MAY 12 •
M A RC H 2020 | volU M E 27 | I SSUE 1
Down for the cause, not down for the count: How North Omaha’s History Will Impact Its Direction In A Pivotal Moment For Development by C h r i s B ow li n g a n d TH E O m a h a Sta r
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Census Bureau Still Needs Workers in Omaha by Chris Bowling
s the census’ April 1 launch date nears, the U.S. Census Bureau is still looking for workers in Nebraska to help administer the decennial survey. These workers help the Census Bureau make connections with every last person to ensure it receives an accurate count. As of Feb. 24, Douglas County had only reached 68.7% of its applicant
goal; it’s about 1,500 applications short of its 5,100 target. Mark Allensworth, an area census officer manager, said the Census Bureau has been hiring since January and is gearing up for a big hiring push, which will last until March 17, for positions that include census takers and supervisors. “We’re definitely looking
for applications and people who can work,” he said. Though Nebraska as a state is nearing its goal of applications received — indeed, several counties are at or have exceeded their goals — Douglas County still lags behind, despite ramping up hourly pay for census takers to $21.50 and supervisors to $23.50. “Jobs are the big challenge,” said David Drozd,
research coordinator with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research. “Even in 2017 the Census folks said ‘It’s going to be finding the workers that keeps us up at night.’” The problem is one Nebraskans hear often — its workforce participation rate is working against it, said Drozd, who works with the census and similar data for
the university. With very low unemployment and high rates of workforce participation, Drozd said it’s been hard to reach enough people who need work and are open to temporary jobs.
April, census employees begin making house visits. These usually last from May to July. Finally, by December, results are delivered to the president and Congress.
To remedy that situation, the Census Bureau has hiked up the hourly rate for these flexible-hours, parttime jobs. For months, the volunteer partners with the Census Bureau have spread the message to faith groups, community organizations and other outlets to get people knocking on doors.
Douglas County’s application pools rank in the bottom third when compared to other counties across the state. Counties with other municipalities, however, are nearing their goals. Lancaster County pulled in 94.6%, Sarpy County got 87.6% and Madison County reached 82%. Hall County, which contains Grand Island, even hit more than 129% of its goal. However, counties such as Buffalo, which contains Kearney, and Douglas neighbor Dodge County, also lag with only a little more than 50% of their goals reached.
If the Census doesn’t get enough applications, Drozd said they will simply hire from outside the state. The downside, he said, is twofold: It takes away an opportunity to keep the money in Nebraska, and the people knocking on doors don’t
know the community’s layout or nuances. “If an area doesn’t get enough applications, it will still get counted accurately,” Drozd said. “But they might not know the streets as well.” That’s an important factor as these census-taker employees look to fill any holes in the census process. Starting in March, houses will begin receiving invitations to complete the cen-
sus over the phone, by mail or, for the first time, online. On April 1, the nation will observe Census Day and encourage people to complete the questionnaire. Throughout this process, employees with the Census Bureau could begin counting hard-to-count communities, such as homeless populations, college students and those in hospitals or nursing homes. If the Census Bureau has not heard from a house after
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C O V E R
Down for the cause, not down for the count How North Omaha’s History Will Impact its Direction in a Pivotal Moment for Development by Chris Bowling and THE Omaha Star
ore than 150 years ago, wagon trains carrying westward travelers crested the last hills along the banks of the Missouri River. Across those waters they viewed an expansive new land they hoped would hold opportunity and freedom. And through hardships of cold and arid weather, the hearty stock of pioneers turned prairieland into bountiful fields, bustling
cities and, most importantly, a home. That’s one telling of Omaha’s history. Another follows a different set of pioneers, ones who also came for opportunity, if they arrived willingly at all, but met hardships rooted in the color of their skin. Over the past six months, The Omaha Star has endeavored to follow that story
through the years to inform existing patterns of discrimination and how that influences modern issues, like gentrification, particularly as the area sees escalating interest in investment and development. As one of the first organizations awarded a $25,000 Community Network grant from the Facebook Journalism Project and the Lensfest Institute for Journalism, The Star tasked itself with digging deep
into the community’s roots to seek solutions — to determine what people can do to identify which projects will benefit their community and which are hiding gentrification behind glossy language. The Star found no simple answers; however, they did find a core group of people committed to fighting for their community. Chief among their values: the culture, history
C O V E R and families of North Omaha. They are down for the cause, committed to the long-term vision of this community that includes them, their children and future generations. At heart of The Star’s series and that fight is the pivotal moment facing Omaha’s North neighborhoods. It’s a moment ripe for change as decades of work in community organizing and concerted efforts to attract investment dollars have positioned the area for serious redevelopment. It’s a story about a community invested in its neighborhood’s future. Lifelong residents, their parents, their children and the lives of every generation that’s lived here and that is yet to come. It’s about sizing up the community, coming together and asking, “What do we want this place to look like in another decade or half century?”
Beginnings From its beginning, Nebraska offered a stark contrast between its ideals and practices. In 1854, Congress created the Nebraska Territory in the Kansas-Nebraska Act with the legal caveat that it remain free of slavery. However, the first census counted 13 slaves among the 2,732 who ventured into the territory that summer. Until that point the only other recorded African Americans in the area were York, a slave on Lewis and Clark’s journey, and slaves who lived at Fort Lisa, a fur trading outpost in what is now North Omaha. In the following years, free African Americans moved into Omaha, including Sally Bayne
Map created in 1856 showing the breakdown of free and slave states after the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. and Bill Lee, who opened the first barbershop at 1301 Harney St. As it looked toward statehood, Nebraska proposed a state constitution that limited voting rights to “free white males.” This came one year after the end of the Civil War and several years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Congress admitted Nebraska in 1867 on the condition that it grant non-white men voting rights, overriding President Andrew Johnson’s veto. The following decades saw Omaha’s black population build as millions fled the South. In Omaha they found jobs, largely in meatpacking
plants, and built a home for themselves, starting businesses, reform-minded organizations and churches, including Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church, which still stands today. By 1920, more than 10,000 African Americans lived in Omaha, about 5% of the burgeoning city’s population and the largest such population among any Western American city, second only to Los Angeles. And while the minority group thrived, gaining delegation to the Legislature by 1892 and a lawyer in the bar association by 1895, tension also emerged.
“It did not go unnoticed that the rising numbers of Black workers and their families caused alarm for Omaha’s White citizens,” wrote Terri L. Crawford, University of Nebraska at Omaha Black Studies Adjunct Professor, in a story for The Star. In 1919, a white mob lynched 41-year-old Will Brown and burned his body outside the Douglas County Courthouse. In 1921, the Ku Klux Klan founded its first Nebraska chapter in Omaha. A few years later, the group had 1,100 members statewide intimidating black families, like the Littles, who fled Omaha with their infant son, Malcolm.
C O V E R
Nowhere To Go By 1930, the movement had receded, but discrimination persisted. New struggles emerged in housing and mobility. Already, black Omahans were forced into the neighborhood now known as North Omaha with strict instructions not to leave. Following Brown’s lynching, U.S. Army soldiers blocked off the area as a safe zone from white mobs. “The soldiers drew a line between the neighborhoods and told the Black residents they would be protected if they stayed within those lines,” Crawford wrote. “Those first ‘lines of protection’ became symbolic and substantive demarcations of redlining efforts in Omaha.” The ‘30s and President Franklin Rosevelt’s New Deal, however, reduced their economic autonomy and ability to leave. One of the pillars of Rosevelt’s New Deal was to increase homeownership across the country, but it failed to do that equitably. In deciding how to dole out home loans, a federal board overseeing the task asked the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in 1935 to map 239 cities based on financial risk. Neighborhoods ranged from most safe, shaded green, to most risky, shaded red. North Omaha, which had become a neighborhood of immigrants and African Americans, was shaded crimson — a designation now known as redlining. Over the years,
this limited many black Omahans from owning homes or moving to new neighborhoods, halting upward mobility, perpetuating segregation and sustaining poverty. During this time, black Omahans did find homes in the Logan Fontenelle housing project. Built in 1938 with the capacity to hold 2,100 low-income residents, the modest redbrick homes were at first legally segregated through the 1950s, keeping black Omahans out in favor of low-income European immigrants. Eventually, the Czechs, Slovaks, German Jews and other residents moved west and black residents moved in. While Logan Fontenelle was meant to serve transitioning working-class residents, tens of thousands lost their jobs in the railroad and meatpacking industries in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and the projects swelled. “Within the decade, Logan Fontenelle became synonymous with neglect, racial segregation, isolation and overpolicing,” Crawford wrote. “As the need for public housing increased, more families packed into those few housing units,
old REDLINEd map of Omaha escalating already tense conditions.”
Breaking Point Years later, in 1990, black residents of Logan Fontenelle sued the city and the Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging Omaha’s public housing was racially discriminatory. The U.S.
Supreme Court determined that Omaha had violated the U.S. Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 in developing and administering Omaha’s public housing. But before justice shined a light on Logan Fontenelle in the ‘90s, crime and poverty established a deeper foothold in the community in the middle of the 20th century, contributing to growing frustration and disillusionment with city officials. It came to a head the
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C O V E R St. “And it will always be that way.” The mark left on North Omaha from redlining and years of terroristic and systematic racism has yet to fade. In 2018, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found three out of four redlined neighborhoods continue to struggle economically today. Indeed, their map highlighting today’s clusters of race and poverty matches almost exactly the one drawn by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation 80 years ago.
various articles from the Omaha Star following the death of Vivian Strong in June 1969. night of June 24, 1969. That summer night, police came to Logan Fontenelle on a call of suspected robbery. Inside a vacant apartment, teenagers had been dancing to records but fled out the back door when they heard officers were outside.
As he watched the crowd running away, a white police officer raised his revolver and shot 14-year-old Vivian Strong in the back of the head, killing her. Riots broke out along a nine-block area in North Omaha as residents burned businesses along N. 24th St.,
the only way the community could express such hurt, frustration and anger. The flames only continued when the courts did not charge the officer with murder and freed him on a $500 bond. In a trial for manslaughter, he was found innocent and returned to the police force where he worked until retiring in 1971. This was four years after Malcolm X was assassinated. Four years after the Voting Rights Act was passed. A year after Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were shot. The same year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.
Smokestacks abound and smoke rises from the lead smelting and refining plant in this photograph showing Capitol Avenue to Douglas Street and the Missouri River, Omaha, Nebraska. From the collections of the Omaha Public Library.
“You talk about justice and it means one thing to you. We talk about it and it means something else to us,” said now-state-senator Ernie Chambers in the 1966 documentary A Time for Burning, as he gave a haircut in Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barbershop on N. 24th
In Your Backyard In April 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency found those in poverty are 1.35 times more likely to have facilities creating pollution in their area. Black Americans are affected 1.54 times more than other demographics. “Scholars and experts conclude that these choices reflected the desire to avoid the deterioration of White neighborhoods when Black neighborhoods were available as alternatives,” Crawford wrote. “Hazardous conditions and risk of harm to Black life were not considerations in the policymaking decision.” In Omaha, that was evidenced by the American Smelting and Refining Company lead plant along the Missouri, which closed in 1997 after 110 years of operation. Due to its toxicity, the site became part of Omaha’s massive, federally designated Superfund cleanup site, which stretched 8,000 acres of East Omaha and
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C O V E R prominently affected North Omaha. Disregard for black neighborhoods also showed in the construction of the North Freeway. Originally slated to pass through the Dundee-Happy Hollow neighborhood in 1977, that community protested. When it was rerouted through North Omaha, protests were ignored. Four years later, the city finished the freeway at the cost of 57 buildings, among them homes and businesses that altogether displaced 56 families. “It destroyed historic neighborhoods, businesses and decades of homeownership for longtime residents,” Crawford wrote.
A Shift and an Opportunity If the first three quarters of the 20th century saw the deterioration of North Omaha, the last few decades have been characterized by efforts to rebuild. New buildings and businesses are taking shape, the product of a decades-long effort from an outspoken community learning to use its voice to secure dollars and make palpable change. However, getting there required carving out their own seat at the table. In 1975, the city razed the Omaha Typesetting Company at 11th and Douglas, the first step in a $30 million project — the equivalent of $143 million today — to carve out a winding green space and lagoon
from blocks of old buildings. Construction of the Gene Leahy Mall signaled the start of an urban revitalization trend already occurring across the United States, especially in cities like Omaha, which were gobsmacked by the rapid rise and fall of industrialization. But North Omaha residents were skeptical of the movement from the beginning, voting down three separate attempts to establish an urban renewal agency between the ‘50s and ‘70s. Their fear was their neighborhoods would be bought and sold to private investors. That changed with Community Development Block Grants, which gave cities dedicated federal money and impetus to address these issues as well as urban renewal as a whole. In 1974, the Department of Housing and Urban Development established what’s now one of its longest-running programs to fund affordable housing, anti-poverty organizations and infrastructure development. Over the years, that money, as well as subsidies from tax increment financing, was used to transform parts of the city, from building Aksarben Village to TD Ameritrade Park and the CHI Health Center. Through these grants, the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, an economic and community development organization in North Omaha founded in 1977, was able to lead efforts such as redeveloping the Kellom Heights commercial and residential districts. “The plan was to draw upon the expanding economic
development to the east and south and transport that over to the north by jobs and housing and community development,” said former OEDC president Al Goodwin.
