[Editor’s note: today’s coverage contains photos from Friday and Saturday night, and words from throughout the weekend. For photos from Wednesday night, click here. For photos from Thursday night, click here.]
In a four-stage, 70-plus band festival, there’s a tendency to lose sight of the smaller details. The initial instinct is to take note of the performances happening on stage– how well a musician is able captivate a crowd, their stage presence or the way their music makes you feel.
This year, however, the myriad off-stage facets of Lincoln Exposed helped reveal the festival’s essence. The subtleties and off beat moments found outside, backstage, in attics and basements, ultimately became the snapshots that candidly captured the weekend.
Every winter in the heart of downtown Lincoln, Neb., a culture swarms the streets between alleyways, local eateries, bars and music venues. In four nights, artists, musicians and live music fans are seemingly untouched by the freezing midwest temperatures, hopping to and from Zoo Bar, Duffy’s Tavern, The Bourbon and this year, Bodega’s Alley.
The desire to inspire and be inspired fuel the steps of a creative collective, one that is unique for its uncompetitive nature, and is sustained by one common interest.
Zoo Bar has been a trademark of Lincoln Exposed since its conception 11 years ago, its intimate stage a vantage point for performers and audiences alike. The first year of Lincoln Exposed hosted less than 20 bands at Zoo Bar, and since then, the venue’s proximity remains completely relevant.
The neighboring venues support one another. The back alley is a place where bandmembers load up equipment, smoke cigarettes and crack jokes to calm the pre-performance nerves. The upstairs attic is a get-away space for quiet conversations, the muffled sound of music still heard from below.
There were several moments that stood out this past weekend that characterized the diverse community within Lincoln’s vibrant music culture.
Seeing Shithook call Jeremy Fifield up on stage to sing a couple songs during its closing set at The Bourbon Wednesday night was unforgettable. The inclusivity of that moment was moving, and everyone who witnessed it was left with a warmer heart. Interviewing Fifield the next day was equally memorable as he shed light on Lincoln’s underrated music scene.
“I don’t think people think of Nebraska or Lincoln as a music city,” Fifield said. “It’s important for young people to get out here, and anybody to get out here and just take in the music.”
I spoke to Lincoln Journal Star music writer L Kent Wolgamott about the growth of the Lincoln Exposed lineage. He’s never missed a year since it started, and it was insightful for an aspiring music journalist like myself to hear from someone who’s been around the scene so long.
“If you look at the festival, you have Shithook, which is people who played with Charlie Burton in the 80s,” he said. “You have Domestica, which comes out of the 90s. You have the Mezcal Brothers, which are late 90s and early 2000s, and then you have new bands. You get that continuity going and all of it comes together for four nights, which is pretty cool.”
Zoo Bar owner Pete Watters spoke about his college years at Lincoln blues home and how the venue was an escape from the triviality of his college-aged peers. Inspired by the sounds of live music and conversations with the older, wiser faces he met, Watters explained how music has a way of bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together.
“This place was cool to me because I was really young,” Watters said. “40-year-olds were here and everybody was having a good time, and it was no big deal.”
I couldn’t help but feel a similar experience to Watters’ as I sat in Zoo Bar’s attic, listening to the insight of people like himself and Jeremy Buckley, just two of many people who contribute to Lincoln’s music scene and make Lincoln Exposed possible.
This concept resonated even deeper at Duffy’s Saturday night when the face of a young, yearning Academy of Rock (AOR) member lit up during an interview. The simple act of going up to 16-year-old Aramara Quintos Tapia and telling her good job, was one of the most authentic moments of the weekend. It was clear that to this young musician, the pageantry of being asked for an interview had made an impact, especially as she explained the challenges that come with being noticed as a young, female Mexican musician.
“There are a bunch of bands out there with frontmen whose voices suck, like Kurt Cobain, Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan, their voices aren’t that good, but they still made it super big,” Quintos Tapia said. “So I want to be the one that says, ‘Hey, girls don’t have to have to live up to these crazy expectations.’”
The universal love for live music that exists in our community was evident from these stunning moments. Lincoln’s music culture is a rare, diverse and collective space, and what Lincoln Exposed did this weekend was make people realize that. By providing the resources which allow for a creative exchange between musicians and audiences, Lincoln Exposed has enhanced this community. The scene is better because of it.
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Read on for more thoughts and photos from the 11th annual Lincoln Exposed.
For most of the weekend, Zoo Bar was the place to gear up. The blues haven was the first venue with music Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with acts like Hana Zara and Ozark Hutch and the Tom Ficke Group undocking the boat.
That’s pretty much business as usual for Zoo, which often double dips with an early and late shows during the week. Plenty of those early patrons were regulars themselves.
