 26, 2014
This oral history took an entire spring and summer to execute if memory serves, during which time Stellmon basically turned into Robert Graysmith from Zodiac. In search of scene history, he did everything short of connect push pins with strands of yarn. When I reflect on someone doing the near-impossible editorially, it’s this story, which by all rights should have been done by three people. But then you know what? The voices of the scene co-wrote the thing with him, another reason I love it. Maybe the oral history is an overused form in web journalism now, but three short years ago, it felt aspirational and earnest to take something we saw our writing heroes doing (RIP Grantland) and apply it to Lincoln.
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SXSW Reflection: “Desire Is The Root Of All Suffering” | Guest Column
By Dan Scheuerman | March 19, 2014
I was exhilarated whenever Hear Nebraska crossed paths with SXSW. Suddenly, Nebraska music and arts journalism were keyed into a larger discussion, however cacophonous or deceptive that discussion turned out to be. Nobody better summed up the promise, futility and search for reality within SXSW than Dan Scheuerman. Everything I wrote about the festival the next two years only made me think about his piece: “It’s a surreal jungle of booze, ego, lust and consumption that Hunter S. Thompson would have loved.”
Reading and reflecting now, I love what his Austin experience that year suggests about fighting off frenzy and wanting in general. Sometimes it takes getting lost to make sure your head is screwed on straight.
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St. Vincent at Sokol Auditorium | Concert Review
by Michael Todd | April 2, 2014
Show reviews were a massively important limb of Hear Nebraska in my years. It’s how every writer on the site cut their teeth. Michael Todd on St. Vincent was quite possibly the most thoughtful, eloquent concert review I ever had the privilege of editing. How he manages to pull off any version of “I sit here at my desk writing this review” and have it work is beyond me. And then he moves on toward artfully dissecting Annie Clark’s music and ethos. Both are so precise and performative from St. Vincent that if you’re not going to meet the art on its level, you’re blowing it. If you know Michael Todd, you know short-selling isn’t in his DNA. Here’s the line that filled me with wonder the first time I read it, just as it does now:
“Puppeteer and puppet of the performance art show, songwriter and frontwoman Annie Clark played the part of a lifeless, computer-bound being as she spoke to us, the last generation to make fire with a magnifying glass and the sun, before notifications encased in red swallowed our attention.”
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Disappeared: Finding Kill County’s Dying Town
by Jacob Zlomke | Aug. 1, 2014
Glacial and lonesome, humble and proud, supportive as a matter of existence — Kill County and Jacob Zlomke write about rural life in many of the same ways. This analysis of their “Brownlee” and Jacob’s personal essay about a childhood visit to that same town fit together hand in workglove. For me, Jacob’s writing on Greater Nebraska always illuminated and humanized parts of the state I knew little about while simultaneously deepening their mystery. The Sandhills are specially suited to that contrast: “Communities grow sparser and dry up. The Sandhills persist.”
Michael’s Top Five
Laura Burhenn’s Wurlitzer | The Muse
photos and story by Clay Lomneth | April 19, 2012
This series followed in the footsteps of the Aperture Needle photo series, in which Eric Gonzales would photograph musicians’ tattoos and ask a few questions to accompany. That was from the early, early days of Hear Nebraska, and I when I was hired on as managing editor, I wanted to set up something similar. So I asked Clay, a colleague of mine from the college newspaper, if he would contribute.
HN has always enjoyed working with the state’s best photographers, and Clay’s work was simply stunning. I love the way he plays with light and evokes a distinct feeling with each shot. This post was the first in a series that would highlight Dave Socha’s accordion, Jamie Pressnall’s tap shoes, and Gerardo Meza’s whole house of instruments, among others.
The Muse is emblematic of so many other story collections by industrious contributors, whether it was Hilary Stohs-Krause’s X-Rated series or Chelsea Schlievert Yates’ Liner Notes: an incredibly talented person having fun, doing good work, and impressing the hell out of me.
