[Editor’s Note: This piece continues our oral history of the defunct Lincoln venue Box Awesome. Catch up with Part 1 here. Once again, the expressed views in this oral history reflect only the opinions of their speakers, not those of Hear Nebraska or Andrew Stellmon. The author attempts to present all quotes in context. Also, everyone’s titles are listed per Box Awesome being open.]
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Any Given Night at Box Awesome
Box Awesome found itself hosting major Lincoln musicians on a near-nightly basis, as well as showcasing some unusual attractions. The Daily Nebraskan once described it as “a shrine of sundry musical genres, showcasing everything from bluegrass to experimental neo-soul punk.” A look back at Box Awesome’s history is a look back at the primes of late-‘00s Lincoln bands like UUVVWWZ, Columbia vs. Challenger, Somasphere and many more.
Jeremiah Moore: There were all kinds of touring acts that were always hungry to go play and get out on the road. You take the Universe Contest of today — they are the big fish in their pond — but when they go out on the road, they are the new guys somewhere, and they just want that opportunity. There are so many random bands that I had no idea who they were, and they’d come play for us and they’d blow our minds. The local bands loved it, and they would start forging friendships with these bands and able to go play in their city, and they’d come back, and their shows get bigger and bigger because they’ve come to Lincoln three or four times.
Alex Munson: When I first started there, we got [a band that] was a bunch of guys in really tight thongs, slapping each other in the ass and playing music at the same time, tea-bagging each other, and I was like, yeah, I probably wouldn’t be able to see this anywhere else in Lincoln. But I mean, the day after we’d have a four-part oboe quartet.
Jeremiah Moore: One of the funniest … upstairs/downstairs shows we did was … upstairs we had a Christian band from a local church doing their CD release show, and in the basement, we had a traveling art show which was a Satanic art show, where the person used blood and urine and pentagrams and everything in their art and it was all body forms and skin and it was really crazy. It was not something you’d expect to see in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Alex Munson: Ironically, the two people we had to kick out that night were from the Christian rock group.
* * *
The open mic nights at Box Awesome became an influential melting pot, in which musicians could jam together and create new sounds. One could trace the origin of more than a few musical acts to these nights.
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Saber Blazek: [The first show for The Machete Archive] was like a Monday open stage night, because they used to have open stage for bands. And we’re like alright, we’ve got like 6 or 7 songs. Tonight is the night. Let’s just like, whoever is there, we’ll play for them. There was like seven people there and they were all super supportive and blown away and super excited about what was going on. None of them knew who we were, really.
Josh Hoyer: Tommy Vandenburg, I met him down there. He’s the trombone player that plays with the Shadowboxers. He’d come down and play in the jam we hosted down there.
Brendan McGinn: Nick Kuhl … who recently passed away, he and I were doing some open mic stuff … Mondays would be kind of a dead night, but Nick would have his drums set up on the stage and you could just go, and I had a little 12×2 amp, something I could throw in the back of my Honda Civic and just go jam and have a few beers and play for 30 minutes. To have an ongoing open mic Monday night … it’s probably not the most sound business decision, but it allowed people to do the experimental stuff.
* * *
photo by Jeremiah Moore
Andy Marker, drums, Somasphere: The first show ever [at Box Awesome] was Bassnectar, with like 160 people who, unbeknownst to anybody at the time, was one of the forerunners of electronic music.
Brett Smith: It was kind of a catastrophe and amazing all at the same time. Alot of stuff went wrong.
Andy Marker: They did not have enough wattage. They had to rent a generator on a trailer hitch. A large, as-tall-as-this-room generator.
Jesse Hodges, electronic percussion, Somasphere: It was alcohol free. There was a juice bar because they hadn’t changed the liquor license over yet. People were still losing their shit, of course.
Spencer Munson, DJ/promoter: [Bassnectar] got his hair caught in the crossfader. The music stopped. Five minutes, nobody could figure out what was wrong and then he realized that his hair was in the crossfader.
Alex Munson: It was like right before he really blew up. I just remember that was one of my first experiences with dubstep. Bassnectar makes me think of how it’s always been kinda neat to be almost at the head, or get to see music trends right before they take off.
Jeremy Buckley: It was a packed house show, 150 people. Now he’s playing to thousands.