But this was the starting point for many, the refocusing point before diving into another robust night of live music. The six foot-wide hallway from door to piano was always abuzz with people ordering the evening’s first drinks and charting their courses for the next few hours.
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We saw two musicians wearing other Lincoln bands’ t-shirts on the first night, and I was convinced it would be a trend. Mike Semrad wore fellow Sower Records band Jack Hotel tee, Emmett Bower Band drummer Matty Sanders sported a No Tide shirt. I got all excited and told everyone else on the HN staff to be on the lookout.
It’s a little cheesy, but these are the little games you play in between sets to occupy yourself. Like Legolas and Gimli keeping a running kill-count. Maybe it’s an effort to add quantitative data to the experience, or maybe it’s endearing to see mutual support and pride within a scene.
Alas, thankful that garments aren’t an important measure of anything, really. Those two Lincoln band shirts were the only two I spotted all weekend.
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Photographer Andrew Dickinson and I walked into Duffy’s Tavern — one of our many trips there that night — at about 11:55 p.m. It was just in time to watch Mezcal Brothers screaming toward the end of a runaway outro, guitarist Benjamin Kushner seemingly tearing at the fabric of the concept of a riff.
We saw Lincoln musician Lloyd McCarter cutting a rug across the barroom floor in one of the most memorable moments of the weekend. His movements were so fluid and sweeping we once had to slide out of the way.
When it was all over, my partner turned to me and asked, “Which Gerardo Meza band is this?”
I tell him. “Ah, cool. I didn’t know [Kushner] was in it.”
A multi-night, multi-venue festival brings with it a lot of opportunity for surprises, or at least unexpected moments. Keeping track of Lincoln’s mix-and-match lineups is one of the most entertaining ones, especially when it elicits a reaction a compatriot.
Meza fronts those bands, and kudos to that one in particular for playing each and every Lincoln Exposed in the event’s 11 year run. But there were tons of other musicians who drew double, triple or even quadruple duty for the weekend.
- Justin Kohmetscher was one of three who played in four total bands. He took the stage with Sputnik Kaputnik Wednesday night; played back to back with Yesh and Dirty Talker Friday night; then debuted his fourth band Saturday night with drummer Jordy Elfers (who himself played with two outfits) and guitarist(!) and Dirty Talker mate Brendan McGinn.
- Myles Jasnowski finished playing with SAS and the Final Arrangement at The Bourbon merely an hour before his 11:20 p.m. set with Mesonjixx at Bodega’s. He played with Ozark Hutch early the next night at Zoo Bar, then was back late Friday for A Ferocious Jungle Cat’s jam-packed Duffy’s set.
- David Morris was also quietly, seemingly everywhere, playing bass with Mike Semrad & the Likes, The Wildwoods and Dr. John Walker in the same night Thursday and Wendy & the Lost Boys Saturday.
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Speaking of Morris, he was involved in one of the sneaky hilarious moments of the weekend, staring down a photographer who was positioned right next to him during the Semrad set.
The photog was leaning over stage-left to get a shot of the drummer. I mean, leaning way in. Morris clearly noticed (how could you not?), shifting position and gazing right down on him. The “I’m being recorded” effect was present for just a glimpse, not enough time to be important.
It’s admittedly tough to place myself outside of the way coverage works sometimes, because staring past a bunch of concert photogs at their subjects onstage has become kind of natural. And I’m sure it’s expected by musicians and fans alike. But if you think about it for awhile it’s kind of a funny phenomenon.
This particular non-incident was funny because I wonder who else notices these things and chuckles to themselves.
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You know that situation where you swear you’ve said “hello” to the same person like five times, and then on the sixth and seventh time you start making up weird interactions or crazy handshakes or stupid phrases?
It got more and more pronounced the later in the weekend it got, simply because of attendance. Wednesday and Thursday turnouts felt like regular show evenings, though at each of the four venues, so a lot of people were out. Bodega’s felt packed every time I stepped in the door.
Then Friday night hit, and A Ferocious Jungle Cat and Thirst Things First both played to near-capacity crowds (it never gets old watching people watch TTF for the first time). Saturday’s shows were boisterous as well. All in all, great turnout.
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If you were forced to pick one overarching theme from the weekend, it had to be inclusion in its many forms.
Bodega’s hopped on board for the first time this year, which in addition to a great new spot opened the door for more bands than ever before — more on that later. There was the green, youthful excitement on the part of the Academy of Rock showcase, introducing young musicians to the stage. Even down to Lucas Kellison, who invited multiple collaborators including CJ Mills and Andrea von Kampen to the stage.