From the Ground Up Officials also focused their attention on North Omaha. However, in the ‘70s they were starting from scratch, said Marty Shukert, who joined the Omaha Planning Department around this time and went on to serve as director of that department and the Mayor’s Office of Economic & Policy Development. “The city really had no organizational infrastructure internally and no neighborhood infrastructure externally to do a very good job administering those funds or even figuring out what to use them for,” he said. They identified three major projects: Kellom Heights, the Conestoga Place subdivision, which would replace Logan Fontenelle, and redevelopment of 24th and Lake streets. While each project had varied success, Shukert said it became clear the city needed to shift its attention to filling vacant lots and providing more affordable housing. Nonprofits, like Holy Name Housing Corporation and Gesu Housing, have led that charge for decades — building, remodeling or selling subsidized housing. Others also point to the Highlander Project as signalling a renaissance in the city. In the works since 2011, the project, once completed,
will offer 280 residential units, 60% of which will be for lowor middle-income people. In building a sustainable plan, organizations also rely heavily on neighborhood groups, like the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance. Precious McKesson, president of its board, said these groups play a big role in empowering the community with one voice. The implications are far-reaching, from neighborhood camaraderie to having a seat at the table when it comes to city planning and policy. “It always comes back to canvassing,” McKesson said, “knocking on the doors and asking them what do they need?” Another route toward sustainable housing is the Omaha Municipal Land Bank, a private-public partnership established six years ago that acquires vacant or dilapidated properties and pairs them with developers who represent sustainable community interests. That organization, made up of seven voting board members and six non-voting board members representing districts across the city, has been plagued with vacancies and inconsistent leadership. As a result, the Land Bank has built up properties but had trouble doling them out until recently, said non-voting member and City Councilman Ben Gray. “For a period of time our staff lost focus,” he said. “I think they lost focus, and we were starting to be more ambassadors and getting out to various communities rather than doing the kind of buying and selling that we needed to do.”
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Learned Hesitance But even as the community faces down hundreds of millions in revitalization efforts, old anxieties that led to voting down an urban renewal agency three times through the ‘50s and ‘70s have never left. The only difference is in recent years, a common name has arisen for the fear of self-serving private investors and whether the community will reap the benefits of this revitalization: gentrification. Last November, leading housing advocates gathered in North Omaha to discuss barriers to affordable housing and community-building. Erin Feichtinger of Together Omaha said Omaha is not at a point where it believes housing is a human right. That’s seen in the use of tax subsidies to prioritize development that builds luxury amenities to attract new people rather than programs that support the existing community. Patrick Leahy of Missing Middle Housing Campaign advocated for the city to capitalize on low-hanging fruit, like changing city code, to allow for more housing types, which would increase quick, affordable options. Because the threat of gentrification is not abstract, he said. According to Governing magazine, 12 Omaha census tracts experienced gentrification, meaning they were low income and experienced significant increases, especially when compared to other tracts, in home values and population from 2000 to 2015.
“There are things that are happening right in front of us, and we really have not even learned how to articulate it to deal with it,” Leahy said. “We know something bad is happening.”
Navigating Toward a New North Over the course of The Star’s reporting, they found no clear answers. These problems span centuries, stretch across the United States and exist in complex terms. The Star did, however, find workable solutions, chief among them community involvement. At the center of almost all the progress in North Omaha is grassroots activism and local people getting involved. Leading the charge has been the Empowerment Network, which started as a clean-up project but grew into an inclusive organization that listened to 8,000 of its residents and built a roadmap toward success. Since then they’ve connected community organizations, local businesses, area churches, state legislators, city government officials and neighborhood groups to impact policy and initiatives as well as get everyone from the top down on the same page. In the last decade, the community’s seen gains in the number of people obtaining bachelor degrees, employment and household incomes. The poverty rate for black Omahans dropped 4.2 times more than the national average, ac-
Al Goodwin (seated) and Michael Maroney are the former and current presidents of the Omaha Economic Development Corporation. Photo by Lynn Sanchez. cording to data reported by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the Empowerment Network at the latter’s “State of North Omaha Summit” in January. Some of that progress can be attributed to Empowerment Network initiatives, such as Step Up Omaha!, which connects teens with local businesses, and partnerships with organizations and businesses, such as Heartland Workforce Solutions and North End Teleservices. There’s still progress to be made in homeownership, closing the wealth gap and catching up to Hispanic and white Omahans in several other categories. But the im-
provement has bolstered opinions that change is possible. “We can’t do it all at once,” said Willie Barney, founder of the Empowerment Network. “But we can do it if we work together.” Beyond getting involved in local organizations, the next step is to show this community is worthy of investment. Though the Highlander Project has received a lot of attention and attracted millions in investment, Cydney Franklin said Seventy Five North, which is administering the Highlander project, never set out to change all of North Omaha.
C O V E R The neighborhood is projected to need between 1,800 and 3,900 new homes over the next 20 years, according to a Forever North Study for N. 24th St. conducted by the Omaha Planning Department and the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency. That’s going to take a lot of public and private investment, and while projects like Highlander strive to make gains, they’re only the first step. “We’re hoping to make a footprint and serve as a catalyst
by investing in this one neighborhood and helping to attract the right partners to maintain affordability in housing that’s also high quality,” Franklin said. Still others are looking at an even bigger picture. They see a conversation that links Omaha’s disparate neighborhoods, one that connects Midtown to North Omaha, gets people out west to care about what’s happening on S. 24th St. Other cities are engaging in these kinds of talks to build policies, but Omaha seems behind the
times, said Creighton University Law Professor Palma Strand. Strand directs the 2040 Initiative in Creighton’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program, which focuses on the intersection between looming social change, largely rooted in race and shifting demographics, law and politics. Nebraskans seem hesitant to discuss race, she said. But if you want to build a better future, one that’s equitable and takes care of all Omahans, you have to start back at the beginning.
Who are we? What does Omaha mean to me? What do we want our city to look like in the next 100 years? “The way these connections get built, people are invited, and they show up,” Strand said. “To me, that’s where you start.” To read the entire series go to theomahastar.com.
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U . S .
C E N S U S
The Money on the Table
Key Federal Dollars are at Stake in the 2020 Census by Chris Bowling
or all its importance, the census doesn’t top lists of issues eliciting fierce debate, fist pounding or fevered devotion. Though hundreds of individuals and organization partners across Nebraska have worked for months to ready the state for the decennial government survey that aims to count every person in the country, its selling points don’t raise eyebrows.
in Nebraska could mean $40 million in losses per year, according to the University of Nebraska at Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research.
That is until you mention the millions of dollars at stake.
That money, which supports roads, schools, health care, public housing and much more, is of particular interest in communities that are historically hard-to-count, meaning
“When you throw numbers like that out there, that gets people’s attention,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, director of operations at the Empowerment Network, an organization that works to improve the quality of life for African American Omahans and partnered with the Census Bureau as a community educator. While every 10 years the census strives to give America a clear picture of who its citizens are, it also plays a key role in deciding who gets federal dollars and who doesn’t. An undercount of 1%
They figure that number by taking the total federal dollars Nebraska received in 2016 and dividing it by the number of people in the state. That roughly comes out to $2,096 lost every year when one person doesn’t fill out the census.
their mail-return rate is lower than 73%. In Omaha, these areas are largely in North and South Omaha. These communities often have high poverty rates, housing densities, numbers of children and minority populations. The latter is most striking as one in three African Americans and one in six Hispanics live in these areas in Nebraska. Quaites-Ferris said getting a good count in these communities is vital because they have high need for dollars in economic and workforce development. Missing large swaths of people there can have di-
sastrous consequences on the services those very same populations depend on. “If those agencies are relying on state funding, and that funding is not there because we didn’t show a need,” she said, “then that’s a hindrance. And that barrier is a challenge to those agencies to stay afloat. And if they are not able to stay afloat, then what happens? They end up shutting the doors.” Funding programs like Step Up Omaha!, Heartland Workforce Solutions, food pantries and housing grants all come to mind as good reasons to take the census, said Quaites-Ferris. Disseminating information is left to volunteers in the form of Census Bureau partners, who specialize in mobilizing certain demographics, and complete count committees, representative groups that can spread the message.
Map for the U.S. Census Bureau showing Nebraska counties’ progress in reaching applicant goals for the 2020 census.
Omaha has 11 complete count committees, some of which started meet-
U . S . ing monthly in the summer of 2019 to begin planning and preparing for the census. The formal introduction of these committees as well as earlier involvement with community partners have already set this census apart from 2010 said David Drozd, a research coordinator with UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research. “It almost got lost in the shuffle [in 2010],” he said. “It was something that was supported but not necessarily promoted and organized in the way we’ve seen in 2020.” In these meetings, committee members can discuss best ways to get information in front of people and connect the ideas to the people who can implement them. In a meeting for Omaha’s complete count committee on Feb. 19, Troy Anderson, deputy chief of staff in the Mayor’s Office, flicked through his email to get contacts for utility providers after an idea arose to include Census Bureau information in water bills. Early on, the committees decided not to seek funding for their own advertising campaigns or to make Omaha-specific education materials. Rather, they wanted to play middle man between the census’ wealth of materials and community stakeholders. What they didn’t want to do was target any one area, be it hard to count or not. “We didn’t want to put all our eggs in one basket,” Anderson said. “We didn’t want to try and spend all our energy and effort focusing on a few strategy areas and miss out on the bigger picture.” But some don’t know if that’s going to be effective. Erin Porterfield, executive
C E N S U S
director of Heartland Workforce Solutions and a member of Omaha’s complete count committee, wonders if they shouldn’t think more creatively than “dropping flyers from a helicopter.” Even though the Census Bureau has a wealth of education documents and will spend $500 million on advertising across the United States, Porterfield thinks if there are communities the state traditionally misses, they may need non-traditional solutions to bring them into the fold. “All the intent is good,” she said, “but it’s a lot of folks doing volunteer roles, and at least for me I don’t have the full information to tell me our bases are covered.” Synergy between the complete count committees is also an issue many raise. Unlike most states, Nebraska does not have an official complete count committee, meaning there’s no official group organizing census action and no dedicated budget. Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed that bill last year, making Nebraska one of two states not to have an official complete count committee. Nonprofit Nebraska Counts did, however, step up as an unofficial census leader in the state, while other entities have provided funds, including the City of Omaha, which gave its complete count committee $30,000, Anderson said. Some see that as a clear disadvantage when compared to states like California, which allocated $187 million, or New York City, which allocated $40 million. Even neighboring Colorado put down $6 million, and Utah set aside $1 million for the first time ever to address the undercount of children.
Map of Omaha’s hard-to-count districts, census tracts with low census response rates, developed by the City University of New York’s Graduate Center’s Mapping Service. “While the state is supportive and wants to make sure we get an accurate count,” Quaites-Ferris said, “I think it would have been even better to tie some dollars to that so the census work being done currently is at a level that other states are at.” This comes at a time when the Census Bureau has already experienced a political tug-ofwar with the Trump administration over budgets and a potential citizenship question. The latter, although not on the 2020 census, has raised controversy, particularly in Hispanic communities at a time when anxieties about deportations and Immigration Customs Enforcement raids are high. Complete count committees are getting the word out that the information given to the census is private and only used to produce statistics. In addition, of the Census Bureau’s advertising budget, $50 million is devoted to Hispanic communities, the most of any minority group. Violation of confidentiality can result in a prison sentence of up to five years, a fine of $250,000 or both. However, people realize that’s not going to completely
assuage fears, especially considering a majority of Americans still believes the question will be asked, according to a Pew Research Center study. For her part, Porterfield thinks it will be a hard hurdle to clear. “I can’t help but expect that there continues to be worry about that,” she said. “One part of our government protects us, one part of our government looks to find us and separate our families and throw us over the border.” But when it comes down to it, Drozd, a professional who works with census and similar data for a living, said it’s going to be hard to say what the net effect will be. Drozd said there are so many factors at play in hard-to-count communities that the best they can do is spread the word as far as possible. After that it’s between the individual and whether they choose to fill out the 10-question survey. “How effective that is, there’s no way to really know,” he said. “But it’s something. And at least the cities, organization, communities feel like they’ve been able to participate.”