Alex Munson: When we opened as The Bourbon … Bassnectar was super excited to come back because he had had an amazing show at the Box.
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The first annual Nexus Festival was held on the weekend of September 28, 2007. Organized by Jeremiah and Lincoln EDM group Somasphere, it was a two-day arts and electronica festival that spilled out into the parking lot outside of the venue, under the O Street bridge.
photo by Jeremiah Moore
Andy Marker: The idea is to have a microcosm of what a festival is like. It’s a way to celebrate that underground culture and give people who might not be aware of it a view of what goes on. —published in Daily Nebraskan, September 28, 2007
Dustin Hunke: [Nexus was] where I realized that electronic music is a really big thing in this town.
Casey Welsch: It was awesome. The Box still had one floor at the time, so there were DJs and bands and everything playing inside, Somasphere and whatnot, and then outside were a whole bunch of local vendors. They rented out that whole parking area to have both the outdoor festivities while there was non-stop dance music going on inside … There was a drum circle that didn’t stop for like three straight days. There were firespinners and people painting street art. This is all going on under that overpass. That was my very first introduction to Lincoln music scene … and from that moment on, I’m like, “OK, this place is pretty damn cool.”
Alex Munson: Somasphere was one of my first intricate experiences with the electro-hippie crowd. I hadn’t heard something quite like them. The Somasphere crowd, I would say, had probably been our most regular patrons. Somasphere has been with us for so long, they’re almost part of the family. They’re part of the Bourbon/Box Awesome growth.
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photo by Natasha Richardson
Jim Schroeder, guitarist, Mr 1986/UUVVWWZ: When [Mr 1986] went to book our reunion show, it was the obvious choice because of the DIY vibe. It was the only venue I wanted to play.
Saber Blazek: My most memorable show, personally for me, was getting to see Mr 1986. They were pretty influential to me when I was younger, so that was pretty awesome to see them again.
Alex Munson: That was an interesting night. I just remember the Box being more packed than it ever had [been] for any show. We had the bottom open just for the sake of space for people to go and chill out and drink. I remember it being … up to the point, the pinnacle show for the Box.
Jim Schroeder: At one point, someone in the crowd turned to someone who was talking and shushed them. So there was this kind of reverence there, which was crazy.
Teal Gardner: That one was just emotional. You looked around the room and people were like really, really moved. I know I cried.
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photo by Natasha Richardson
Dustin Hunke: UUVVWWZ formed during one of those just random open mic nights at the Box.
Josh Hoyer: I remember being down there, watching Jim Schroeder and Teal Gardner start to kinda form UUVVWWZ at open jams. She brought this little tiny keyboard down there and would hammer out some pretty interesting things, and Jim was really into what she was doing.
Teal Gardner: I remember the first open mic that I … took some ownership for, I made some posters and the whole day beforehand just walked around and handed out fliers to random people I would meet or whatever. And so by the time I got to open mic night, Jeremiah was like, “Yeah, people have been asking about this Ingrid Blood that’s playing tonight.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s me.”
Saber Blazek, bassist, The Machete Archive: I definitely have a pretty good memory of a Lincoln Calling. UUVVWWZ played down in the basement … filled with people. I sat on the stairs. I didn’t even get inside the room. I just watched people move everything in their path. Teal using her vocal power to keep everyone back from them. It was insane.
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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Jeremiah Moore: One time there was this hip-hop group coming through, Grieves, and he was pretty amazing, and he had this opener with him, this opening group group that went by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Chris Johnson: I didn’t know who Macklemore was. Nobody did, you know? It was just some guy that showed up that was rapping with some other guys.
Jeremiah Moore: There was probably 15 people there, and I paid Macklemore like $25 and bought him some pizza and beers. And now the dude is like, you know, I don’t if he’s platinum, but he’s playing arenas. And if we wouldn’t have had [our] mentality, we never would have had the Bassnectars, we never would’ve had Macklemore, we never would have had Pretty Lights play there.
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Lincoln musician and artist Raws Schlesinger perform as Plack Blague, and also contributed as a promoter, booking everything at The Box from punk concerts to art exhibits.
Raws Schlesinger: I kind of did a little bit of everything from death metal bands to cop groups to noise bands to punk bands. A little bit of hip hop, a little bit of weird performance art.
