1200 CLUB to Host Nebraska’s Take on “Austin City Limits” | Concert Preview

When the house lights go down in Omaha’s 1200 CLUB on June 7, three Nebraska bands will in succession take a stage unlike any they’ve played before: in a setting similar to Austin City Limits.

While some of its most known acts are nationally and internationally touring jazz and blues musicians, this venue in the Holland Center will play host to "Hear Nebraska — Live at the 1200 CLUB" next month. The show is the product of a new collaboration among Omaha Performing Arts, NET Television and Hear Nebraska. Tickets are on sale here.

The evening will feature three Nebraska bands — Digital Leather, Big Harp and Kill County — and will be recorded for four TV programs produced by Nebraska Public Television. These television specials will be broadcast throughout the state, with the potential for national distribution.

Kendra Whitlock Ingram, vice president of programming and education with Omaha Performing Arts, said the goal for June 7 is increased exposure for the organizations, but also an expanded definition of the cultural programming that Omaha Performing Arts presents.

“The real gist of it is Omaha Performing Arts wants to be a venue for all people,” said Ingram, talking about her mission for booking at 1200 CLUB, the Holland Center and the Orpheum Theater. “It’s totally cool to hear a band like Kill County at a venue in Lincoln or Digital Leather at Maha (Music Festival), but it’ll be a different experience hearing them at our space. And I think making that accessibility and providing that cultural connection for all different genres is really what our goal is.”

While the three bands were selected by Hear Nebraska, Ingram said the structure and customs of the 1200 CLUB could mean seeing the bands in a whole new light for fans: in an environment that asks for engagement with the musicians that’s both respectful and lively.

“It’s not a place where you go to talk to your friends and drink some beer … and the music is more in the background,” Ingram said. “It’s a room where you go and really listen to music. But it’s still a more casual place than going to the concert room. It does have that club feel, but it’s more of a jazz club.”

The semi-formal tone of the 1200 CLUB will be one of many new flavors for Lincoln’s Kill County on June 7. Until now, the band has found its home performing in Lincoln’s college bar scene.

“We were trying to figure (the dress code) out,” said Josh James, one of Kill County’s two singers and songwriters. “Joe (Salvati, steel guitar) is the nicest looking one of all of us. We had talked about getting nudie suits like the Flying Burrito Brothers, but it’s not in the budget. I don’t know. We’ll have buttons on our shirts, hopefully. I think we’ll definitely all have sleeves for sure.”

Ingram said that Omaha’s Digital Leather, in particular, will be a first foray for the venue into indie music and might require the minor use of some sound-deadening curtains, since the venue is most accustomed to housing acoustic acts.

“The room is really versatile, fortunately,” she said.

The televised component, though one of the most exciting elements of the June 7 show in Ingram’s estimation, is a completely new experiment for the operators of the 1200 CLUB. The key, she said, will be preserving the live electricity of the show, while still tailoring the room’s lighting and staging top-to-bottom for television production.

“It’s going to be interesting, I have to say,” she said. “It’s a fully produced television show, so that means multiple camera positions and an arm … that extends over the audience. It’s a full-on Austin City Limits-type show. NET definitely wants to keep as much of the original essence of the show as possible. One of things that’s really desirable to them is that live feel.”

“This will be the first time all Nebraskans — from Valentine to Fremont — will be able to experience original Nebraska bands from their living rooms,” said Andrew Norman, executive director of Hear Nebraska.

James said he thinks the show represents a unique opportunity for the band on the biggest stage it’s played, while simultaneously commanding an audience’s full attention in a “listening-room” atmosphere.

“The quieter the audience, the better we’re doing,” James said. “I’m really excited to have that big of connection with the audience, hopefully.”

Musically, though, the band members will have to meet the evening on their own terms, accounting, as they always do, for living in three different states (Nebraska, Michigan and Texas) and how rarely they’re able to rehearse their work.

“We have to approach it with the same comfort level and still feed off each other and have the same chemistry,” James said. “We’re looking to strike a balance between that and taking it a little more seriously, really. We all view this as a really good opportunity for the band. Maybe try to put on a little more cohesive show or be a bit more directed.”

“Maybe a few less shots than we normally take,” he joked.

While “Hear Nebraska — Live at the 1200 CLUB” is a litany of firsts for Omaha Performing Arts, NET and Hear Nebraska, a successful and ongoing collaboration could open doors for a sequel or further promotion of Nebraska artists at the new venue, Ingram said.

“We’re always going to present the 2,000-seat concert hall show and 2,600-seat theater shows,” she said. “That’s our primary venues, but the 1200 CLUB has given us a lot of flexibility to do a variety of other things. Anything is up for grabs at this point if we have the right partners, like we do with Hear Nebraska and NET.”

Chance Solem-Pfeifer is a Hear Nebraska intern. He also promises to wear sleeves to this show. And all of the time. Reach him at chancesp@hearnebraska.org.