D I S H
Poutine on the Ritz It’s not just the same old song and dance when Omaha chefs get their chance
by Ariella Rohr
outine ranks beside maple syrup and overwhelming politeness as one of the best things to come out of Canada (I’m not into hockey). The basic premise — French fries, cheese curds and gravy — is a cardiologist’s nightmare but a food lover’s dream. Its simplicity also makes it a perfect dish for a chef to show some creativity and personality, jazzing up the gravy or sprinkling a little something special on top. If I see poutine on a restaurant menu, there is a very good chance I’m ordering it. Possibly as my entire meal (because, let’s be honest, even if you’re in a pig-out mood, it’s a pretty heavy dish). Omaha is blessed with several good poutine access points. Read
on for a list of don’t-miss dishes around town.
LeadBelly 3201 Farnam Waffle fries, white cheddar cheese curds, red wine gravy and candied bacon. I love a good waffle fry, and they’re also ideal for poutine because they hold on to all that cheesy gravy goodness. The curds are served cold and hard, which isn’t my favorite, but not a deal-breaker either. The gravy sets this dish apart, with a well-seasoned and bright flavor. And, of course, what isn’t better with a little candied bacon sprinkled on top?
The gravy sets LeadBelly’s waffle-fry poutine apart.
Benson Brewery’s fries are hot and crispy.
ably full halfway through. Plan to share with a friend.
House-cut fries, white cheddar cheese curds, gravy and green onion.
Basic and brilliant. Fries, cheese curds and gravy.
These fries were hot and crispy, the base of any good poutine and honestly good enough to enjoy on their own. The gravy was delicious, with a deep, savory flavor and conservative use of salt, which is good because the fries were salted enough to stand on their own. The dish was thoroughly covered in soft, warm and melty cheese curds, which held their temperature. Even while accepting this dish as my entire meal and not an appetizer, I was uncomfort-
A+ for gooey cheesy meltiness. I was able to fully extend my arm, and the cheese was still stretching. But eat fast! By the time I was done, the cheese had returned to its solid state. Block 16’s gravy is rich, salty and beefy. While the restaurant is known for its adventurous flavors, this classic poutine is basic. If you want something weird and exciting, Block 16 has a full menu of creative options. The gravy is served so generously that by the end of my meal I was left with a happy little
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D I S H boat of it, which my one-yearold happily ate with a spoon.
Wilson & Washburn 1407 Harney Poutine croquettes: fried mashed potato balls filled with melted cheese, served with gravy for dipping.
Block 16’s poutine is a classic.
Plan to share this massive helping at Shirley’s Diner.
I originally dismissed this dish for the purposes of this article as not true poutine, but the gravy is special enough I felt the need to include it. The outside of the croquettes is deliciously crispy, and the inside is beautifully soft and fluffy. The potato feels under-seasoned, which is a bummer only until the moment you try the gravy. Then you are glad for a blank slate to serve as a vehicle for the drippy, delicious accoutrement. The gravy is lighter than the others in town, a creamier tan compared to the usual dark mahogany, with a prominent sage flavor. The cheese inside the croquette is completely molten and gives me more of a cheese-cube vibe than cheese curd. It’s not strictly poutine, but it is something special.
Shirley’s Diner 13838 R Plaza Fries, cheese curds, gravy and green onion.
Winchester’s gravy is stand-out delicious.
Holding true to classic Shirley’s style, the portion size is massive. The fries are densely packed, and the cheese curds and gravy are generous. It feels like five pounds of food. The gravy is milder, less intensely meaty than others. It reminds me of Thanksgiving.
The cheese curds have the squeaky firmness that I’m told by Canadians is a sign of ideal curd quality. Despite being nice and warm under their gravy blanket, these curds held their shape. Shirley’s version is served with fresh, flavorful green onions as a colorful garnish to brighten the dish. Overall, it feels like the Canadian version of the chili cheese fries I’d get at a diner with friends in high school.
Winchester Bar & Grill 7002 Q St. Curly fries, fried cheese curds, cotija cheese & gravy. The gravy at Winchester’s is maybe the best, most richly flavorful of all the ones I’ve tried. There are little bits of celery and carrot hidden in it, offering a hearty, homemade richness to the experience of dining out. Curly fries are usually my jam, but in this case, I didn’t feel they were any better than any other application. The cotija also didn’t live up to expectations. The cheese curds were fried, which made them more like an amazing side than a fully incorporated element of the poutine. The gravy alone could entice me to come back, if only to see what other dishes they pair it with. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know! Editor’s note: This month’s review is brought to you by Ariella Rohr. Ariella is a member of the local group Omaha Food Lovers on Facebook. Become a member to join in lively discussions about area eateries, food fads and fun local finds.
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T H E
B U Z Z
Best St. Patty’s Spots by Salvador S. Robles
ince debuting The Buzz in The Reader, I often ask myself which bars, nightlife nightouts and happenings I would pencil down for you all. I typically try to tie a theme to either the month or a special event. This month was easy. March is infamous, and/or famous, depending on your experience, for, you guessed it, St. Patrick’s Day. I am biased toward June because it’s my birthday month, but March has always been my second-favorite month. Besides the sound of birds chirping and spring in the air, there’s the laughter and bar-hopping and, above all else, my favorite: green beer! I consider myself Mexican-American, but how does that saying go? Everyone is always a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. I could easily entertain you with the many fun and varied St. Patrick’s Day adventures I have had since 2013 (my well-documented videos of debauchery are saved on my Snapchat). But instead I offer some of the best ways to celebrate this St. Patrick’s Day, even though it falls on a Tuesday this year. Please don’t let that stop you.
Tuesday, March 17
Donohue’s Pub Saturday, March 14
The Dubliner Pub 1205 Harney St. The festivities actually start Saturday, kicking off with the St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Old Market, which starts at 10 a.m. Feel free to wander in before or after the parade for an Irish coffee at The Dubliner Pub. This has been one of my favorite places to go on parade day, mainly because of the ambience and the Jameson ginger ales they serve (make that a double). They also have music by Dicey Riley, which starts at noon. Word to the wise: This Irish pub gets packed right af-
ter the parade, partly because it’s a hot spot for the Firefighter’s Union, which deserves a round or two of cold ones after marching.
Annie’s Irish Pub The Capitol District Annie’s usually hosts a huge post-parade party in the middle of the Capitol District plaza. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, the storied Irish Catholic fraternal organization, will host their party at Annie’s this year, and there will be plenty of food, beverages and entertainment. Entry fees are $10 per adult and include one corn beef slider. All money raised will support Irish Charities of Nebraska.
3232 L St. Donohue’s is by far my favorite St. Patrick’s spot. Opening at 6 a.m., Donohue’s will help you start the day off right with Irish coffees and Budweiser pancakes for breakfast and corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew for lunch, which will be served throughout the day. Donohue’s is a hot spot for St. Patrick’s Day party bus goers and, depending on what time you stop in, it might be hard to even get in the door. Drink specials galore will be poured all day long. They include $5 pints of Guinness, Donohue’s famous Leprechaun Juice, Car Bombs and a new shot called Irish Fog. Besides being located in historic South Omaha, Donohue’s recently took part in the South Omaha Mural
Project, which resulted in an expansive mural on the side of the building that depicts Irish immigrants in the Omaha community.
Barrett’s Barleycorn 4322 Leavenworth Barrett’s is my go-to answer for best “party place” on this Irish holiday. Barrett’s closes off their parking lot in order to host and allow people to drink, dance and revel in the St. Patty’s Day festivities. Barret’s goes all out, opening up their many party rooms for people to wander in and out, giving it a true house-party feel. With plenty of drink stations available, Barrett’s is definitely a spot you need to check out, not just this St. Patrick’s Day but every St. Patrick’s Day.
T H E The Brazen Head Irish Pub
with plenty of Guinness, Harp Lager and Smithwick’s, which will be on draft.
319 N. 78th St. Crafted after The Brazen Head in Dublin, Omaha has a little piece of Ireland in this centrally located gem. Known for its fish n’ chips, The Brazen Head will have live music, featuring Peter Brennan and Ellis Island throughout the day. The party officially starts at 6 a.m., with an Irish breakfast, and continues into lunch, which will feature corned beef and cabbage and plenty of fish n’ chips. The best is yet to come — an outdoor beer garden opens at 11 a.m. and runs until 11 p.m. Brazen Head will feature plenty of whiskey and a variety of drink specials throughout the day, along
Two Fine Irishmen
Known as West Omaha’s best party pub, where Guinness is always flowing on tap, Two Fine Irishmen starts the party at 6 a.m. It’s safe to say you should stop by early, and if you feel like drinking that cold one outside in the beer garden, which closes the next day at 2 a.m., you are more than welcome. Two Fine Irishmen will feature live music from Omaha Pipes and Drums, The Shenanigans and Lemon Fresh Day. Corned beef and cabbage
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4503 Center A South Omaha staple known for its economical prices and heavy pours, Paddy McGown’s knows how to serve up a good time. The pub opens its outdoor beer garden at 7 a.m. and continues the party with plenty of drink specials all day. Food will be in abundance with corned beef and cabbage dinners, Reuben egg rolls and desserts. Plenty of entertainment will also be featured at this St. Patty’s hot spot.
Bottoms up: St. Patrick’s Day may not be for everyone, and you might think it’s crazy to celebrate on a Tuesday. But life is too short, my friends, so celebrate this fine Irish holiday with me and revel in some of the best party places our city has to offer. Remember to have fun, drink responsibly and tip your bartenders. Follow our new Instagram @thebuzz_thereader for live updates and info on drink and bar specials. Message us your favorite bar suggestions, which could be featured in The Buzz.
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P I C K S February 28 – March 15
The Diary of Anne Frank The Rose Theater
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” —Anne Frank
Adapted by Wendy Kesselman, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the true story of Anne Frank comes to the stage. Concealed in a secret annex with her family and several others during WWII, Anne Frank wrote a diary, a heartbreaking mix of Nazi terrorism and everyday adolescent concern. Anne would never know that her innermost thoughts would serve as an inside look at the horror of the Holocaust and a coming-of-age classic passed down through generations. Please stay for a Q&A session after this 90-minute show. Performances are Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 402-345-4849 or visit rosetheater.org.
Once is one of those love stories that never leaves you. With its quiet story of friendship and music, the Oscar-winning film was perfect for a stage adaptation. One that went on to win eight Tony’s. Guy is an Irish musician, busking on the streets. He meets Girl, a Czech immigrant. Guy and Girl embark on a musical love affair that connects them in unique and beautiful ways. The show features a hauntingly lovely score, which includes the award-winning “Falling Slowly.” Performances run Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $24 for adults, $18 for students. Call 402-553-0800 or visit ticketomaha.com. —Beaufield Berry
Doll Skin Bourbon Theatre, Lincoln
For those who missed Phoenix’s pop-punk band Doll Skin when they were in Nebraska last May, they will be at the Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln again on March 3. 2019 was an important year for the all-girl quartet as they were signed
February 28 – March 22
Hawks Theatre Omaha Community Playhouse
P I C K S March 6
to Hopeless Records, released their sophomore album, Love Is Dead and We Killed Her, played at Vans Warped Tour 25 Years and toured with New Found Glory. Their album’s lead single “Mark My Words” was also ranked No. 14 on Billboard’s “The 25 Best Rock & Alternative Songs of 2019” list.
Linder, Courtney & Pankowski
Michael Phipps Gallery W. Dale Cark Library
Doll Skin is headlining a handful of shows with opening acts Fame on Fire, Flashing Lights and Miss Taken before being openers themselves for punk icons Anti-Flag for the rest of March. These girls are on the rise and bring a fun blend of punk, pop and metal. The all-ages show is $12. —Efren Cortez
The Waiting Room, Benson Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a jazz fan, chances are you’re still a fan of Kamasi Washington. The tenor saxophonist from Los Angeles worked as a session musician, playing on tracks for Snoop Dogg, Lauryn Hill and Nas before adding more prominent contributions to albums by Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. The emo four-piece from Toronto are seemingly always on the road — the only question is whether or not they have new music to play. Luckily for fans, the band released their third studio album, Morbid Stuff, last year. Flip to page [xx] for an interview with frontman Stefan Babcock. —Houston Wiltsey
Kamasi Washington Slowdown
Washington takes as much as he gives to these sessions, bringing much of what he absorbs back to his recordings. His two studio albums, 2015’s The Epic and and 2018’s Heaven and Earth, are both brimming with ideas. Beneath his whirlwind playing, you can hear traces of G-Funk, celestial choirs or desert rock guitar solos. Washington previously stated that he “create[s] the skeleton, the band comes and creates the body.” In other words, while he may be the star, the musicians orbiting around him make the difference. —Houston Wiltsey
First Friday in March brings together three artists to the Michael Phipps Gallery: Shawnequa Linder, Derek Courtney and Joe Pankowski. The trio’s work will be on view through April. Shawnequa Linder is known for her vital portrait and landscape paintings in which she portrays levels of motion and poignancy through unconventional application techniques that evoke movement and texture. Often starting with found objects, like old blueprints, X-rays or city maps, Derek Courtney’s paintings build on layers of color, shape and texture, resulting in fragments of the original content obscured by abstractions of color and shape. His work rises from the concepts behind labor: work vs. compensation, machine vs. human, and action vs. rest. Artist and educator Joe Pankowski pulls his surreal subjects from fantasies, dreams and psychological wanderings, most of which he records in a sketchbook. These usually lead to a sequential group of drawings or paint-
P I C K S ings, which then lead most naturally into short experiments in animation. The opening reception for this trio of artists is March 6, from 5 to 6 p.m. Visit omaha.bibliocommons.com/ events.