Chris Johnson: Raws did some pretty crazy shows. Wastoid shows.
Raws Schlesinger: One of the more memorable nights I did, I had an art opening for an artist named Steven Leyba. Steven Leyba is a well known Satanist. He’s a Native American satanic priest. His artwork is really controversial and features a lot of nudity. He did this thing called Sexpressionist Portraits. He had hundreds of those there. And it was just like an amazing art show, that I’ve never seen anything like it in Lincoln, and it was in the basement of the Box because they let us get away with that there.
Alex Munson: The first time I saw [Plack Blague], he was actually in the middle of the crowd, and the crowd was gathered around him.
Brendan McGinn: I kinda remember a Plack Blague show that might’ve been on a First Friday. Raws [played wearing] a leather jacket, leather studded jock strap. That’s it. And his crotch thrusting and stuff. It was on the floor [in front of the stage]. And so that was a wild experience. Jarring, in a great way.
Raws Schlesinger: You could kind of do whatever you want [at The Box]. It didn’t matter if someone was naked on stage or someone was throwing up outside or if someone was breaking stuff. We would clean it up. It was there for the art, the sake of what I consider underground culture.
* * *
Jeremiah Moore: The most interesting was this group called Ssion from Kansas City.
Raws Schlesinger: [Ssion is] like a pop band, but like a punk-pop band. It’s not pop-punk but, you know, dance music for punks. It’s like a performance show with this kind of weird guy on stage that’s on a box that’s kind of like posing and seducing the crowd.
Chris Johnson: The Ssion show was off the hook. It was makeup and glitter and dancing and people partying everywhere. Raws is still really good about that, bringing in out of town bands.
Leah Moore: Probably one of the most intense, rocking out, sweat-covered shows that I just went nuts in. This entire crowd was just in it. But it was so tight, so powerful … Ssion looked like they were born and died there. It was exactly where they were supposed to be.
Jeremiah Moore: It was one of those where it brought out such a wide variety of folks, and like old and young, straight, gay, metal kids, rock kids, electronic kids…it was really freakin’ cool to see that.
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Columbia vs. Challenger
photo by Natasha Richardson
Jeremy Buckley: Columbia vs. Challenger was a band with Josh Miller, Evan Todd, Elliot Wegner and Theo [Wiesehan]. They played their last show there, knowing that their band was breaking up because [Wiesehan] was moving.
Joshua Miller, vocals/keys, Columbia vs. Challenger: [Our final show] was really fun … it was a place that meant a lot to us because that was kind of where we developed and figured out who we were and gained a following.
Casey Welsch: We wanted to throw this big grill-out in front of the Box (in conjunction with the band’s last show). It was Buckley’s brain child, along with Josh. We wanted everybody to bring their grills and bring food and have this great time. Nobody brought a grill but a lot of people brought food. [There was] more of a line for the food than for the show. And that show was good.
Jeremy Buckley: They had a line in one of their songs that said, “Read me the list of the groceries again, milk and eggs and butter, half pound of turkey, half pound of ham, a case of tonic water.” So for the show I made ham and turkey sandwiches for the whole crowd and handed them out during the song, and everyone is mowing down on ham and turkey sandwiches while the band is playing the song. That was pretty fun.
Joshua Miller: It was bittersweet, as any of those things would be. [The band] was kind of naturally dissolving. But it felt really good. We would never have been able to succeed had it not been for that place.
* * *
By the summer of 2008, Box Awesome was on a roll. Buckley and Moore decided to try something that neither of them had done before.
Jeremiah Moore: There was never a doubt in my mind that [the Box] would work. And it just kept getting better, up until the last season we were open we were hitting numbers that were higher and higher each month.
Jeremy Buckley: In the month of July that year, I booked 150 bands. That’s five a day for every day.
Jeremiah Moore: We had a basement stage and an upstairs stage, and it wasn’t uncommon to have like 12 shows in a week … There were several weeks where we’d have early shows in the basement, early shows in the first floor, late show in the basement, late show on the first floor.
Jeremy Buckley: It was kind of a golden age, in a time period where a whole bunch of really good Lincoln bands were popular at the same time. So like we had 30 Halfwits.