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Simon Joyner: A Nebraska Songwriter | Artist Profile
story by Andrew Norman | photos by Daniel Muller | October 30, 2012
What would a “top stories” list be without one by our fearless executive director? Andy’s writing is one of my favorite natural resources from my home state. And since he’s the busiest guy I know, that writing is like waterfalls in Nebraska: rare, but glorious.
His style makes you feel like you’re in the second hour of a conversation with him and a bunch of friends. It reminds me of the meetings we’d have when I started out as an intern. Huddled around a table at Duffy’s, a pitcher of Old Style going fast, Andy was (and is) whip-smart and full of heart, and could tell a story like none other.
In this piece, he sheds light on Simon Joyner, who at that point in my Nebraska music journalism career was quite a shadowy figure to me. The story itself is a microcosm of everything Andy does, positioning the Nebraska music scene as a scrappy upstart that you need to pay attention to.
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“No Apart” by UUVVWWZ | Love Drunk Video
audio engineering/mixing by Matt Hovanec | editing and words by Django G-S | video by John Brumbach, Django G-S, Matt Hovanec, Mike Machian, and Andrew Roger | photos by Mike Machian | November 5, 2012
Here’s one that I show off to new friends who I meet here in South Dakota, where I moved to back in 2014. It’s the ultimate way to say, “I still think Nebraska is way cooler.” And I mean, how can you disagree?
The stars had aligned for the 100th Love Drunk session: Lincoln’s Mayor Chris Beutler opened his office up for the crew to film UUVVWWZ. I believe it took a couple hundred dollars of taxpayers’ money to repair the glass that was shattered. Just kidding.
But seriously, this video shows that no idea is too crazy. And you can also shoot a live, one-take music video in a state senator’s office, or in a hot air balloon, or while getting tattooed. Because why not.
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Aaron Druery’s Ginger Beer, Controlled Burns, Soccer (and Music) | Kibler’s Corner
onscreen talent by Cory Kibler | video by Nickolai Hammar | June 11, 2013
The hope for these videos was to tap into the weird world of humor that is Tim and Eric, and as a side benefit, showcase Nebraska musicians and their hobbies. The result was intentionally ramshackle, irreverent, and a tribute to two of HN’s weirdest and most lovable contributors: Cory Kibler and Nickolai Hammar.
If I could choose the film reel that plays at the end of my life, I would want to include a piece of this video in there. There, I said it.
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Omaha Symphony’s Thomas Wilkins | Sessions
audio and words by Chance Solem-Pfeifer | August 27, 2013
When asked to put this top 5 together, I promised not to fill it with only Chance’s stories. That was a tough promise to keep. It was simply the greatest joy of my entire HN career to edit his work. And I’d bet all my money on the structural integrity of any of his stories. I mean, they could withstand an earthquake in Michael Bay movie, if given the chance.
His ability to weave together a longform piece transferred over well to audio, too, with the Sessions series. That’s not to say a story like this feature on Omaha Symphony Director Thomas Wilkins was easy to produce. I can’t imagine how many hours it took to prep for the interviews, conduct and record them, transcribe the recordings, edit the audio, and record voiceover. The end result is a masterwork of storytelling, and I believe illustrates the pinnacle of what HN can do.
With a spotlight on the artists of the state, Hear Nebraska makes me feel lucky to have grown up enjoying the Good Life. It makes me proud to have worked with such kind souls and creative minds. And it makes me super nostalgic. Now, pardon me while I drift away in a daydream of good memories.
Stellmon’s Top Five
I’ll be honest: for a “favorites” list, I waited a very, very long time to write this. I wanted to be thorough. I wanted, by some perceived yet non-existent formula, to arrive at some watertight top five story list. I lost myself in the archives because of it and all for naught, because no matter what I always circled back to the same few pieces. It makes this list perhaps a bit more romantic than I had intended but that’s how I choose to remember things at this point.
The following five stories in some way represent some of my favorite aspects of what the HN editorial body was capable of doing. Eventually, I whittled it down to things I’ve always loved about the site from both the inside and outside. They are the stories that, whenever I happen upon them, I always read or watch again.