Elevate Dance Party
Black Lips Reverb Lounge
Direct Drive Modern Arts Midtown
Modern Arts Midtown shifts into Direct Drive in March when it introduces, new to its stable, Wisconsin artist Dale Mainer and his large-scale, abstract paintings. Mainer will attend the exhibit’s opening Friday, March 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. Direct Drive will also feature work by Brent Witters and Deborah Stewart. Stewart is also exhibiting at MAM for the first time with her abstract acrylic paintings, and Witters is showing a new series of mixed media, test blocks. Direct Drive will hold a second opening Friday, April 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. For more info and gallery hours, go to modernartsmidtown.com or call 402-502-8737. —Mike Krainak
As the DJ bobs her head, down below a mass of dancers rock their bodies back and forth to the beat, while colorful, entrancing visuals are projected overhead. That’s the typical scene of Elevate’s monthly dance parties, which take place every Benson First Friday inside Reverb Lounge. The events feature local and touring DJs as well as a rotating cast of visual artists. This month’s installment will feature Graciela Grace, known as Grazy, from Guanajuato, Mexico. Educated through the house, techno and psychedelic trance DJ sets she traveled around Mexico to see before taking up the craft herself in 2012, Grazy’s style ranges from reggae to ska to techno. Former Elevate DJ Joshua Chrans, known as Josh C, will also perform. As the music fills the room, a team of three visual artists will project images and videos behind the DJ. Their styles range from crafting 3D objects, creatures and controlling effects through a MIDI controller to using an analog video synthesizer to warp video material and abstract designs synced to the music. The 21+ event starts at 9 p.m. and goes to 2 a.m. Admission before 10 p.m. is free and afterward costs $5. —Chris Bowling
The Blacks Lips bring a live show that is both familiar and alien. In one sense, they conform to the sonic standards of any grimy garage rock band, while in the same expression, subvert expectations on their head with a little white trash chic genderbending. But, overall, Black Lips just put on a fun show. The five-piece from Atlanta, Georgia, is probably best known for their 2007 album, Good Bad Not Evil. Frontto-back the songs feature fried, fuzzy guitars, nasally vocals and moods that vary from the slack posture of “Veni, Vidi, Vici,” to the poppy “Bad Kids.” Since then their sound has expanded, notably on their last album, Sing in a World Falling Apart, released in January. On the cover, the band is styled to look like a glam reinterpretation of ‘70s and ‘80s country style. It’s the best visual representation for an album that features twangy guitar and garage-rock-tinged country beneath lyrics laced with humor and wit. Poppy Jean Crawford and locals And How open. Tickets are $17 day of and $20 in advance. —Chris Bowling MARCH 2020
P I C K S March 8
John Dennison Pottery
This exhibition continues at Sunderland Gallery until April 12. For more details and gallery hours go to cathedralartsproject.org. —Mike Krainak
Sunderland Art Gallery
Howard Drew Theatre Omaha Community Playhouse
The Waiting Room
Ceramicist John Dennison will reveal the latest from his pottery series Bowls Beyond Function and more at the Sunderland Gallery with two scheduled openings, March 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. and a First Friday opening, April 3, from 5 to 7 p.m. Dennison describes the body of work as “a dysfunctional marriage of the functional and the nonfunctional,” which includes dappled and furrowed dinnerware, teapots, casseroles, trays and bowls. The exhibit also features thematic sculptural masks and large wall platters that explore current events, as well as myths, morals and aspirations. Dennison’s masks and other sculptural works often reflect his love of literature, literary allusions, religious icons and elements of pop culture. Many of them, as well as is sculptural boxes, touch on similar themes. With the addition of iconic imagery, they have evolved into explorations of morality, race, music, modern media and other topics.
Charismatic, blues-based singer-songwriter-guitarist ZZ Ward is a force to be reckoned with on her latest release, Stardust. The track “Sex & Stardust” opens with the lyric “Last night I slept in my stilettos / Holiday Inn / Yeah, we were sippin’ amaretto / Swimmin’ in sin.” The track has hooks and a slinky vibe, and the official video is both sexy and funny. Ward takes old-school blues influences, like Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Vera Ward Hall and Big Mama Thornton, and fuses them with the pop-rock sensibilities of more contemporary influences, like Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin. In her brief discography, she has collaborated with artists from Fantastic Negrito to Kendrick Lamar. Refinery29 says “few voices will shake you quite as much as ZZ Ward’s.” Ward says her new release is about dealing with “very personal and challenging situations in my life by allowing me to reach a place of empowerment.” Showtime is 8 p.m. See zzward.com and waitingroomlounge.com. —B.J. Huchtemann
In this Pulitzer Prize finalist play, 86year old Marjorie is in her last days on Earth. Artificial intelligence is the new reality, and Marjorie’s deceased husband sits with her in her final days. She relies on him to tell her stories of their life. But what really happened? Who said what? Can we ever erase the pain of the past? Can we rewrite our history? Marjorie Prime is a story of identity and memory, and its unique telling is a perfect fit for the playhouse’s Alternative Programming series, which serves to offer free public readings of groundbreaking scripts and is a great environment for regular patrons and new theatergoers to experience some of the most exciting writers. All events are free and open to the public; however, donations of any amount are crucial to continuing adventurous programming. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. —Beaufield Berry
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band The Waiting Room
P I C K S If you are a fan of blues guitar, you need to see Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. With their low-fi, vintage country look and dizzying high-octane sound, they’ve become an unlikely genre-crossing audience favorite. Peyton was recently featured on the cover and interviewed in the January 2020 issue of Vintage Guitar magazine. With influences from David “Honeyboy” Edwards, T-Model Ford and Robert Belfour to one of the earliest guitarists playing country blues, Charley Patton, Peyton plays with a skill and passion that landed them on the Vans Warped Tour in 2009. The Indiana-based trio is touring in support of their latest CD, Poor Until Payday, on their own Family Owned Records label. The Tuesday night show at The Waiting Room starts at 8 p.m. See bigdamnband.com and waitingroomlounge.com.
Durk. Anyone who caught the artist’s SNL performance has an idea of what they can expect. Backup dancers gyrate while his band helps him to recreate live-action versions of his skits. —Houston Wiltsey
Gallery of Art and Design MCC Fort Campus
politan Community College’s Gallery of Art and Design in Elkhorn. Gallery hours are weekdays 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a 5 p.m. close Fridays. A closing reception, which will include an artist talk, is scheduled Tuesday, April 7, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The talk will begin at 6:15 pm. For more information, contact Carrie Morgan, gallery director, at email@example.com. —Jonathan Orozco
Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames Stocks ‘n’ Bonds
Pinnacle Bank Arena
Borrowing from 19th century naturalist illustrators, like John James Audubon, Jacques Barraband, and Elizabeth Gould, Tennessee watercolorist Melissa Wilkinson collages internet-sourced images, creating seductive and suggestive surrealist pastiches. While her compositions are beyond reality, they maintain a purist dedication to the delicate craft of watercolor, an approach the artist endeavors to uphold while dismantling its associated elitism.
Jonathan “DaBaby” Kirk broke through in 2019. The Charlotte rapper released his debut album and its follow-up within six months of each other, spawning massive hits “Suge,” “BOP” and “Vibez.” He’s also become the most in-demand guest in the rap game, hopping on tracks for the likes of Post Malone and Lil Nas X.
Conceptually, Wilkinson engages with the 21st century’s preference for everything slick and hollow, a hallmark of this technologically and dehumanized time period. Wilkinson, too, engages with technology to create her work, initially using digital processes to create her compositions, which she later executes by hand.
Despite his recent run of legal trouble, DaBaby is still in the midst of the Kirk Tour with special guest Lil
Wilkinson’s work, from her UnNatural Histories series, will be on display March 11 through April 7 at Metro-
A longtime staple of the Chicago blues scene, Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames are hitting the touring circuit after landing among the eight finalists in The Blues Foundation’s 2020 International Blues Challenge. Weld is a respected guitarist, bandleader and Delmark Records recording artist. Catch them as part of the Blues Society of Omaha Presents concert series at Stocks ‘n’ Bonds Thursday, March 12, 6 to 9 p.m. See this month’s Hoodoo for more. —B.J. Huchtemann MARCH 2020
P I C K S March 13
Omaha’s underground is losing one of its best venues this month, a space that’s brought listeners national acts, established locals and new voices for years. Midtown Art Supply will hold a closing fest March 13 and 14 with a yet-to-be announced lineup of bands that will give the venue a proper sendoff. The two-day event costs $7 for a one-day wristband and $10 for access to Friday and Saturday.
Bass warlock Thundercat will release his new album, It Is What It Is, next month. After rising to a new level of fame with 2017’s Drunk, Stephen Bruner used his newfound clout to work with a more diverse cast of characters. Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover), Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B all make appearances in addition to regular Thundercat collaborators Kamasi Washington (see March 6) and Louis Cole. Lyrically, the album is just as eclectic. Bruner talks about the passing of his close friend, Mac Miller, his love of Dragonball Z and the experience of what it means to be young and black in America. “This album is about love, loss, life and the ups and downs that come with that,” Bruner said. “It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but at different points in life you come across places that you don’t necessarily understand . . . some things just aren’t meant to be understood.”