Jeremiah Moore: He busted his butt, and I used all my connections that I had. I don’t even think we knew what happened until the month was halfway over. It was like, “Oh shit, wait a minute, we just did this many ridiculous amount of bands in the summertime,” and the summertimes are generally slow. It felt really nice that we were able to blow our goal out of the water, and be able to do that much music in one town. At that point, there was venues in town that did that much in one year, and we did it in a month.
photo of Pharmacy Spirits by Natasha Richardson
* * *
Cut the Lights: The Box Closes Its Doors
The year 2009 ushered in the prospect of the Moores re-opening the vacant State Theatre as a concert venue (The Bourbon-to-be) and running it alongside the Box. They planned to make a decision on keeping Box Awesome when their lease expired in October. According to the Moores, to that point, their relationship with their landlord, Monte Froehlich of US Properties, had been friendly and professional. Froehlich even permitted the occasional late rent payment.
Jeremiah Moore: At the time, my relationship with them, I thought, was great. Monte was always like, “Man, you guys are doing a really good job.” That changed after a couple of years into it. I had the mentality that they appreciated us because — when I started working on the place it was months behind rent — I caught it up being a manager, and I was paying rent to them. We’d slip behind a month, or pay late, but we always paid them. And they were always like, “Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s cool.” We put in a bunch of money into redoing the kitchen, to rebuilding bathrooms. I didn’t ask for a lot.
Leah Moore: We had no money, so you have to keep in mind that when we did invest money into a dropped ceiling, that was a pretty big deal for us.
Jeremiah Moore: It all started when they had someone who they had a business relationship with looking for a commercial kitchen. We had, for about a year and a half, been slowly [refurbishing] the kitchen in the back. It was in total disrepair, the machinery in there didn’t work, it didn’t have a ceiling. It didn’t have proper sprinklers, it needed a floor. We had put a lot of money and effort into it and we were getting close to being ready to open it, and he approached me and said, “Hey, we have someone who wants to rent the kitchen.” He thought we were going to be excited.
Leah Moore: We had to renew our lease, and Jeremiah went in [to US Properties] and they talked it out.
Jeremiah Moore: He’s like, “I will knock $500 off your rent every month if you let someone use the kitchen. Or if you want to keep the kitchen I have to increase your rent $500.”
Leah Moore: Jeremiah … was pretty torn about it. Five hundred bucks really adds up over the course of the year.
Jeremiah Moore: I remember that day specifically: it was raining and I walked outside. I called my wife, I was standing underneath the awning, and I was like, “Honey, I don’t know what to do.” And she’s just like, “We worked so hard on that kitchen, we put all this money into it. We gotta keep it. I’ll figure out how to make the extra $500/month and we’ll keep it. We can’t just give it up.”
Monte Froehlich, US Properties: The Box Awesome didn’t need the kitchen, so we took a chance with another tenant that was a caterer and so they were [going to use] the kitchen area and Box Awesome used the rest of it.
Jeremiah Moore: “Are you kidding me? We’ve been giving you money, I caught you up on rent, dude, what the heck. This is a kick to the mouth. I put in thousands of dollars into your kitchen and your equipment.”
And so we all decided … we’ll just look at the silver lining, save ourselves $500/month, let’s just not worry about it.
* * *
Almost immediately, Box Awesome clashed with the tenant in the kitchen. The electrical breakers for the venue were located in the kitchen area, which was safeguarded with a central reporting alarm system.
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Monte Froehlich: The kitchen tenant installed their own security system. There were a couple of times when Box Awesome and the caterer got into a disagreement.
Chris Johnson: The problems first started, I believe, because [the other tenant] locked up the kitchen and we couldn’t get in there.
Jeremiah Moore: We would have to come back there to flip the breakers, because it was an old building. We had slowly been fixing the power in there, because the landlords did not want to fix anything in there and we understood that. They take care of the outside, we took care of the inside.
Leah Moore: I think at Bassnectar, the fuse had blown three times during that show. That’s how loud it would get.
Chris Johnson: If [an average band] pops a breaker, well, there goes that. If something important popped a breaker, it’s gotta be turned back on.
