Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Maha Music Festival is doing things right

No doubt you've seen the lineup for the Maha Music Festival, which was announced early this morning.

I have to be honest that I was a bit surprised, although very pleasantly so, when I heard about Spoon. And I was even more satisfied when I heard about the rest of the lineup: Superchunk, The Faint and Old 97's.

No offense to the Maha organizers, but last year's lineup left me disappointed. Here it was, Omaha's first real shot at a music festival and we had Dashboard Confessional headlining, a band that didn't have a real hit since "Vindicated." I had a good time at the show and saw some good music, but it didn't really represent what Omaha had to show as a music city. Not nearly.

The best bands, in my opinion, were onstage during the day when no one was there to see them. Appleseed Cast was great, Army Navy kicked ass and the local bands were really the highlight for me. Unfortunately only 50 or so people were there to see those groups and, as far as I could tell, most of us were "industry" people or sponsors that had free tickets, so no one there was being exposed to anything new.

So, what happened in 2009? Basically, a few things happened. The Maha board started trying to organize this fest way too late and they also used a talent buyer that didn't get them very good stuff. Believe me, the Maha guys don't have bad taste in music. If you met any of them, they'll talk to you about the concerts they saw last year or albums they listened to and they're right on. They just had bad timing and an unfortunate choice in who they did business with.

And then what happened in 2010? This year, they started early. It gave them more time to book groups who were looking at playing other festivals, which (along with costs) is the main reason why you'll lose out on booking some great bands. And they got smart and hired Marc Leibowitz and One Percent Productions as their talent buyer, and anyone who knows about Marc is aware that the guy knows his music as well as Omaha as a music market very, very well.

What did we end up with? Well, we got Spoon, for starters. They were on the cover of Spin recently and have been making a name for themselves slowly but surely. Good get. Great band.

Then there's The Faint, who always puts on a fantastic show. Not to mention it's nice to have a sort of salute to some of Omaha's contemporary musical roots. Superchunk is not only a great band, but it barely does shows any more, so that's a helluva snag. And, so I'm told, The Old 97's puts on a great show. (Listen to music from all four bands over at Omaha.com.)

Also consider that Maha says we're going to get a couple more national acts. While I think they're already doing well, they'll really hit a home run if they can book one or two more solid acts. (Like everyone, I have a wish list. We'll see what we see.)

All that for only $33, which is a steal in my opinion.

Really, this feels like year one for me. This is the lineup that I expected the first time around. Call it a do-over if you want.

It's also a lineup that I think people will travel to come see, which I wasn't sure would ever happen, to be honest. And that's huge. A successful festival needs to draw people from places beyond its own city. Do you think Lollapalooza's audience is only Chicagoans? Hell no.

Let's put it this way: "Book it (right) and they will come," if I may paraphrase a certain baseball film.

* * *

A side note: Before the lineup was announced, there was a lot of speculation as to who was going to be playing. Some of the names thrown around included MGMT, Weezer, Bright Eyes, Vampire Weekend, Muse and a bunch of others.

Some of the names floated by fans were pretty good/accurate picks, but others were pretty hilarious. Some of them (Bright Eyes comes to mind) probably wouldn't do it. Other bands (Violent Femmes, someone mentioned) aren't even touring.

Still others are plain ridiculous when looked at from a budgetary perspective (Weezer or Wilco). Maha doesn't have a limitless budget and it's not nearly to Lollapalooza/Coachella/Reading & Leeds territory yet. I see that as a good thing, for now.

You might say, "How is Wilco out of their price range? Capacity at Maha is 6,000 or so, right?"

Basically, bands charge two to three times as much to play at a festival. So, it works out that sometimes you can book a band at the Qwest Center for cheaper than you could at a festival. Why do bands charge that much? First, because they can. Second, because they know corporate sponsorship dollars are paying for these shows, which means there's a lot of money going around and they want their share. And because it's corporate sponsors supplying the cash, the band doesn't know and/or has no control over what banner or logo is floating above its head, so the group wants to make sure it's well-compensated for, effectively, promoting some corporation.

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