The event, which can be found on Facebook, promises vendors and live music. Midtown Art Supply’s closing is another in a long line of DIY Omaha spaces that have closed in the last few years. Lucy’s Pub, Milk Run 1 and 2, Pop 20 and the West Wing, the latter being a scene staple for decades, have all closed in recent years. But as is the transitory nature of DIY music, new spots for fans to pile into have opened up. Drips and Culxr House have both sprouted up, offering space for the scene to continue, not to mention the primordial scene soup stewing in basements and bedrooms all over Omaha. It’s there, where someone’s strumming a chord or closing their eyes to recite verses, that community-driven music will always find refuge. —Chris Bowling
The Blues Society of Omaha Presents concert series is pretty mobile this month, with shows that include this special Saturday night event at The Jewell. Katz is one of the great contemporary keyboard virtuosos, with jaw-dropping skill and emotional brilliance, whether it’s boogie-woogie piano or soulful Hammond B-3 riffs. He is a multiple Blues Music Award nominee. He has fronted his own band for years and has also toured in the bands of Gregg Allman, Delbert McClinton and Ronnie Earl. $10 admission includes the full show from 7 to 10 p.m. but there is a two-item minimum purchase required. See jewellomaha.com for details. —B.J. Huchtemann
Albert Cummings Band
Hector Anchondo Band
Bruce Katz Band The Jewell
Stocks ‘n’ Bonds
P I C K S Albert Cummings is a popular guitarist who doesn’t get to the Midwest too often, but he is touring behind his new CD, Believe (Mascot Label Imprint, Provogue Records), which dropped Feb. 14. Recorded in the legendary FAME studios, a soul hotbed in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Cummings promises a sound steeped in “rhythm, funk and soul.” Find out more and hear sample tracks at albertcummings.com. Hector Anchondo Band opens this BSO Presents special Wednesday performance. Anchondo is fresh off his prestigious International Blues Challenge honor as winner of the solo/duo category. There is no BSO Thursday show this week, but there is also a special Saturday show with Toronzo Cannon on March 21 at The Jewell. See omahablues.com and this month’s Hoodoo for more. —B.J. Huchtemann
The Gobernment Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
The Gobernment, described in gallery notes as a “multi-episode, video installation that imagines the destiny and work of unconventional and often forgotten women artists who lived in Paris between 1910 and 1980.” The exhibit features fictional adaptations of stories and anecdotes, performed by a group of seven versatile actresses portraying the lives of no fewer than 45 artists. The Gobernment accompanies a second part of the exhibit, a survey of Shulman’s acclaimed video work. Her performance piece, The New Inflation, completes the exhibition. Written, cast and filmed at the Bemis, The New Inflation has been in development since December. The opening reception for Shulman’s The Gobernment, which continues until June 13, is March 19, from 6 to 8 p.m. The New Inflation is free, but note that space is limited and RSVP is required. Performances are scheduled for various dates between March 26 and June 6. See bemiscenter.org. —Kent Behrens
Claudia Wieser: Generations Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
For Berlin-based artist Claudia Wieser, the objet d’art is not the end of the creative process, but one of its contextualizing components. Her modernist-inflected geometric constructions, set within a carefully designed architectural space, are the feature of the upcoming solo show Claudia Wieser: Generations. Award-winning Argentinian artist Liv Shulman gets her first North American exposure — in triplicate. Curator Sylvie Fortin presents Shulman’s
Wieser will design a complete environment for her exhibition. Mirrored sculptures, delicate colored pencil and gold leaf drawings, and refined wood sculptures enhanced with media such
as metal leaf, paint and ink will inhabit the gallery. Walls will be lined with new wallpaper designed by Wieser, collaged from her extensive image archive of historic to contemporary art and culture. The resulting staged space asks viewers to find themselves through the extended experience of looking. The artist ascribes her penchant for geometric abstraction to the Bauhaus, the German school of art, design and architecture that was an influential player in the European modernism revolution of the early-mid 20th century. Additionally, she looks to avant-garde precursors Wassily Kandinsky and Hilma af Klint, for whom abstraction embodied spirituality within their artistic practice. Claudia Wieser: Generations opens Thursday, March 19, with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. The show runs through June 13. Admission is free. For more information, call 402-3417130 or visit www.bemiscenter.org. —Janet Farber
Hybrid Theory: A Linkin Park Experience The Waiting Room MARCH 2020
P I C K S
Millennials were heartbroken on July 20, 2017, when news broke that Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington was found dead in his Los Angeles home. Aside from a benefit show the rest of the band put together for Bennington that following October, the now quintet has been mostly inactive. Hybrid Theory: A Linkin Park Experience, a local five-piece tribute band that made its debut last March, is honoring the 2000s rock juggernaut on March 21 at The Waiting Room. Unlike their inaugural outing last March, Hybrid Theory will be covering songs from across Linkin Park’s discography instead of solely playing tracks from their namesake album. Mosh pits will rage in front of the stage long before the main attraction plays hits such as “In the End,” “Numb” and “What I’ve Done” as Omaha hard rock bands The End In Red and SAVE THE HERO are opening. The all-ages show costs $10 for anyone looking to experience the music of one of the biggest bands of the 2000s. —Efren Cortez
Skateboarding, Dickies shorts and nasally whining about high school are common associations for pop punk. It is also a genre dominated by men, but Omaha is about to welcome two femme-focused pop punk bands when The Dollyrots and Not Ur Girlfrenz shred at Lookout Lounge on March 23 for $10. The Dollyrots are a wife and husband duo that’s known each other since they were in middle school in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. Bassist and lead vocalist Kelly Ogden and guitarist Luis Cabezas have been playing together for 20 years, and their songs have been featured on various major network TV shows. Not Ur Girlfrenz is a much younger band from Dallas — all three of its members are not old enough to have driver’s licenses. They’ve opened for pop punk staple Bowling For Soup on a sold-out tour and were declared the youngest band to play on the Vans Warped Tour. This mostly female punk bill is a great opportunity to inspire young girls to start a band. Representation matters, and Omaha can always use more femme musicians. —Efren Cortez
March 26-April 4
To the Stars The Apollon
The Dollyrots/ Not Ur Girlfrenz Lookout Lounge
Imagine a world in which science-fiction and the sinking of the Titanic meet. Or imagine Titanic in space. Or buy tickets to the Apollon’s newest offering, To the Stars, and let their creative team imagine it all for you! The year is 2112. Luxury space travel is now commonplace for those
who can afford it, and the USS Titanic is taking its maiden voyage. The journey includes a trip through Asteroid Alley. Will it make it through, or is it doomed to repeat its predecessor’s fate? This new sci-fi spoof pays homage to fan favorites, like Star Trek, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, etc. Your ticket not only buys you an evening of interactive entertainment but also a dinner that fits the theme. Beam on up to the Vinton Street! Tickets are $25. Visit apollonomaha.com. —Beaufield Berry
of Montreal The Waiting Room
Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes has never been known for his subtlety. For nearly a quarter-century, he has been the swirling center at the eye of the band’s storm, performing in drag, concocting elaborate stage setups and crafting thrilling, throbbing electro-pop. Over the last decade, Barnes’ lyrical content has grown more personal, culminating with the January release of UR FUN. Instead of recording with his vast cast collection of collaborators, Barnes opted to record the album in isolation, working 12-hour days methodically stitching together the album’s melodic basslines and layered vocal harmonies. That approach has translated to the band’s shows, too. The bell and whistles have been stripped away. The band has become such a force, they don’t need them. —Houston Wiltsey
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Is It Real or Is It...? Fact & Fiction in Contemporary Photography exhibit examines medium’s creds by Jonathan Orozco
hose familiar with Joslyn Art Museum know that photography is but a small part of its collection. A peruse around the museum at this moment reveals few photographs, with the notable exception of a mixed media Doug Aitken piece, titled “Hot Mess: Aperture Series,” and a set of Polaroids by Andy Warhol among its permanent collection. So an exhibition solely focused on photography, especially one that was developed specifically for Joslyn by its own staff, is always welcome. Fact and Fiction in Contemporary Photography is one of two special exhibitions opening at the Joslyn (the other, a solo show by Amy Cutler at the Riley CAP gallery) this year. Curated by Joslyn’s chief curator and Holland Curator of American Western Art, Toby Jurovics, the show is principally focused on the credibility of photographs, especially when digital and print images are presumed to have been manipulated or altered in some manner. The artworks in the show are highly varied in both production methods and composition styles. Some images are total abstractions, while others are so naturalistic, they appear
Julie Blackmon, “New Chair,” 2018, archival pigment print. Courtesy Robert Mann Gallery, New York. too detailed, too real to be authentic. Most photographs are made with standard equipment — a camera — but some were produced without one, like those relying on sunlight alone for their visual content.
There are familiar names in the show, such as Mickalene Thomas, whose work was exhibited in 30 Americans, which was presented early last year and, more importantly, became part of Joslyn’s permanent art collection in the contemporary galleries. Other
notable artists in the show include Carrie Mae Weems, who was also featured in 30 Americans, David Taylor and Marcos Ramirez ERRE, Richard Misrach, Richard Mosse, Lalla Essaydi, Thomas Ruff, Mark Ruwedel and Trevor Paglen.
Meghann Riepenhoff, “Ice #17 (23-29°F, Fletcher Bay, WA 2.21.19),” 2019, Three Dynamic Cyanotypes. Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York. Thematically, the show focuses on two major areas: identity in relation to race, gender, nationality and the policing of it; and landscapes, and how they have changed due to human impact. Tying these two concepts together is violence enacted on humans through militaristic surveillance of the landscape. Carrie Mae Weems’ highly impactful pigment prints present both these ideas. “The Capture of Angela” (2008) and “The Tragedy of Hiroshima” (2008) are part of Weems’ “Constructing History” series, in which she explores how historical and contemporary systems of power impact racial, gender and sexual identity. This series restages pivotal moments from 20th-century human rights movements that seismically changed the world. “The Capture of Angela” presents a salient moment during the Black Power Movement, the apprehension of An-
gela Davis, a former member of the Black Panthers and the Communist Party of America. While her legacy has been neglected in popular media, those knowledgeable about black American history will understand the impact of this image. In the 1970s, Davis became a fugitive and went into hiding after a courtroom shooting, which she had no involvement in besides ownership of the weapons used. After months of hiding, Davis was captured, and her subsequent imprisonment sparked the “Free Angela” campaign. Decades earlier, the detonation of nuclear weapons on two Japanese cities forever changed the psyche and soul of the human species. Weems made one of these explosions the subject for “The Tragedy of Hiroshima,” grounding her work in art history, composing a pietà with two Japanese women — one woman taking the role of the Virgin Mary
clothed in a kimono, the other in a state of nudity. The political overtone of the show is reflected in the photographs relating to the Mexican-American border, specifically those made by David Taylor and Marcos Ramirez ERRE, and Richard Misrach. While the works primarily focus on the control of human movement on the North American continent, they also pose questions on the environment concerning the flora and fauna of the borderland. This is most clearly seen in Richard Misrach’s “Wall, near Los Indios, Texas” (2015), a photograph of a proposed wall to delineate the southern boundary of the United States. The work is a retort to the idea of fencing off the breadth of an entire continent, with all its intended and unintended consequences. Considering that the wall section stands on green grass speaks to the human impact on the natural
world — the surrounding dirt is streaked with the residue of passing tires. The scene is totally devoid of animalia. “DeLIMITations Obelisk 12” (2014) and “DeLIMITations Obelisk 20” (2014) are two works by the duo David Taylor and Marcos Ramirez ERRE about the flux of the Mexican-American border. Recalling that one-third of the United States once was under Mexican authority, the artists consider the boundaries’ impact on those living along the borderlands. The artists placed 47 specially crafted sheet-metal obelisks, mimicking those at the current border between the United States and Mexico, along the 1821 border from Northern California to eastern Texas. War and surveillance are underscored throughout the exhibit. Richard Mosse speaks about the exploitation of cameras in the armed forces in his work. In “Yayladagi, Turkey”
(2017), Mosse used a military-grade camera that detects thermal radiation, originally designed for battlefield surveillance, border enforcement and to track insurgents, to shoot a town’s landscape. Trevor Paglen, too, touches on the ubiquity of the military’s global surveillance in “Untitled (Reaper Drone)” (2010), presenting a Reaper drone as its subject. The drone only exists through its residual contrail — speaking about the military footprint occupying the globe, even in lands that are not experiencing conflict. “JPEG nt01” (2004) by Thomas Ruff succinctly summarizes this theme in one abstracted work. Ruff originally sourced his photo from an im-
John Divola, “On the Occasion of My 60th Birthday,” 2009, archival pigment print. Courtesy Joslyn Art Museum. age search, enlarging the scale of the work, leading to its pixelization. This particular piece is an appropriation of a photograph of a thermonuclear test in the Pacific Ocean. In its entirety, the exhibition speaks to major aspects of 21st century life. It cannot be understated how important this exhibition is in Omaha for its ambition and topical importance. One has to hope this inspires the Joslyn to continue to acquire photographs for its collection, just like the recent acquisitions prompted by 30 Americans.
Larry Sultan, “Vivid Entertainment #2,” 2003. Courtesy of the Estate of Larry Sultan, Yancey Richardson, New York, Casemore Kirkeby, San Francisco, and Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne.
Fact and Fiction in Contemporary Photography runs until May 10. Regular museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday until 8 p.m. While general admission at Joslyn Art Museum is free, there is an additional charge for special exhibitions. For more details, go to joslyn.org.
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Oscar Night in Omaha Indecent and The Bubbly Black Girl Dominate Performing Arts OEAAs by Beaufield Berry | Photos by Debra S. Kaplan
he 14th annual Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards wrapped at Slowdown Feb. 16. Hosted by comedian, writer and actor Cameron Logsdon, the night served to honor Omaha’s art scene with performances and accolades throughout the evening.
Two big winners in performing arts were L.A.-based Kirsten Childs’ musical The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, presented by the Union of Contemporary Art, and Paula Vogel’s Indecent presented by the Bluebarn Theatre. Both shows took awards in acting
THE 14TH ANNUAL OMAHA ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT AWARDS WAS HOSTED by The multi-talented Cameron Logsdon.
and production categories, and both Susan Clement-Toberer and Denise Chapman took home directing awards. The Bluebarn dominated in technical awards, winning in all categories except scenic design, which went to Bill Van Deest for The Blues of Knowing Why. Jenny Pool won
in costume design for The Woodsman and Amy Reiner for props in Indecent. The OEAA’s “Performing Arts” category includes everything theater, comedy, poetry and dance. Felicia Webster won best in performance poetry and shared
Outstanding Comedy Ensemble winners, LIVE! At The Back Line.