Jeremiah Moore: We went back there to flip the breakers once, and this alarm started going off … I went in there, flipped the breakers like we normally do, and shut the door. A little while later, [the kitchen tenant] comes down, and is furious. [They are] yelling at us. And I’m like, “Woah, the breakers are back there and that is power to our business. We have to be able to flip the breakers.”
Later, [they] apologized and said that [they] had had a bad day, and understood it, but [they were] like, “I can’t rent this place if you are going to be in there doing it.”
Monte Froehlich: We tried [to intervene]. I mean, I think police were called on at least one occasion [of the alarm going off]. Not from us, but … there was some ongoing, kind of [tension] between the two tenants.
Jeremiah Moore: [The kitchen tenant] started complaining to Monte. They started threatening Monte with suing him, because they weren’t able to have a private use of their facility. And Monte was just hoping we could all get along.
Monte Froehlich: You know, I think there were various issues, there wasn’t just one situation. The two parties never really made progress. They didn’t make progress toward seeing each other’s perspectives.
Jeremiah Moore: I really didn’t understand what was going on because [they were] always really nice to us when I’d see [them] in the middle of the day. Evidently that was a show, a kind of mask. I refused to quit turning the power back on if our breakers blew. I can’t. [They] changed the locks, and all we had to do was go in the basement and come up the other door. We don’t want anything to do with your kitchen.
* * *
The final straw came on May 3rd, 2009, when Box Awesome failed to pay rent on the first.
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Jeremiah Moore: We were a young business and sometimes we paid rent late, and the landlord was always understanding. One time we were paying rent late, which, rent is due on the first, late on the fifth. If I recall right, it was the third. I was going to pay the rent and I met Monte’s assistant and he was like, “Hmm, hold off on that.” He gave me a letter and it was a termination of our lease for paying rent late. And I was like, “Are you kidding me?”
Leah Moore: When they brought us our eviction notice, I was a day after my due date to deliver my son. So I am big and round and pregnant. And hormonal. I am supposed to deliver, and they are trying to kick us out.
Chris Johnson: Maybe he paid the rent late. He had done it before. Maybe a warning instead of a “you-gotta-get-out” would be nice. It’s a culture of arts place, and I was just a sound guy at the time, I didn’t know what was going on, but it’s like, relax, dude.
Jeremiah Moore: No warning. Just a letter saying they were terminating our lease, and that we had 30 days to get out. We went in there and talked to him and [asked] what’s going on. And he was like, “Well, it says clearly in the lease that paying rent late is grounds for terminating the lease.”
Leah Moore: Jeremiah’s grandfather had just died, I’m about to give birth, it’s just a pretty hard situation. He’s like, “I’m sorry, it’s just this legal issue that we’re having with this other tenant, and I’m sorry but this is what we have to do.”
We were like, “Just wait until October and then we’ll move out, be out of your hair, it’s no big deal.” We’re arguing about this back and forth, and we’re trying to figure out how to negotiate this … to help us buffer the next few months with getting The Bourbon ready. It’s going nowhere. Finally I just stand up and was like, “I was due yesterday!”
And he looks at my belly and his face turns grey. You can see all the blood running down and out. And he just looks down. He’s like, “I’ll give you two weeks.”
Jeremiah Moore: We [went before a judge and] got him to at least extend it to 60 days.
Leah Moore: [It was] that really pristine, angry feeling of being young and broke and poor, and you know you don’t have much money to throw at fancy lawyers to make them sit back on their heels and actually stop. That’s really what it came down to.
Micah Mertes, Lincoln Journal-Star:The suit also alleges Box Awesome has damaged the property. —published in Lincoln Journal Star, May, 27, 2009
Jeremiah Moore: We could’ve kept fighting it, but my lawyer [advised me] to cut my losses. They had … I don’t remember the name of the fucking [law] firm they had … but they had the bigwigs, and even my little lawyer was like, “You can’t afford to fuck with these guys.”
Monte Froelich: I feel very bad about anything that would impact [Jeremiah’s] business. I think we’re going to have as good an outcome as could be expected.” —published in Lincoln Journal-Star, June 23, 2009
Tim McMahan: The Lincoln Journal-Star did another story about the closing yesterday, and the reason given for the eviction (again) is late rent. Everyone knows there’s more to the story than that. —published in Lazy-i, June 30, 2009
Chris Johnson: Business is business and he can do what he wants. But it was a successful business. There wasn’t anything successful before that and there hasn’t been since then.
