By Joe Shearer, Photo Editor
The summer music off-season was somewhat controversial for the MAHA music festival this year.
In early 2011, the inaugural Red Sky music festival was announced, and the dates clashed with those of MAHA. The MAHA organizers made the decision to push their event back to mid-August, as they didn’t want the Red Sky festival to interfere with their concert.
Shortly after that, MAHA announced its initial group of headlining acts. The 2010 MAHA fest was highly acclaimed and much hype was generated for this year’s go-around. Months of rumors and fan predictions were steep, as anticipated acts were quite international and unlikely for Omaha, especially during the summer when premier cities and festivals were already hosting bigger events.
I was both amazed and confused when I heard the three headlining acts announced.
Omaha’s own Cursive was first to be listed. The group had already played in Omaha and Lincoln a handful of times recently, so they seemed like an anti-climactic band to announce first. Next up were the legendary Guide By Voices. My jaw dropped, as this was a big step up for the second to last headliner. GBV paved the road for the legions of alt-rock acts of America to wander onto the scene. That being said, much commotion was stirred up in anticipation of the final headlining act announcement.
Various groups were suggested in social media outlets, from practical suggestions like Wilco and Ween, to large acts like Radiohead or Arcade Fire. However, many fans were left in a state of confusion when Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu was announced. This selection was an odd genre shift to go along with the two rock behemoths announced just prior. In my opinion, the once highly praised musician hit his peak years ago and had no relevance to the festival.
Opinions were tossed around on Facebook and online local music sites, and I, for one, was very eager to see how this event would pan out.
On August 13, the day of MAHA had finally arrived. Between the day of the show and the initial artist announcements, the event organizers impressively rounded out the rest of the bill with a few more legends and put together the best collection of local acts MAHA has seen for its second stage.
The sun was out, the temperature was mild with a nice breeze, and the beers were cheap. This is the perfect start for any day, especially during a day-long music festival. I arrived at around 2:00 p.m., but made up for it by catching every act from then on. Here is my take on MAHA 2011 in a nutshell:
The Machete Archive – This trio from Lincoln was a highlight of the day. The instrumental outfit, flanked by bass prodigy Saber Blazek, hits listeners in the mouth with punching precision and a barrage of notes. It’s like listening to the offspring of Frank Zappa, Don Caballero and Mars Volta.
Reverend Horton Heat – The man has been in Omaha too many times to count, but he always draws a crowd. As he and the band cruised through 90 minutes of greasy rockabilly, including all the hits, the midday act attracted the most people up to the front row fence.
So-So Sailors – This pseudo super group of Omaha musicians has been on the rise since their recent inception. Influenced by the soul of the 70s, front man Chris Machmuller crooned sad love songs while hunched over a set of keys. These guys give the Omaha rock scene a more mature sound that I absolutely love.
J. Mascis – Being an enormous Dinosaur Jr. fan, I was elated when the silver haired guitar phenom was announced. He played classic Dino Jr. tunes and selections from his solo efforts. During the solos, Mascis used a pedal to loop his acoustic guitar and used another to wail away with perfect distortion. The set was brief, but beautiful, as the sun had started to set.
Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship – I must be out of the loop, as I didn’t know that there were four people in the band and that there were lyrics in almost every song. The long-at-work Omaha group breezed through a set of calmer, more pop-driven tunes. It wasn’t what I was used to, but I still enjoyed it.
Cursive – The band announced prior to the festival that their old drummer, Clint Schnase, was going to fill in for their MAHA set. Cursive fans were quite pleased, as Schnase can certainly lay it down and older, shelved tunes were imminent. The Saddle Creek pioneers turned in a memorable performance, hitting stops throughout their whole discography, with front man Tim Kasher bellowing his hauntingly true and depressing lyrics.
Somasphere – Although I thought this groups’ repetitive, electronic grooves were kind of boring, a strong number of MAHA attendees got down as night time was slowly creeping onto the concert site. The group from Lincoln has a solid following, and they definitely showed up for MAHA.
Guided By Voices – I was star struck when rock god Robert Pollard took the stage with the rest of GBV. I stood a few feet from the man while photographing their set and it was tough not being able to rock out for the first few songs. Taking slams of Jose Cuervo between songs, Pollard and company belted out as many songs as they could wedge into their one-hour set. It was a shame that many concertgoers were stuck in their lawn chairs for this set, though.
Matisyahu – The time of reckoning finally arrived and my prediction came true. This guy is washed up and it was apparent as hell during his set. Starting things off with a post-P.O.D. style rock song, my fellow rock companions and I were not impressed. The only redeemable part of the set was his classic beat boxing portion of the set, which was fun but nothing new. He played some classics, some new stuff and got a hundred people or so onstage to shake it. I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, but Matisyahu just didn’t do it for me, and I still think he was a poor choice for this festival.
I was on the frontlines for almost every act. Having been to hundreds of concerts and numerous festivals in my day, trying to see everything can put a beat down on your body. I genuinely enjoyed the MAHA fest. Great weather, friends, music and beer were everywhere to be found.
After months of anticipation and criticism from almost every angle, the MAHA organizers and staff truly put on a well-scheduled event that pleased many.
However, I think only a small percentage of attendees truly had a rocking experience. For every main stage act, there were less than a thousand people actually up on their feet and getting down. The main concert bowl area never even made it back to the soundboard. If I were a member of GBV or J. Mascis, I’d be wondering if this was for real.
About 4,000 people were in attendance, meaning thousands of people were parked in their lawn chairs or snoozing on a blanket during all the performances. Dammit, people, this isn’t a day at the park, it’s a rock show.
The crowd was a joke to me compared to the year before, when Ben Kweller had fans shouting every lyric and The Faint had every set of hips shaking.
MAHA is trying to give this city something big and unique, but I think people need to start giving a damn for this thing to stay successful.