T powerful words in her acceptance speech. LIVE! at The Backline won “Outstanding Comedy Ensemble” with Carlos Tibbs taking home “Outstanding Comedian.” American Midwest Ballet took home the award for “Outstanding Local Dance
Production” for The Wizard of Oz. The board also handed out its first Cultural Stewardship Award, which recognizes individuals who have made a difference in the arts and cultural landscape of our community through their
passion and leadership. Our very own John Heaston humbly and graciously (and a little reluctantly) accepted the award. OEAA voting is open yearround at oea-awards.org, so anytime you see a show or performance you’re moved
by you can log on, begin a ballot and start nominating the artists who inspire you the most. All nominees are based on public votes, so this truly is a community partnership between the organization, artists and patrons. CompleTe List
Felicia Webster accepting her award for “Outstanding Local Performance Poet.”
BRANDI SMITH WON “Outstanding Supporting Actor (Musical)” for her hilarious role in Bubbly Black Girl.
Nadia Williams won “Outstanding Actor (Musical)” for Bubbly Black Girl.
The first Cultural Stewardship Award, given to difference makers in the arts and cultural landscape, was Awarded to John Heaston, who humbly accepted the award.
Barry Carman and Bill Kirby represented the BlueBarn, which won awards in several categories for Indecent.
Here’s a full list of winners in the “Performing Arts” category. Congratulations to all nominees and winners. Outstanding Director (Play): Susan Clement-Toberer, Indecent, Bluebarn Theatre
Outstanding Performance by a Young Actor: Sasha Denenberg, Fun Home, Omaha Community Playhouse
Outstanding Director (Musical): Denise Chapman, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, The Union for Contemporary Art
Outstanding Drama: Indecent, Bluebarn Theatre
Outstanding Actor (Play): Jonathan Purcell, Indecent, Bluebarn Theatre Outstanding Actor (Musical): Nadia Williams, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, The Union for Contemporary Art Outstanding Supporting Actor (Play): Ezra Colon, Indecent, Bluebarn Theatre Outstanding Supporting Actor (Musical): Brandi Smith, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, The Union for Contemporary Art
Outstanding Comedy: One Man, Two Guv’nors, Omaha Community Playhouse Outstanding Premiere of a New, Original, Local Script: More Than Neighbors, Denise Chapman, The Union for Contemporary Art Outstanding Musical: The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, The Union for Contemporary Art Outstanding Local Dance Production: The Wizard of Oz, American Midwest Ballet, Orpheum Theater Outstanding Local Performance Poet: Felicia Webster Outstanding Comedian: Carlos Tibbs
Outstanding Comedy Ensemble: LIVE! at The Backline Outstanding Lighting Design: Steven Williams, Indecent, Bluebarn Theatre Outstanding Props Design: Amy Reiner, Indecent, Bluebarn Theatre Outstanding Scenic Design: Bill Van Deest, The Blues of Knowing Why, Great Plains Theatre Conference at The Union for Contemporary Art Outstanding Costume Design: Jenny Pool, The Woodsman, Bluebarn Theatre Outstanding Sound Design: Bill Kirby, Indecent, Bluebarn Theatre Outstanding Choreographer: Melanie Walters, Indecent, Bluebarn Theatre Outstanding Music Direction: Hal France and Olga Smola, Indecent, Bluebarn Theatre
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
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APRIL 25 & 26
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H O O D O O
Omaha Artist Goes Global Héctor Anchondo brings home a prestigious win from Memphis, and the clubs are full of great blues in March Story by B.J. huChteMAnn
he Blues Society of Omaha (BSO) Presents shows are on the move this month. Thursday, March 5, BSO Presents The Brian England Groove Prescription at The Jewell, 6-9 p.m. England is a local Hammond B-3 player who also plays in Blue House. The Groove Prescription features other veteran local players Craig Balderston, Ron Cooley, Joey Gulizia, Michael Pujado, Matt Wallace and Jim Schweigert. See jewellomaha.com for details. Thursday, March 12, 6-9 p.m., BSO returns to Stocks ‘n’ Bonds with Dave Weld
Omaha’s Héctor Anchondo took top honors in the solo/ duo category at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, also winning the Memphis Cigar Box Award for best guitarist in the solo/duo category. Photo credit Héctor Anchondo.
H O O D O O & The Imperial Flames. Weld is a longtime veteran of the Chicago blues scene. He recently placed as one of eight finalists in the 2020 International Blues Challenge band category. There is also a special Saturday show March 14, 7-10 p.m., featur in g t h e great Bruce Katz. Katz is a phenomenal virtuoso piano and Hammond B-3 player. Katz has been recognized with multiple Blues Music Award (BMA) nominations. He shared the 2019 BMA for “Acoustic Album” with Joe Louis Walker and Giles Robson for their recording Journeys to the Heart of the Blues (Alligator). He has led his own band for 25 years and has played with artists such as Gregg Allman (20072013), Delbert McClinton and John Hammond. There is no Thursday show, but Wednesday, March 18, 6-9 p.m., at Stocks ‘n’ Bonds, blues-rock guitarist Albert Cummings is in the house. Héctor Anchondo Band opens. The BSO has added a show on Saturday, March 21, 7-10 p.m., with powerhouse Toronzo Cannon at The Jewell. Cannon has plied his blues guitar playing in Chicago for years while holding down a day job as a city bus driver. He worked first as a sideman and then led his own band. His 2016 Alligator Records debut, The Chicago Way, was his springboard to a larger audience, and he toured on weekends while holding down his bus route during the week. His fall 2019 release, The
Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp (Alligator), has garnered him multiple 2020 Blues Music Award nominations. If you haven’t seen Toronzo Cannon yet, you don’t want to miss this show. Thursday, March 26, 6-9 p.m., the guitar-andharmonica-driven blues of Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling takes the spotlight at Stocks ‘n’ Bonds. The band took home multiple Blues Music Awards in 2019 and is nominated again this year. Ben Rice plays Thursday, April 2, 6-9 p.m., at Stocks ‘n’ Bonds. Rice has been a rising star on the Pacific Northwest blues scene. He made the top eight finalists in the IBC solo/duo category in 2015 and took home the St. Blues Guitars “Best Guitarist Award” in the category. In 2019, he was nominated for three Blues Music Awards, including “Emerging Artist.” BSO Presents Mississippi bluesman Johnny Rawls at The Jewell Saturday, April 4, 6-9 p.m. Rawls has been laying down his soulful vocals for more than 50 years and is still wowing audiences. In 2019, he took home the BMA for “Soul Blues Album.”
Héctor Anchondo Wins IBC Solo/Duo This was the third year that Héc tor Anchondo represented the Blues Society of Omaha at The Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis. In 2016, Héctor Anchondo Band made the judges’ cuts from more than 200 artists to the
final eight. This year, Anchondo represented the BSO in the solo/duo category as a solo artist. On Feb. 1, he made the final eight and took home the top prize, a huge honor and recognition of his talents. The final judges also awarded him t h e M emp his Cig a r Box Award for best guitarist in the solo/duo category. Anchondo said, “When I won I felt blank. I was, like, ‘Wait, what?’ I was confused. I was thinking about how I’ve been playing and giggin’ for 24 years, and this was my first ‘big break’ ever. It took days for it to finally sink in and to start realizing how this win would help my career in a major way, and that felt great.” The winning artists in the solo/ duo and band categories also receive some high-profile bookings. Anchondo said his prizes include gigs at the Chicago Blues Festival, the Big Blues Bender in Vegas and performing on board the prestigious Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise in October. The winning band was the Horojo Trio from the Ottawa Blues Society featuring guitarist JW Jones, who has performed locally. Omaha’s band, Rex Granite Band featuring Sarah Benck, advanced as far as the Friday night semifinals. See more at blues.org.
OEAAs The Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards were announced Sunday, Feb. 16, in an event at Slowdown. Reader publisher and OEAA founder John Heaston received the first-ever Cultural Stewardship Award “in recognition of his 25 years covering local arts and
culture as editor/publisher of The Reader.” Current Omaha resident and third-generation bluesman Sebastian Lane took home the “Outstanding Blues” award. Lane is a phenomenally talented young musician who has been going to med school in Omaha while following in his father Jimmy D. Lane’s and his grandfather, Chicago bluesman Jimmy Rogers’, musical footsteps. Veteran Omaha musician Curly Martin took home t h e “O ut s t a n din g J a z z ” award, and Aly Peeler was recognized with “Outstanding Americana/Folk.” Lincoln’s m e sm er izin g M e so nj i x x took the “Outstanding Soul” honors. Though I don’t usually comment beyond music, it was great to see decadeslong mainstays of Omaha’s visual arts scene, Jun and Ree Kaneko, receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. See all the winners at oea-awards.org.
Hot Notes Highlights of Lincoln’s Zoo Bar schedule include the great Toronzo Cannon Friday, March 20, 5-8 p.m. and rising star on sax and vocals, Vanessa Collier, Wednesday, March 18, 6-9 p.m. See the full schedule at zoobar.com. Kris Lager Band plugs in at The Waiting Room Saturday, March 7, 9 p.m. The pop-rock-tinged, blues-based music of ZZ Ward is up on Monday, March 9, 8 p.m. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band throws down their high-octane, old-school country blues Tuesday, March 10, 8 p.m. Both shows are at The Waiting Room.
B A C K B E A T
Don’t Want to Take the Easy Way Out Lead Singer Wesley Schultz Talks the Band’s Latest Record, Addiction and Fatherhood by HOUSTON WILTSEY
he Lumineers’ Wesley Schultz is staring at a high chair. The singer is in the green room at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville trying to spend some time with his son, Leonard, before he has to jump on stage for sound check. Both he and the band’s other main member, multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Fraites, became first-time dads in 2018 and have been trying to navigate life on the road with a family ever since. “The experience has been amazing, and it’s created a sense of urgency that just wasn’t there before,” said Schultz. “I think when you’re a musician you think that time is standing still for you, and
having my son around is a reminder that it’s all moving so fast.” Instead of trying to slow down, that sense of time slipping away has pushed the Denver duo to work harder than ever and record the most challenging album to date. Released last year, III tells the story of the fictional Sparks family as they deal with alcoholism and mental illness and their effects on themselves and their family members. The first third of the album follows Gloria, the matriarch of the family and the namesake of the album’s lead single. The second follows Junior, her grandson, while the final chapter centers on her son, Jimmy.
In terms of storytelling scope, it’s their most ambitious project to date — just don’t call it a concept record. “That makes it sound like homework,” said Schultz flatly. “It’s a buzzword, and I don’t like the way that it sounds. I just like to think of it as one big story, and it’s an incredibly personal one at that.” Though the family is fictional, the characters are based on Schultz and Fraites’ real-life experiences. “There’s been someone that my wife and I have (been) trying to take care of, and no matter what we try — putting her in rehab, buying her a house, getting her a dog — nothing has worked, and that’s just hard to see.” The band it-
self was brought together by an event involving addiction. Growing up in Ramsey, New Jersey, Schultz was initially better friends with Fraites’ older brother, Joshua. When Joshua died of an overdose in 2002, Schultz and Fraites found solace in writing songs and performing in New York’s club scene. The two talked in-depth about Joshua’s death while recording III. “There was some stuff that I don’t think Jeremiah had processed, and that led to some dormant feelings coming out,” said Schultz. “It was a really painful process for him, for both of us really, but I appreciated him sharing those things with me, and
B A C K B E A T I think it led him to a new place in terms of expressing his feelings and talking about the event.” “We didn’t necessarily want to put out a record with this subject matter because we thought to ourselves ‘we’ve seen this type of stuff, but we don’t know how many people in our audience have,’” Schultz continued. “What I realized is that there’s a ton of people out there that are dealing with this type of stuff but are trying so hard to keep it a secret. Putting out this record and hearing from all of them has given me a feeling of being less alone, and I think it gives the audience that sense as well.” To accompany the album, the group knew they wanted a strong collection of visuals. Inspired by Beyonce’s visual album for Lemonade and the short film The Odyssey from Flor-
ence and the Machine, Schultz and Fraites started writing a rough sketch of what they wanted to show. The pair created a storyboard that was roughly 20 slides and included general ideas of the types of images they wanted to see before handing them off to director Kevin Phillips and his group of writers. They then turned it into 120 pages and eventually the 10 music videos that accompany each of the album’s main songs. Shot over two-and-ahalf weeks in Portland, the videos follow the album’s three protagonists in a literal interpretation of the album’s lyrics. The camera hauntingly follows Gloria as she prowls the late-night bars in search of extramarital affairs. Junior spends time smoking weed in a field with his girlfriend, looking for any excuse to escape his abusive father, Jimmy, who eventually ends
up as a bloody drunken mess by the series conclusion. It’s a dark departure for a band that produced “Ho Hey.” Pushing themselves in a new direction was the point, according to Schultz. “It’s exciting for me to be able to give the fans something visual and engrossing like this,” said Schultz, going on to say that the fans deserve the best possible experience, even if it comes at an expense to the band. “The accountants hate us,” he laughed. “But think about David Byrne with American Utopia [his acclaimed theatrical concert happening on Broadway in New York City], Springsteen on Broadway, or U2’s Joshua Tree tour [on which the Lumineers opened]. Those guys didn’t do it because it was easy or cost-efficient,
they did it because it made for the best possible product. That’s why our stage production is so ambitious. We think it helps us to deliver that type of product.” Schultz said he hopes this commitment to quality is something he can pass down to Leonard. “Maybe one day my son will ask me about this, and I’ll be able to tell him we did it because we thought it was important, artistic risk, not because we thought we could make a buck,” he said. “I’ll tell him that you can’t do something because the result is guaranteed. He should know, because he’s inspired me to take those types of risks more than anyone else.”
