HEARING LINCOLN: Lincoln Calling Notebook
By Andrew Norman
It's proof I gave it hell for five nights during Lincoln Calling's arts-based downtown stimulus. And I saw dozens of familiar faces doing the same — not just the regular indie scenesters, but also high schoolers and frat brothers, married couples and parents who found babysitters. This crowd did its part to support progressive culture in Nebraska just by showing up, and also by putting money in the hands of bands, artists, venues, restaurants, vendors and buskers.
Festival organizer Jeremy Buckley didn't have official attendance numbers available when I filed this column Sunday night, but a few people whom I trust said the crowds seemed to have grown since last year. If that's true, it doesn't surprise me: The packed house for the reunion of Lincoln band Pablo's Triangle on Friday at Duffy's Tavern, 1412 O St., was like a cat stuffed into a fishbowl. And about 600 people spilled out of the Bourbon after the Hood Internet concert on Saturday — the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Theta Xi fraternity bought almost 260 tickets pre-sale.
These numbers bear repeating: More than 100 bands played at 10 venues, including spots off the standard local music path, like Tavern on the Square in the Haymarket, Fat Toad, 1409 O St., and Marz Bar, 1140 O St. And while music was the main point, the coolest elements, to me, came when other art forms were involved, like during the Homegrown Film Festival on Tuesday, and the First Friday shows at the Black Market and Parrish Studios. Tying music to film, photography and other art helped make Lincoln Calling feel like a real festival, and it's an area where it could grow considerably as other arts groups and local businesses organize accompanying events.
The festival had a fun, positive vibe all week. People seemed genuinely excited about Lincoln's arts community — and about a festival that attracts creative people from across the country. I met and shook hands with a lot of cool people whom I'm excited to know.
And I saw a lot of really great bands, including groups I can't normally see. I had a badge, which is critical for properly experiencing the festival. (Those $40 badges were available for $20 a couple weeks before the event, by the way.) It allowed me to bounce back and forth between venues, while many of my friends — who didn't have badges — chose one lineup and stayed there all night.
It all makes for a truly schizophrenic experience — one best told in bits and pieces. So here's a look into my notebook from Lincoln Calling 2010.
• One day before official festivities began, the Homegrown Music Festival at the Bourbon Theatre, 1415 O St., featured 17 short films and videos by local filmmakers, many of whom paired with local bands like The Machete Archive, Dean the Bible, Kill County and Powerful Science. Standouts included Chris Jonak's wonderful stop-motion video for Manny Coon's "Sweet Virginia," and Aaron Sawyer's short film noir '50s period piece, featuring a Starkweather-Fugate-style couple and shocking events that tied my gut in a knot.
• Nerd-pop band from Lincoln, Powerful Science struck the first notes of the fest in an early show at the Black Market clothing store, 1033 O St., followed by High Art, featuring a super trio of Darren Keen (The Show is the Rainbow), Jim Schroeder (UUVVWWZ) and Josh Miller (Powerful Science, Columbia vs. Challenger). The band is only playing a couple more shows before going on indefinite hiatus, which is too bad, because they're fun as hell.
• I love bluegrass, so catching Diamond Kazoo at 12th St. Pub, 1200 O St., was a treat as tasty as the veggie tacos I destroyed before the Lincoln group began plucking their banjo, strumming their six-string and thumping their gut bucket. It was the first time I'd heard music at the former bank, and the sound in the space — that certainly wasn't built for acoustics — didn't sound nearly as bad as I'd been told. The bar works well as an intimate venue: perfect for singer-songwriters and groups who can't fill bigger spaces in town.
• I missed Bandit Sound, but caught at least part of the rest of the Zoo Bar's punk bands: Lincoln's Mustaché (featuring bassist Lern from Forty Twenty) and Toronto's The Flatliners. Mustaché had a healthy circle pit going in the blues bar, 136 N. 14th St., while Fat Wreck Chords band The Flatliners fell a little flat, possibly due to the 17-hour trip home ahead of them.
• Duffy's Tavern, 1412 O St., had some of my favorite shows all week, and they started strong with Union Line and Those Darlins. I caught a chanty yeller called "Pearls" by the Orange County band Union Line, whose members wore v-necks so deep they make all others inadequate. Nashville band Those Darlins were phenomenal, playing to a packed crowd. They're a garage-rock five-piece fronted by three women made of equal parts flowers and rusty nails. Mustaché frontman Brian Poskochio said it best, calling the band a cross between the Go-Go's and The Cramps. The snarling ladies must have cast a spell on the male audience members, who did their best to make sure the women were sufficiently drunk. The blonde Darlin devastated a heartsick fellow trying to hand her a shot, saying, "I don't want your roofies, dude." Classic.
• I missed more of my target bands than I caught on this night, including Nebraska bands Once a Pawn, Ted Stevens, Brad Hoshaw, Bear Country, Pharmacy Spirits and Bonehardt Flannigan. But the ones I saw were impressive:
• One of my favorite Nebraska music people, Lee Meyerpeter's Filter Kings played their always rowdy country-punk tunes to a blue-collar Zoo Bar crowd that was, appropriately, equal parts cowboys and punks. Later, The Killigans had every fist in the room in the air when they played their booze-soaked Irish-inspired punk rock. Bonus: Some nice woman gave me a Killigans Koozie.
