I pressed my face up to the splintering wooden fence separating the grandstands area with the rest of the fairgrounds in Imperial, Neb. The fence, once painted red, white and blue, had faded to pastel. My left cheek scrunched up to my nose between a pink and baby blue plank overlaid to stymie people like me who would love nothing more than to see free demo derbies, rodeos and “cowboy poker” (a game of chicken with an angry bull). Over and past all the cowboy hats, I could just make out the Charlie Daniels Band onstage.
Johnnie and Satan's epic fiddle parts in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” served as a Southern rock siren to draw me from eating snow cones and impressing Rachel-haired girls with my sagging pants that should have earned a purple ribbon at that year's Chase County Fair. I was 16, and this uncomfortable ogle was the first significant live music experience I can remember. And not only was this the biggest show of the year in the greater South Platte Valley area, but I didn't even have a ticket.
The reason I write about music now, rather than agriculture commodity futures, isn't because of Daniels' fiddle. But it isn't because of my next significant experience, either, which also didn't include me actually seeing a band.
I got into punk rock in high school — or, at least, pop-punk: Screeching Weasel, NOFX, Propagandhi. And I was a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when I saw that The Queers were playing at Knickerbockers. I'd never heard the band, and didn't know exactly why I should care about them, but I knew I should. I asked around, but couldn't find anyone to go with me. So I walked from Harper Hall through campus, past the stadium, and down 9th Street to stop on the sidewalk in front of the venue.
That's as far as I got. I was too shy to walk in the door. Strangers who looked like stranglers, and all. But I told myself that I just didn't want to pay for a $15 ticket as I turned around and walked home.
But still, that was an important baby step.
Stumbling like a drunken toddler into a Lincoln house show, however, is why I write about music today. It was Darren Keen as The Show is the Rainbow dancing/rolling around a living room carpet shirtless, singing/screaming into a microphone encircled by kids who, like me, had WTF on their face back when it just meant “what the fuck?” It was watching the next band, Rent Money Big, thrash, pound and break their way through a set of clever, hook-laden power punk songs that ended with frontman Tim Scahill back flopping from the kick drum.
Realizing that my local music scene is special, and so is its community, is what keeps me coming to shows. And it's why I try to drag my friends along. Every concert is a first. And you never know which first is going to stick.
I asked a few Nebraska musicians to describe their first show-going experiences in the state:
First concert in Nebraska was Harry Connick Jr. at Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum. The first local concert was Blue Moon Ghetto at the Ranch Bowl, opening for Seven Mary Three. I was about 14i for Harry — 16 for BMG.
I think I saw Willie Nelson at Ak-Sar-Ben with my folks. I don't remember the year. I must have been 12 or 13.
I know I saw Black Sabbath at the Civic in '82 without my folks. Ronnie James Dio was their singer. A band called Wrabbit opened the show. I must have been 14 or so.
I think my first local show was seeing members of Apathy and R.A.F. playing Motorhead covers at the VFW on 84th and F, or was that a bingo hall? Anyways, I think Toxic Reasons, who were in Omaha so often they could have been considered a local band, must have also played. I think this was around 1985 and I must have been 18, since I know I had to register for the draft and was really worried about the Russians.
Oh man … a bit embarrassing, but I am pretty sure the first concert I ever saw was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Vanilla Ice at The Civic. I must have been in elementary school, although I am not sure of the exact year.
The first local show I went to was probably a show I played. It was a house show in a friend's basement. The name of our band was Naphtha (trying to sound like Nirvana much?). Don't worry, we later changed our name to Mudpuppy (once we realized that Mudhoney was way cooler!). I was in 9th grade.
I should add that for the house show, my mom dropped me off with my pawn shop guitar and Peavey 2x15 cabinet. Rock and roll!
I used to babysit for my aunt and uncle, and they would pay me by taking me to the Hall County Fair. I saw tons of country music concerts. The first one I can remember (also happens to be one of my favorite bands to this day) is The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Hell yes. I was probably about 10.
As far as local concerts go, my town's pretty tiny. We're talking about 280 people. Pretty sure the band that usually played at the Wolbach Days Street Dance was called Sweetwater. Honestly, this probably began when I was about 5. I was dancing in the streets at a young age.
I saw the Beach Boys at Bob Devaney Center when I was very young. My first local show was Quiet Riot at the old Rockin' Robin in Lincoln (where Yias Yia's and Oso are now, I think) with a hair band that had a knee pad schtick called Mother Tongue opening up. Those were the local guys, I think.
First local show I went to was at the old Blue Barn Theatre in June 1991. The bill was Cultural Attraction, Writer's Conference and a bunch of other bands we didn't stick around to see. My buddy Wade and I drove up from Lawrence, Kan., to see Cultural Attraction because my best friend from high school, Milan Seth, was in the band and it was their first show. Cultural Attraction played early, and I think we also saw Writer's Conference before leaving. I moved to Sioux City at the end of July 1991, and joined Cultural Attraction as the bass player in the spring of 1992 when Chuck Kilgore signed them on to do Saturday nights at Kilgore's.
The first major concert I saw in Nebraska was the KRCK Buzzcocks and Poster Children at the Ranch Bowl on Friday, November 15, 1991 - I know the date because I still have the ticket. It was a "special early show — all ages welcome" which started at 7:30 p.m. and was over at 9 p.m. because they needed to clear all the kids out for the local metal cover band that started at 10 p.m. I was 25 for both shows
KISS at the Civic Center. 1978. I was 9 years old, and a mother of a couple of kids I went to school with took us. I was blown away by the makeup, blood and fire — still have fond memories. Gene Simmons threw me a pick and I grabbed it — I learned to play guitar on that pick. I wish I still had it, but it's probably in the landfill with my first guitar.
My first local show would have been at the Lift Ticket, (Waiting Room now) in Omaha in the early '80s. If I remember right, it was on Sundays that they used to let the all-ages shows happen. I want to say '83-'84. Man, that was when punk rock was punk!
The first concert was Willie Nelson at the Chase County Fair when I was 6-ish. I remember asking for and receiving permission to go sit on the ground in the front row.
What I think is hilarious is the crowd response was what you'd expect from your typical Nebraska, Germanic farm community. They all quietly sat there and politely applauded after each song. I've been to numerous Willie shows around the country since then, and let me tell you, they are a party. Willie must have thought we were dead. I'm almost embarrassed when I think about the lack of crowd response.