The Lumineers play CHI Health Center March 14. Photo credit: the band. March 2020
M U S I C
The Kids Are Alright . . . Barely by Houston Wiltsey
PUP is playing March 4 at The Waiting Room. Photo credit: Vanessa Heins.
UP was on the brink. By the time the Toronto, Ontario, band broke through with The Dream Is Over in 2016, the wheels appeared to be coming off. Heavy touring had put a massive strain on the band members’ relationship with one another to the point where frontman Stefan Babcock wrote the album’s opener, “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You,
I Will.” He was only half-joking. Somehow, the band persevered. They took a microscopic break from touring to recharge and record Morbid Stuff, arguably their best effort to date. Here, Babcock talks about his band’s new album, zine culture and why he hates the idea of the “tortured artist.”
THE READER: Talk to me about Morbid Stuff. Did you have a concept for the record going in? STEFAN BABCOCK: Every record lyrically is a little six-month or year-long snapshot of where my brain is at. I’ve never gone into writing an album with a “concept” or lyrical direction in mind. I feel like that stuff just sort of figures itself out naturally based on whatever mental state I’m
in. The only real goal for this record was that the four of us wanted to make a better record than our previous two. We’re really proud of all of our records, but it’s important for us that we keep pushing ourselves and not fall into a pattern of complacency. We’re always trying to outdo ourselves and one another. TR: I think this is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult PUP album to listen
M U S I C to. Musically, I don’t think it’s as severe as The Dream Is Over; but, lyrically, there’s a level of specificity about self-loathing and depression that can be a bit uncomfortable to listen to at times. Were you aiming for this sort of duality? SB: I think why it’s uncomfortable at times is because I don’t really use many metaphors or anything, and I don’t pull any punches. I’m always just trying to say exactly what I’m thinking or feeling in the most articulate, concise and honest way possible without dancing around any issues. Musically, this band has always been about having fun — it’s about catharsis, release, celebrating all your flaws with your best friends. So I think that spirit comes across naturally in the music. And we want people to have fun listening to the album. So that’s where the dichotomy comes from. The lyrics are dark, but the songs are fun and loud and energetic. For me, that’s what playing and writing music is all about — not only confronting your demons but purging those motherfuckers while you’re at it. TR: I’ve read that you have some concern over people fetishizing about depression, mental illness and exhaustion that you’re singing about. I was wondering what responsibility, if any, you think you have to your audience to display your experience with these things as realistically as possible? SB: I think I feel the responsibility to normalize de-
pression instead of fetishizing it because I hate that myth of the “tortured artist” so fucking much. Depression is not cool or sexy. It sucks, it’s difficult, and it’s also just a part of life for me and many others. I like to think that a lot of these songs pull back that curtain and take away the mystique around these issues, by being brutally honest about them. I also try to acknowledge my own role in making money off of being a miserable prick. There’s a guilt that comes with commercializing depression, and I haven’t really sorted that out for myself yet. The best I can do is be completely honest about how that affects me, which I speak about head-on in our song “Full Blown Meltdown.” TR: What’s touring looking like for you guys these days? Does it seem slightly more manageable? SB: Yeah, it’s a lot better. We’re still a completely dysfunctional family, but we’ve learned through six years of endless touring how to cope with each other in that situation much better. It’s still a pretty intense experience though. TR: How do you see your relationship to success? You’re not an arena band, but you seem to have found a reasonably fervent fan base and appear to be on an upward trajectory. Does that scare you? SB: It’s honestly not something the four of us think about much. Although we have high personal expectations of ourselves, we’ve
always had pretty low expectations for this band. I’m constantly in awe that we’ve made it this far. We’ve worked really hard, but we’ve also been very lucky. So we’re just enjoying the ride, whether this is the pinnacle of our success or not. TR: I wanted to ask about Little Dipper. I know you guys wanted to start the label to retain artistic control, but I was curious if there’s been any change in wanting to release music. Is there anyone from your scene that you want to promote? SB: I have a pretty specific vision for Little Dipper, and while I don’t really want to get into my hopes and dreams for the thing here, I will say that I don’t see it as a traditional record label. So don’t expect us to start putting out full-length albums by other artists anytime soon. That said, we’ve been lucky to put out two other projects already: a photo book by Canada’s undisputed greatest punk and hardcore music photographer, Amanda Fotes, as well as a comedy album and flipbook by our incredibly hilarious friend, Dave Ross. Label stuff aside, there are a ton of amazing bands coming out of Toronto and the surrounding area right now — Chastity, The Drew Thomson Foundation, Casper Skulls and Nobro to name but a few of them. We’ve been lucky to get to tour with all those people, and it’s a pretty great, positive, encouraging community to be a part of.
TR: Why is zine culture still important? Why do you think we’ve seen a resurgence in popularity over the last few years? SB: Putting out PUP zines has been really important to us and I think has been a pretty great experience for our fans. They’ve all sold out really fast. I think the four of us are all pretty creative individuals outside of music, and the zines we put out allow people to get to know a different side of us, one that maybe doesn’t come across completely in the music. And it’s great to let loose on a different creative outlet. Zack is pretty frigging funny, so it’s good to unleash that side of him. I write a lot of dumb stories and draw comics. Steve likes to tab out parts from our songs. And Nestor is a bit of a maniac. He created a whole PUP-based board game for the last zine called “Full Blown Meltdown,” which is one of my favorite things in the world. TR: PUP is playing a good chunk of well-known music festivals this spring and summer, including Coachella. How do you think that type of audience will react to you guys? SB: They’ll probably hate us. Whenever stuff like this happens to us we joke that someone is getting fired. It’s fine, we just go and do our thing and if we win over a few people, awesome. If not, at least we get to annoy thousands of people at once. What a powerful feeling!
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My Favorite Movies Are Books
It’s Time to Make Subtitles the Standard by Ryan Syrek
n a shocking turn of events, one of the best pictures of the year actually won “Best Picture” at the Academy Awards this year. This was a decision so good that it immediately sent the worst parts of the internet into terrifying, xenophobic rants. Pro tip: If you’re going to vomit ugly hatred into the world on YouTube because Joaquin Phoenix’s “underpants dance” movie wasn’t crowned king, don’t do it while wearing a beret. That’s just tacky. A better discussion broke out among some non-hatemongers who were curious about the first foreign film to win Oscar’s biggest award. The conversation was the age-old “dubbed vs. subtitled” debate. A depressing amount of folks still prefer English-language voiceovers. This is an objectively bad way to watch a foreign film. In fact, I’m about to take this opinion one step further: I think subtitling should be the default standard, both in theaters and at home. That’s right, word-phobes, I’m talking about all reading all the time. I’m going to make my case for this by starting in reverse. That is to say, I’m going to use the reasons people give
for hating subtitles as the very reason why everyone should use them. Gird your word loins.
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Arguments Against Subtitles The most common attack levied against the use of subtitles is the most profoundly awful: “I don’t want to read while I watch a movie.” That’s right, I guess some people just don’t want to fly twice as high as butterflies in the sky, do they LeVar Burton?! The fact that English-language dubbing strips so much of the original performances away is simply inarguable. To do so because “reading is hard” feels like humans are destined to one day ride along in those floating pods from Wall-E because “walking is hard.” In the same way that we put fluoride in the water so people’s teeth don’t rot out because they wouldn’t choose to consume it on their own, so, too, should we force audiences to ingest subtitles. Not just on foreign films but on everything. Because here’s the thing: They are actually really, really good for you.
Keanu Reeves and I want you to read more while you watch movies You know how, at some point during every single movie you’ve ever seen, either you or someone you’re with has to ask “What did they say?” That will never happen again, yo. I’m not saying movie screenings will suddenly be miraculously quiet. Some yappy jamoke is still gonna squawk while trying to impress a date or something. I’m just saying that we live in an age when theater owners are desperate to try anything to make the moviegoing experience better. Cough, MoviePass, cough. Why not try making it so everybody always knows what everyone on screen is saying? The other big argument against subtitles is that having words on the bottom of
the screen are distracting. I’d call that malarky, but Joe Biden has purchased all copies of that word. So I will say both poppycock and balderdash! At first, yes, there is a slight adjustment. But we live in a world where everyone is multitasking all the time. Our brains and attention spans have adapted to the point where doing just one thing at a time feels gross and wrong. Honestly, subtitles quickly become a comfort. Going from my home, where closed captioning is on everything all the time, to the theater feels jarring and weird now. I am unsteady and uncomfortable without them. You will be shocked at how fast they go from a perceived obstacle to a beloved tool. And I should know, as I am nothing
F if not a somewhat beloved tool myself.
The “Subtitle Challenge” With the two major “cons” against subtitles met by better “pros,” here’s one more plus that should take it over the top. Movies are the single most popular modern art form. Why not make them the most inclusive? For the millions who are deaf or hard of hearing, how much more welcoming would it be to
have subtitles as the default? For those who have ADHD or other mental or cognitive conditions, being able to read the dialogue while watching the action is often incredibly helpful. For once, instead of being the exception, why not have more accessible art become the norm? If an online hoax about NASA and gravity can get everyone to play with broomsticks, maybe a good #SubtitleChallenge will get everyone to see the inherent
value in this strategy. Try it. Not just for one movie or one show, but for a few full days. I promise, it won’t be as jarring as you think. You already consume so many subtitles on social media and videos on mobile, this will feel like a natural extension. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Join me, and feel the power of the force... of words. Will the #SubtitleChallenge lead to an explosion in people also reading books? Will everyone get exponentially smarter being exposed
to all those printed words? Will Americans viewing nondubbed foreign films bring about an age of greater tolerance and peace? Duh. This will fix basically everything. You’re welcome. Hyperbole aside, this is one of those small changes that can have a deceptively large impact. In a flawed and broken world, during an exceptionally chaotic and stressful time, little unifying things can have such a big impact. Thank you for reading.
Wasted Running Time
Who is Sonic the Hedgehog for? by Ryan Syrek powers and super-speed was an orphan raised by an owl who then gets murdered. Using magical teleporting rings, Sonic flees to Earth, where he hides in the kind of small town romanticized in every politician’s stump speech.
Just be thankful this version of Sonic doesn’t look like he has come to feast upon your soul. Too dumb for adults craving a nostalgia-powered dopamine fix and too dated for kids who don’t know a Sega Genesis from the book of Exodus, the question isn’t what is Sonic the Hedgehog but why is Sonic the Hedgehog. The answer is obviously that every single “intellectual property,” from Pet Rocks to breakfast cereal mascots, is destined to have greedy hands shoved inside of it, probing for any possible profit. Sonic the Hedgehog got a tsunami of nasty publicity after unveiling an initial design for the creature that sported grossly realistic teeth that
Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the local cop, soon finds himself on the run with Sonic, protecting him from the evil Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), who is mostly made of mustache. Tom and Sonic become best buds while startin’ bar fights and makin’ jokes about farts. Will the duo escape? Sadly, no. Tom dies of dysentery, and Sonic is skinned for his pelt. Kidding! The script is so predictable, an artificial intelligence program may have written it while daydreaming about the indie dramedy it really hopes to write one day.
pant, but his one-liners are basically Laffy Taffy rejects peppered with the odd body odor reference. Speaking of things that were once funny but are now somewhat uncomfortable, Carrey’s role has been celebrated as a “return to comic form.” Well, he certainly makes a lot of rubbery faces from his 90s heyday while going Ace Ventura on every line delivery. The effect feels exactly like someone reminiscing about a time they once laughed.