• Over at Duffy's, Omaha's Landing on the Moon features three exceptional vocalists, each with different styles. I'd be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. Denver's The Photo Atlas was a dancier Desaparacidos. That might just work for them.
• Parrish Studio's art show — featuring mainly music-related photographs —was a nice, calm break from the concert insanity. But it wasn't silent: Son of '76 frontman Josh Hoyer was playing keys and singing blues. It wasn't entirely planned. He said he set up and started playing before learning he was at the wrong place. Oh well, the songs made for a nice backdrop.
• I bought some new kicks, drank a free pale ale from Nebraska Brewing Company and ate some Yia Yia's pizza at Black Market. But I left before WHITELODGE/blacklodge started playing their instrumental/electronic set. The outfit is a side project for Billy and Danny Yost, frontman and drummer, respectively, for Chicago rock band The Kickback.
• Bourbon's front room is coming together — the bar now has a top, and it's made from recycled beer bottles that the venue and other nearby bars saved. Very cool. I caught part of Lawrence band Cowboy Indian Bear's set there. The band has made Lincoln/Omaha its second home with frequent visits, and it shows. A good-sized crowd seemed to know every word to many of the songs, which are best when all four members are harmonizing.
• Over at 12th St., Envy Corps was playing its dancey pop-rock to too few people. The band is gaining momentum nationally, no doubt to its catchy songs.
• The show of the week was at Duffy's, where Lincoln band Pablo's Triangle reunited to play just its third show in 10 years. Featuring an all-star group of local (and now national) musicians, the band played driving, frantic, intense songs that had the largest crowd I've ever seen at the tavern going berserk. I can't overstate how good this band is. It's a shame they're not touring the country right now. The finale, an Erasure cover, had the place in fits.
• The Zoo Bar's Speed! Nebraska showcase featured some of the label's best bands, including headliners Mercy Rule, who I unfortunately missed. I did catch Ideal Cleaners, however. And every time I see them, I like them more. When I first heard the Lincoln band years ago, I immediately loved their style and intensity; bassist Mike Keeling is as fun to watch as any in town (even The Machete Archive's Saber Blazek, who played later). But as their songs become more familiar, I increasingly appreciate just how great they are.
• The Mezcal Brothers' frontman Gerardo Meza was decked out in a black mariachi-style outfit complete with what he called "cupcake" pants, for their white swirls that resemble a Little Debbie creation. The rockabilly bandits had people swing dancing in front of the stage, the only time I saw that happen during the festival.
• The Wagon Blasters was everything you'd expect from Speed! label boss Gary Dean Davis: fast, loud tractor punk fronted by Davis and his blue-jean pogo hops.
• At Duffy's, Portland's Lookbook was one guy playing electric guitar to pre-recorded arrangements. He's entertaining to watch, but the rest of the band was really boring.
• One of the most-anticipated sets of the week for me came from The Prids, former Lincolnites now in Portland. I missed the band when they played the Bourbon earlier this summer, and the sound on their new songs is lighter than their earlier post-punk stuff. It's a really great evolution — still smart, urgent and intense, but a little more catchy. Bassist Mistina La Fave still pounds her bass like she's shaking a baby. I went home with their LP full-length, Chronosynclastic, which features a photo of a pretty, young woman named Nina Jane La Fave. Liner notes say the photo was taken in the 1940s — is she Mistina's grandmother?
• The Kickback writes great songs. Period. Frontman Billy Yost attacks the microphone like a cornered pit bull. And when they get their bassist back — he's touring with Oh My God — they're going to be even more dangerous.
• The Machete Archive played the final notes of the festival, and they were as fast, intricate and overpowering as always. I listened to the last song in front of a falafal sandwich at Ali Baba Gyros, which shares a wall with Duffy's. It sounded like the wall was being beaten down by a mob.
• Duffy's was smart, running its shows just a little late each night, making its final act the one to which fans and bands from every venue closed the night.
• I expected the sponsorship branding to be more distracting this year. It wasn't. Some car dealership banners behind the stage was about the extent of it. Wait a couple more years before inevitable "sellout" accusations begin.
• The best unofficial Lincoln Calling performance came Sunday at Duffy's, where Lincoln folk singer Manny Coon's evocative, stirring tales grabbed and held onto a large crowd for about 45 minutes. It was an impressive turnout, considering many audience members had been to shows every night since Wednesday.
• Since I missed them at the festival, I hope to catch pop-punk duo Once a Pawn Wednesday at Duffy's. After that, Catherine and Eric head out on a 10-day Midwest/East Coast tour to support their newest album, Mission Accomplished.
Originally from Imperial, Andrew Norman started going to local shows around 2002. He got more involved while serving as the music editor for alt-weeklies in Omaha. His first attempt at establishing a Twitter hashtag, #LincolnCalling didn't quite catch on like he hoped. Norman is the founder of Hear Nebraska, a nonprofit website that will launch this fall. For now, check out facebook.com/hearnebraska, twitter.com/hearnebraska and hearnebraska.tumblr.com. Email story ideas and hate messages to email@example.com.