The list goes on, but no instance was more special than Shithook’s gesture Wednesday night. Mid-set, the band typically known for its weekly Thursday night karaoke show at Duffy’s Tavern invited one of its most devoted regulars onto the stage in Jeremy Fifield to sing a few of original tracks from its 1997 album When A Boyscout Gets the Blues.
Despite the band’s displacement, everything about the set felt timeless. Any frequent downtown patron would recognize Fifield anywhere; he’s a regular scene fixture and local music enthusiast.
The Shithook joked initially about performing The Beetles, a Fifield mainstay. Mainly that they wouldn’t. No matter: Fifield knew every word.
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Situations in which I would hypothetically use the ability to conjure Jazzocracy out of thin air:
- In a novelty/craft cocktail lounge
- At the end of a date
- In that scene where the protagonist walks into the private poker game, clouds of smoke clearing as they find a seat at the villain’s table, right before the stakes are revealed
- Three a.m. at the Mutual Musicians Foundation in Kansas City
- At a hypothetical wedding
- Really, any situation in which you’re trying to impress
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The pre-festival chatter centered around Bodega’s Alley, and it did not disappoint. I must have had 10 separate conversations about the sound quality alone, which was crystal clear and helmed admirably by Brenton Neville of Vessel Live and run part-time by Bodega’s owner Ryan Detlefsen.
The two-year proprietor was in the thick of things all weekend, meeting bands, taking care of bar regulars on the weekend and ultimately having a blast. We spoke earlier in the week about his joy at the festival including Bodega’s, and his anticipation at what’s to come of these new partnerships.
I had maybe another five or six chats about the lighting, which from Mesonjixx to Thirst Things First to The Hanging Cowboys was downright space-age. Laser lights, strobes and a deep blue wash created an intimate ambiance that could set a range of moods. The whole package seems a great fit for the jam and EDM artists Bodega’s is traditionally known for, and made the O St bar a festival hotspot, bordering on attraction.
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A quick note on Hana Zara, whom I dropped in on while gathering my wits Friday night and by whom I was enchanted. The Nebraska-native singer/songwriter returned home in May 2015 from years spent in New York, Vermont and Spain, and you can definitely hear the road in her earthy imagery and gently wavering voice. The storm-tossed, visceral emotions recalled an early David Grey, though somehow more somber and worn. That she did it all in the face of one abrasive, seemingly drunk patron is all the more noble.
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Flash ahead, and I’m in The Bourbon front room, leaning against the left pillar flanking the stair down to the Rye Room stage. Next to me is former HN staffer Jacob Zlomke, with whom I was chatting about Lincoln music as a whole.
Listening to the rhythmic complexity, dual shouts and vibrant distortion of the long-time Lincoln prog-punk band, we thought about lineage, and how one can chart the ripples of the scene back more than a decade. We drew a map and tossed out band names, plotting them across a spherical spectrum. Zlomke invoked Bogusman, the sludge punk quartet that would play Zoo Bar later that evening, and it was as if the scene and all of its connections and influences and branches clicked into place.
That 20-minute conversation, and all of its ensuing offshoots, makes me thankful there’s a scene here at all, one that is self-referential, knowledgeable about what’s around it and who plays in it and where their roots are.
It also sparked a line in my notes about what constitutes taste and what is “must see.” An event like this is important, even if just as a check in. HN conducted a few interviews throughout the weekend, and we repeatedly heard about how this type of event prompts everyone to step their game up. That could be a new lineup, new music, or in a few cases, new bands. It’s a chance to show off what everyone has been working on. Regardless of the level of your Lincoln Exposed interest, who can’t get behind that?
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View the rest of Friday and Saturday night in photos below:
Dylan Bloom Band at Duffy’s Tavern
Yesh at The Bourbon
Gabe with Pants at Zoo Bar
Meadow Rave at Duffy’s Tavern
Commander Kilroy at Bodega’s
Orion Walsh & The Rambling Hearts at Zoo Bar
Giant’s Arrow at The Bourbon
Emily Bass at Zoo Bar
Walk By Sea at Zoo Bar
Low Horse at The Bourbon
Sunleaf at Bodega’s
Bloodrail at The Bourbon
Pure Brown at Duffy’s Tavern
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Down In Circles at Duffy’s Tavern
On The Rocks at Zoo Bar
Wendy & the Lost Boys at Bodega’s
Tie These Hands at Duffy’s
Powers at Zoo Bar
Root Marm Chicken Farm Jug Band at Duffy’s Tavern
The MF Saints at Zoo Bar
Gerardo Meza Band at Bodega’s
Life Is Cool at Duffy’s Tavern
Evan Bartels & the Stoney Lonesomes at Zoo Bar
Once A Pawn at Bodega’s
Warbonnet at Duffy’s
The Morbs at Zoo Bar
Sweats at Duffy’s