Monte Froehlich: I feel like I probably could’ve handled it better. And I actually had met with Jeremiah maybe a year ago, and actually apologized for how I handled that … I think [that meeting] went fine. And that’s really the last remarks I need to say.
Jeremy Buckley: So we did June 30 as the last show and then we had the next week to clear everything out that we wanted out of there. It took us two or three whole days of filling up U-Hauls with stuff, with like a bunch of us working and taking it over to a back room at The Bourbon, so it could get sorted out.
One Night at Box Awesome:
“My earlier band, Prints of Apple Island … had this thing which was perfect for the Box, where we’d have themed shows, and we’d construct homemade props, and we had playwright friends that would write stuff that would go along with it in between songs. We did a big Halloween show at the Box, on the stage right next to the window. It was a Donnie Darko-themed Halloween show. We built a big jet engine. I dressed like Donnie Darko with the skeleton shirt and the hoodie. Somebody dressed like the old lady from the movie. We were all into Donnie Darko then.” —Joshua Miller
Jeremiah Moore: I was so distraught. I just had my grandfather’s funeral the day before. We were getting kicked out and we had to get all of our shit out. My wife is at home with our newborn. And I was like, “I have to do this stuff.”
Chris Johnson: I believe Jeremiah drove a U-Haul into the overpass and smashed his face up. A solid whack.
Jeremiah Moore: I wasn’t paying attention. I had been there for years and driven U-Hauls under there for years, but the new bridge … I had never driven a U-Haul underneath there and I didn’t pay attention to how much they shrunk it … and I totally smashed it.
Leah Moore: He damaged his lip, and I remember having to go down there and holding him, and he was just devastated.
Jeremiah Moore: Honestly, I broke down and I ran inside and just cried. It was so overwhelming because we had just put so much effort into that place and it was so surreal. How we got kicked out, why we got kicked out.
* * *
The Twilight Shows
Nearing the end of its run, Box Awesome booked back-to-back nights of powerhouse indie rock bands. First up was Omaha’s own Cursive, playing with fellow Omaha band Box Elders and Lincoln’s Ideal Cleaners. Deer Tick played the next night, supported by local indie darlings UUVVWWZ. It was a sort of crescendo before the venue closed its doors.
photo by The Daily Nebraska, June 17, 2009
Jeremy Buckley: Deer Tick and Cursive back to back, two weeks before we’re closing, was like, man, we just got there, to where we’re getting some cool shit. Sell-out shows that could be a place twice this size.
Jeremiah Moore: Cursive was definitely one of those milestones for us. “Cursive is really playing in here! Oh my god!” That was definitely one of last big shows that we did.
Dustin Hunke: [Cursive] definitely could’ve played a bigger spot than there, but they wanted to play there.
Chris Johnson: I was a little nervous coming in, just because it was probably … it was the first show that we knew was going to sell out ahead of time, and I was still learning. The sound guy for Cursive, his name is Dan Brennan. He’s a sweetheart. He works at the Slowdown. He had been doing this a long time so he knew what the fuck he was doing.
Jeremiah Moore: That was our first show [that] sold out in advance. [That was the] only time that we had ever had that happen, because generally we didn’t sell advance tickets.
Casey Welsch: Box Elders were great, and the crowd just wasn’t into it at all. Ideal Cleaners is one of the best goddam rock bands I’ve ever heard.
photo by Enrico Fabian
Dustin Hunke: It was packed. It was awesome. Cursive fans, in general, are really cool, are clearly into music, and just a good crowd. You can’t argue with a crowd like that.
Jeremy Buckley: That Deer Tick show was probably my favorite. We didn’t realize … we didn’t know if people were gonna go to it, because they were pretty new, and from out of town.
Jeremiah Moore: When I realized how many people came out to that show and how many people were fans, I almost started to expect a different kind of band to come.
Jeremy Buckley: I was like, guys, honestly, I have no idea how this show is going to do, but Dub [Jeremy Wardlaw] made a sweet poster and put it up all over town, the opening band is popular here, so I think it should work out pretty well. Right then, Duff called me and he was like, “Do you know where more wristbands are? There are already 130 people here.” They were jazzed.