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The Power Of Home | Video Feature
Videos & Photos by Andrew Dickinson, Lindsey Yoneda | Oct. 13, 2016
Picking this feature is cheating, sort of; it’s really 12 videos in on place. But what jumps at me is the picture it paints of music beyond Lincoln and Omaha and into Greater Nebraska.
The Good Living Tour video team skillfully captured 12 Nebraska songwriters performing original compositions in scenic or meaningful spots within each tour community. A new part of the GLT storytelling project in 2016, HN’s live performance video series celebrates the relationship between artist and environment. It also showcases beautiful, imaginative work by longtime contributor Andrew Dickinson and then-staff-photog Lindsey Yoneda. A true team effort, editorial intern Gabriella Parsons offered logistical assistance. Taken together, this body of work stands among the most fully-realized video projects since HN’s focus on the medium.
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Build It Yourself: Lincoln Hip-Hop Finds A Home | Feature Story
Story by Jacob Zlomke | photos by Andrew Dickinson | May 2, 2016
My favorite HN pieces — and ones I end up liking general — tend to tie their subjects specifically to a strong sense of place. I share my predecessor’s fondness for Jacob Zlomke’s writing, not just about this particular DIY venue and this particular hip-hop community bonding over their respective efforts to foster a home, but just about any time he turns the focus on the Good Life. He does so here with the care and detail that both deserve. That Church no longer exists (and that Omaha DIY venue Milk Run followed a year later) speaks to the importance of an editorial direction that highlights and gives voice to underrepresented communities, though that is only part of the picture. Thankfully, GoodGospel continues to feature local hip-hop, and if you care about the vibrancy of Lincoln’s music scene, you might consider supporting with your money, too.
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Femme Fest: The Teenage Experience | Guest Column
Story by Ryleigh Welsh | Sept. 8, 2015
When Benson First Friday Femme Fest launched its annual Benson-wide, women-focused festival in September 2015, it was the kind of revelation that may have felt like it should have been your idea. What we see onstage isn’t always representative of the artistic community at large; it shouldn’t be news that there are tons of women making music in Nebraska, but concert billings don’t always make that obvious. BFFFF celebrated, and continues to celebrate, non-male performers while attempting to tip the visibility scales.
If you have any questions about what it means for young people to see their identities represented onstage — and, in my opinion, one of the most productive ways to use the HN space — I refer you to this piece by a then-15-year-old Ryleigh Welsh, who performed with her band Omaha Girls Rock-formed band Sassafrass. After playing an early set at The Waiting Room, Welsh spent the evening soaking in the experience.
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Unsung Nebraska Music Players | Q&As
Interviews by Chance Solem-Pfeifer, Jacob Zlomke, Andrew Stellmon | Nov. 12, 2014
If you’ll excuse my including something I personally worked on, the Unsung Players interview two-parter is here because it was some of the most fun I had producing a piece and because some of the most interesting stories come from people that aren’t necessarily front and center. Funny insider anecdote: this was the first time I ever spoke with Soul Colossal/Wondermonds/Mezcal Brothers guitarist Benjamin Kushner, who spoke for nearly an hour on three questions. If only I could get everybody to talk like that (thanks, Benji).
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Sleater-Kinney at Slowdown | Photos & Review
Review by Chance Solem-Pfeifer | photos by Chris Dinan | Feb. 16, 2015
It bears briefly repeating that the concert review is a hallmark of HN’s editorial arm. On a local level, they have helped capture bands at their best and contextualized single performances within the Nebraska music storyline. The best of the national reviews helped fit our state within the national moment, giving a further reference point.
When I think of the best of the bunch, I come back to this review as an example of one that checks all the boxes in style. Chance fills this story with visceral detail while conveying the spirit of this beloved punk trio. This is one I still read before going to shows, like watching skate videos to generate pre-session hype.
Bonus Pick: Tim Carr’s Pizza Court
Words by Michael Todd | illustrations by Lance Heybrock
How on Earth could we omit the infamous Pizza Court? Universe Contest’s Tim Carr, tells the story of the Wednesday night misunderstanding over $1 pizza and the ensuing legal battle (yes, battle), with help from illustrations by Lance Heybrock. One of the finest HN storytelling moments.