Christopher Dale Ryan, bassist, Deer Tick: The first time [in Lincoln] was fantastic. It was a very loud night. It was at a tiny little bar under an overpass.” —published in Daily Nebraskan, Oct. 26, 2010
Jeremiah Moore: They acted like they were a local band, with how they communicated with people, with how they talked and how they presented themselves on stage, after the show. They were just like ordinary dudes.
Jim Schroeder: It was a sweaty, dance-y mosh pit.
Jeremy Buckley: We didn’t realize it until the show was happening that it was probably twice as full as it would’ve been if UUVVWWZ wasn’t on the show, because everybody realized it was the last time they’d ever see UU there. So instead of having, like, 80 paid which would have been the case if it was random local band and random touring band, there were like 220 people there.
* * *
The Final Show
On June 30, 2009, with the doors set to close at Box Awesome on July 7, the staff threw one last party to celebrate their venue. In typical Box Awesome fashion, a diverse set of bands played late into the night to a packed house.
Dustin Hunke: We were so thankful for everyone for their support because so many people came out. Even that last month or so, you started seeing people that had [otherwise] stopped going to shows.
Jeremy Buckley: The last-day show was kinda something that me and Jeremiah worked on a lot together. Pay what you want to get in, all the money goes to the bands. Somasphere played, Triggertown played, Plack Blague played.
Andy Marker: The mix of music that night was really appropriate for the mood. They really managed to capture the spirit of the Box Awesome in one night.
Jesse Hodges: I was super honored that we were asked … to close it out. This had been [Somasphere’s] home for five years. [We decided,] let’s just do it one more last time, as hard as we can.
Alex Munson: It was an amazing final show because we got to see all the people that we loved and loved us and it was this good positive energy.
Casey Welsch: It was packed. Everybody was going crazy because they pulled out all of the stops, all of the bands, and all of the bands were, of course, playing their hardest.
Chris Johnson: I remember it being busy as hell. I remember it being, you know, sad.
Jeremy Buckley: We had like 647 people come through on the last day — that’s a pretty accurate number — between the two floors.
Jeremy Wardlaw: I had the privilege of being asked to provide a poster for the last day which was a two-part poster featuring a sad clown.
Casey Welsch: I was taking video for a lot of [Black Plague’s] show. We were doing a big … well, we were trying to do this big multi-media feature for the DN about it being its last one. None of that video ended up working because it was so dark and stroby in that room and we had this really shitty camera. They played in just pitch darkness. It was just the sound. It was kind of a weird thing to witness.
Jeremy Buckley: Right before Somasphere, [I hopped on stage and] I was like, “I’m gonna fucking introduce these guys, it’s my birthday.” And I say: “I want your attention for a minute as a crowd, as fans of music and fans of Box Awesome, we owe Jeremiah and Leah a huge round of applause.” And they got one.
Casey Welsch: It was also Masses’ first show. Their first show was also Box Awesome’s last show. They played in the basement. I saw them, and I had no idea who they were, of course. I remember thinking, “Goddam, these guys are good!” And it was a lot of that at the Box, where you saw this band that you had never heard of, or it was the first show for some local band.
Jeremy Wardlaw: Experiencing Masses for the first time was amazing and shed a light of hope that everything was going to be OK.
Chris Johnson: Everyone was partying and having a good time. I mean, that was like the last hurrah. You don’t sit around and mope about it, you’re like, “This is our last chance to party here, so let’s have a good time.”
Jeremy Buckley: It was melancholy because people were trying to celebrate the history of the place, but toward the end of the night, it was like we are only going to get to be here for another hour.
Casey Welsch: It’s like, how do you make it any longer? How can we keep this going for as long as possible? People hung outside for like two-and-a-half hours after closing time because they didn’t want to leave.
Alex Munson: We went down into the basement and Jeremiah said, “Well, none of the alcohol from this bottom bar is gonna go to The Bourbon, so we might as well get rid of it.” So we had a wonderful afterhours.
Jeremy Buckley: It was a little overwhelming, and I know that at the end of the night I was sitting on a table next to a friend, just like sad and kinda wanting to lose it.
* * *
There was little time for the staff at Box Awesome to mourn or commemorate what had been. On May 22, 2009, The Bourbon officially opened its doors. Their first show was a giant one, as Box Awesome favorite Bassnectar performed to a full house.
Leah Moore: We’re good survivors. We definitely have that pioneering Nebraska spirit.
I was focusing on The Bourbon at that point. I was really gearing up to what was there and that was just more how I worked. Even when you’re having a terrible, horrible, awful day, if you have enough energy to get off of the couch, there’s always space to move forward and there’s something that you just need to gear up for. I was real excited about seeing what possibilities were out there.
Chris Johnson: We were getting to the point where [Box Awesome was] passing on shows because they were too big to fit here. We were like, we need a bigger venue, so they worked on getting this place which turned into being the Bourbon Theater, with the intention of keeping [Box Awesome] so we had a place that was small for shows.
Jeremy Buckley: We didn’t realize how much work we were going to have ahead of us when The Bourbon opened. It’s a beast.
Chris Johnson: It was a learning curve. The first year for any business is always a crazy transitional period, getting things figured out and getting your groove going. It took a bit. Right off the bat, I’m sure it was [harder] on Jeremiah than he [lets] on.
Leah Moore: We still had an adjustment phase, and we knew we would going into it. We got a taste and tolerance for high stress. Box Awesome really geared us up to [that]. Long hours, long days, working all day, working all night.
photo by Andrew Stellmon | Box Awesome 5-year Anniversary, June 30, 2014
Chris Johnson: It was kinda weird because literally the day that we got the eviction notice from the other place was the day they signed the liquor license here, so there was really no overlap or transition period.
Leah Moore: It was really a labor of love for those three years. I did have to work full time, pretty much, because every year we took a loss (laughs). The entire time. It wasn’t until we got to The Bourbon that we actually became something sustainable.
Jeremiah Moore: In retrospect, I’m so glad we didn’t try to do both, because I don’t know how we would’ve done it. I was still pretty naïve.
Jeremy Buckley: We still have three people [at The Bourbon] that have been with us since the Box Awesome days, and those guys were just always … they got it, what they were trying to do, and they understood what we were trying to do. They were always putting in their full effort.
Jeremiah Moore: Being honest, I don’t like every single show that happens here, but I have respect for every single show that happens here. Being able to do things like Lincoln Exposed, where its the three bars, Zoo Bar, Duffy’s, and [The Bourbon], we’re all right next to each other and being able to work more together.
Raws Schlesinger: I really want to support people like Jeremiah because I feel like he’s really trying to make a difference in the music scene here in this town. I feel like The Bourbon is a huge addition to the Lincoln music scene … it’s like a grown-up version of the Box.
* * *
You could rightfully say that the DIY drive of Lincoln music and Lincoln bands precedes Box Awesome by decades. You could rightfully say that some of Lincoln’s still-notable bands — like Mezcal Brothers, Her Flyaway Manner and The JV Allstars — predate or circumvent its time in Lincoln. But if you’re looking for a flashpoint: some acute moment that explains why Lincoln Calling partially looks how it does, or where the people you see at a Halfwit or Universe Contest show first met, try looking to Box Awesome.
Tilly and the Wall at Box Awesome | photo by Natasha Richarson
Dustin Hunke: The Box Awesome was a necessary melting pot that created the scene that we have in this town right now. Without the Box Awesome, things would be different around here. Absolutely no hesitation in saying that.
Josh Hoyer: There was a vibe of excitement and people getting together and playing. Random nights where people would sit in with each other … in an environment that fostered creativity in the community.
Casey Welsch: There wasn’t anywhere else I would rather be in Lincoln when the Box was open. That was where I want to hang out. If I had to name one thing in Lincoln, one place to sum it up, for me, it would’ve been Box Awesome.
Jeremiah Moore: I remember how many bands would be like “Who are we going play with?” and I’m like, “Who do you want to play with?” … Or, what’s the cover, and we’re like “What do you guys want to charge?” … Box Awesome was not only the business that I owned but it was the venue that the musicians owned.
Jeremy Buckley: I think it played a big role in bringing a lot of the downtown music community together for a common good … I think it continues, you know? There are so many people in Lincoln that the Box is their favorite place in Lincoln they ever went, for friendships and memories and the atmosphere. We look at that time as like the golden era.