With Dolittle’s stank still wafting through theater air, nobody can claim Sonic the Hedgehog is even the worst family film within the last five weeks. Honestly, had the aspiring franchise stuck to its guns and went with the character’s monstrously misshapen original design, at least that would have been some kind of artistic choice. In the end, the film is a breezy, pointless, harmlessly forgettable bit of Undoubtedly, Sonic the Hedge- nostalgia exploitation that will leave If you thought they wouldn’t give Sonic (Ben Schwartz) a tragic backsto- hog historians and lore-masters have a blue streak behind as it rapidly exits ry, you forget how many times Holly- strong feelings as to whether the film our collective artistic consciousness. wood has violently killed Batman’s does right by the quilled speedster. parents on screen. Apparently, the The impression given is that the charGrade = blue alien hedgehog with electrical acter is supposed to be sassy and flipcould only be intended to feast on human flesh. Animators furiously slaved away to completely redo the abomination and were subsequently rewarded by losing their jobs just after finishing. Basically, Sonic the Hedgehog is a distilled encapsulation of all the useless, banal grotesqueries inherent to our collective capitalist nightmare in a fuzzy blue ball. Eat it up, kiddos!
Interrupt your daily broadcast of ableist nonsense by attending an upcoming screening of Far From the Tree.
CUTTING ROOM by Ryan Syrek
EMMA. Starts Friday, March 6
1340 MIKE FAHEY STREET OMAHA , NE 68102
From tone-deaf, ableist arguments about straws to a depressing lack of discussion among presidential candidates, the national dialogue concerning disabled Americans kinda sucks right now. I’m not saying Film Streams can single-handedly fix that, but they’re gonna give it a go. They’re hosting a special screening of Far From the Tree in collaboration with the Meyer Foundation for Disabilities on Tuesday, March 10, at 7 p.m. The documentary, based on a best-selling book by Andrew Solomon, follows the parents of children deemed “abnormal” by society because society kinda sucks right now. The film will be followed by a discussion moderated by Meyer Foundation Board President Mary McHale. Presumably, her questions will move beyond “things kinda suck right now, huh?”
The “vertical format” is the technical term for when people don’t turn their smartphones horizontal when they record stuff, producing a super-small, vastly vexing, tiny image. Well, director Timur Bekmambetov is filming a whole blockbuster movie that way. On purpose. V2. Escape From Hell is a World War II movie about a Soviet pilot who escapes a German concentration camp by hijacking an airplane. I’m not in any way suggesting that watching a vertical format blockbuster comes close to the horror of war. I am saying that if an evil torturer from WW2 had a favorite film format, it would be the vertical format.
Cynthia Erivo deserves to be so much more famous than she already is. She’s one step from an EGOT, already having Tony, Grammy and Emmy awards, and that Oscar is definitely just a mat-
ter of time. She was nominated this year for her role in Harriet and also belted an insanely gorgeous song from the movie at the ceremony. Apparently, in her ample free time, she also recently did a sci-fi podcast called Carrier, and that is now going to be turned into a movie, and she’s going to star in it. She also killed it in HBO’s recent Stephen King adaptation The Outsider. She’s everywhere. Somewhere in your house, Cynthia Erivo is there mastering some other art form. She’s in the bathroom doing interpretive dance or something. Here’s hoping that Carrier is a big fat hit that makes her the household name she has really earned the right to be by this point.
An easy way to get people excited about a thing: Put Olivia Colman in it. The Lost Daughter will mark Maggie Gyllenhaal’s writing and directing debut, which is a cool thing unto itself made infinitely more cool by the Olivia Colman of it all! Colman will play a college professor whose psychological trauma resurfaces after meeting a woman played by Dakota Johnson. Maybe Colman’s character recognizes Johnson’s character from somewhere she can’t put a specific color on. The film will also star Jessie Buckley, who blew me away in last year’s Wild Rose. What I’m saying is, The Lost Daughter has definitely found at least one rabidly excited fan already. Cutting Room provides breaking local and national movie news … complete with added sarcasm. Send any relevant information to film@ thereader.com. Check out Ryan on KVNO 90.7 on Wednesdays and follow him on Twitter @ thereaderfilm.
H E A R T L A N D
H E A L I N G
Insecticide is a Crime O
ver the past half-century or so, I have driven the highways across our country countless times. I’ve visited all but four of the lower 48. Last summer saw the strangest of those travels from the Heartland to the West Coast. In August and September, I drove over 5,000 miles. Not once did I have to clean the windshield because it was cluttered by squashed insects. I’m not exaggerating. Any highway driver knows that is just plain odd. Crime seen. With any deliberate killing of a human — a homicide — we are troubled and seek answers. If someone doesn’t show up at work, or home or anywhere they might be expected, we investigate. With any murder mystery, there are components to look at. What was the weapon? What was the motive? Who are the suspects? When thousands of bugs went missing from my windshield, I became concerned. I am still. I have concluded that it’s because they have been killed before they could meet their end as a splat on my car. Now is the “how.” Since the middle of last century, it is estimated that mankind has invented or begun use of more than 80,000 different chemicals. Many are intended to kill insects. Many of them do it as a side effect. And they kill other living things, too. For the sake of human convenience, greed or even good intentions, we have either intentionally or inadvertently waged a war against Nature and our fellow inhabitants of Spaceship Earth. The Weapon: Chemical warfare. So, we have a weapon that has killed the most obvious of the five classes in Phylum Ar-
by Michael Braunstein
thropoda, the insects. Sure, we swat them and step on them and tear their wings off and, as little boys, roasted ants with magnifying glasses. But the mass kill-off is the result of our chemicals. It’s the smoking gun. The Suspect: Dominion or domination. I know many humans who follow the Bible have misunderstood. The Book of Genesis says that God gave humans “dominion over all animals.” Too many of us took that to mean domination. There is a difference. Though both words rise from the Latin dominus or “lord,” there are good lords and bad lords. Dominion is to govern, lead. Domination is tyranny, blatant disregard for the rights of another. Humans have taken to dominating nature and its species rather than benevolently governing and leading them. And it’s to our downfall. The perpetrator is we humans. We have a rap sheet that stretches back to Cain and Abel. We kill things, often with little or no remorse and, too often, even braggadocio. The Motive: Human hubris. Self-importance is the highest form of idolatry. Not only do humans place ourselves above all other species, but we actually think we know the best way for those species to live or die. With our technology and analytical thinking, we have come to believe that we are the gods of this planet and can bend and shape it to our will. Part of the thinking may be based on good intention, some on malice. In any and all cases, it is wrong. Humans do not know best. Still our hubris drives us and that is our motivation to continue blindly. We are killing insects, but, amazingly, factions are already planning to build robotic “bees” to pollinate our
crops. If that is not false pride, such does not exist. “Round up the usual suspects.” Who can forget that line from the movie Casablanca? Well, we have a suspect. Humans are responsible for this wanton destruction of our planet. It’s all of us. None is without culpability. You might think it’s just the fossil fuel corporate titans. You might think it’s Wall Street capitalists. You might think it’s humans carrying out unchecked pillage of natural resources for profit. But in truth, it’s you and it’s I. If you bought something from Amazon; if you rode in a car to your protest; if you used ink to make your protest signs; if you texted on your smartphone; if you wiped your butt with toilet tissue or are eating an Impossible Burger — make no mistake, you are one of the culprits. We are guilty as a species. “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” — W. Edwards Deming The Great Cascade. And, of course, human scientists have gone about their wayward task of quantizing what is evident. Researchers in England have been measuring the number of insects squashed by motor cars since at least 2004. So I guess it is not just my opinion that insect populations are in alarming decline. And now, over the past three weeks, I am noticing almost zero birds at our feeders and birdbath when there are usually too many to count. That is also troubling. May be a blip. But when insects are in decline, others will follow. Greta Thunberg may be crazier than six pounds of bat shit.
But she serves a purpose as do so many others, self included: alarmist. Alarmist is not a bad thing. It’s someone sounding an alarm. I suspect what we are seeing is the beginning of what I’m calling The Great Cascade, a sequence of events that will leave the nature of this planet vastly changed. More species will meet extinction. Whether homo sapiens is one of those is unknown. But rather than see this as gloom and doom, consider it is what it is. It’s the course of Nature. Maybe humans will get out of this alive, maybe not. But this insect thing is radical, drastic, noticeable. The die is certainly cast. We cannot think our way out of this. In order to survive, to ride this out, one need be in tune with nature, not above it. Maximum adaptability is the key. The less one need depend on society for the basics of life — food, water and shelter — the more likely is survival. Can you find water? Can you forage? It may sound radical to you today, but driving 1,800 miles without a bug hitting my windshield is radical to me. Be well.
H E A R T L A N D H E A L I N G is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical ad v ice . I mp o rtant t o remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit heartlandhealing.com.
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10 Questions with PUP by Tim McMahan
his column turned 15 last December. The first installment was published Dec. 2, 2004, and featured an interview with musician Willy Mason, who had just been discovered by Conor Oberst and signed to a record deal with Oberst’s then just-launched label, Team Love Records. Hundreds of columns followed, covering music, culture, society and politics.
Questions treatment, including Brother Ali, Diane Coffee, Cloud Nothings, Soccer Mommy, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Titus Andronicus, Palehound, Destroyer, Mogwai, Cults, Deer Tick, The Church, Kevin Morby, Fleet Foxes, New Pornographers, Speedy Ortiz, Dinosaur Jr., Cracker, Of Montreal, Twin Peaks, Melvins, Frankie Cosmo, Wolf Alice and a host of others.
Throughout my years writing for The Reader and other publications, I’ve interviewed thousands of people, but within the last few years I’ve swayed away from conducting interviews for stories and columns. The reason had everything to do with time. This is not my day job (as some have mistakenly believed). That day job doesn’t involve much writing. So this column and my blog at lazy-i. com (an indie music-focused website, which has been around for 22 years, not that anyone is counting), are my opportunities to continue honing my writing chops, because if you don’t use ‘em, you lose ‘em.
You can find them at theReader.com by simply searching “Ten Questions.” The interviews aren’t published in the printed paper, until now.
Anyway, I miss doing interviews. I miss hearing other people’s stories and then, in turn, telling them to you. So I’m shifting this column’s focus to become more or less interview-based, with opinion thrown in for good measure. Consider it a literal literary experiment. And I’m looking for your suggestions for interview victims subjects, which you can send to me at tim. email@example.com.
Toronto-based punk band PUP — the name an acronym created by frontman Stefan Babcock’s mother, who said playing in a rock band was a “Pathetic Use of Potential” — has been around since 2010, when they were called Topanga. They changed their name to PUP in 2013 with the release of their self-titled debut on Royal Mountain Records. They switched up to respected punk insignia Side One Dummy for their 2016 follow-up, The Dream Is Over. Much touring followed.
In the meantime, when I decided a few years ago to get out of the interviewing biz, I continued to get requests to interview bands touring through our fair city. Lots of them. I needed a vehicle to field those requests without having to spend time coordinating the interviews, transcribing and then writing the features. And that’s where the Ten Questions email interview format came from. The online-only platform was launched in March 2016 with a 10-Q with Seattle rockers Wild Powwers. Since then, countless others have taken on the Ten
Ten Questions with PUP
with PUP guitarist Steve Sladkowski and gave him the Ten Questions treatment: 1. What is your favorite album? Steve Sladkowski: It’s hard to pick one, but currently I’m enjoying just about anything that’s being released on the Sahel Sounds label based in Portland, Oregon, especially the album No. 1 by Etran de L’Aïr. 2. What is your least favorite song? “Don’t Stop Believin’” Journey. 3. What do you enjoy most about being in a band? I’ve been able to see the world and make friends in a way that seemed completely impossible prior to my life in PUP. To be able to do that with three of my closest and best friends on the planet still feels a bit like a surreal dream. 4. What do you hate about being in a band?
The four-piece quickly created a following for their explosive live performances and melodic (dare I say pop) punk equal parts scratchy confessional and fist-pump anthem that’s a call to arms for your typical suburban Canadian (and/or American) underdog. They’ve never been more powerful than on their latest, 2019’s Morbid Stuff (Rise Records), a collection of shout-along emo-punk nuggets. With a gig slated for The Waiting Room March 4, I caught up
As someone who is in their early 30s, it can get a bit tiresome to answer people’s (sometimes unintentionally) condescending questions about what I have devoted my life to; but otherwise, it’s tough to be away from our partners, loved ones and friends while we’re on the road. Like any job, there are tough days, but it’s something that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. 5. What is your favorite substance (legal or illegal)? Coffee first with bourbon a very, very close second. 6. In what city or town do you love to perform? It’s always fun to play at home in Toronto, but I love to explore new places, so really anywhere they’ll have us is a nice place to play. 7. In what city or town did you have your worst gig (and why)? Probably when I was in a jazz band in my early 20s, playing stuff like “Someday My Prince Will Come” to utterly disinterested audiences at weird suburban Southern Ontario wedding halls.
8. Are you able to support yourself through your music? If so, how long did it take to get there; if not, how do you pay your bills? We are! It took… a long time, probably the entire course of two albums’ worth of writing, recording, rehearsing and touring ad nauseam. This is basically the case for every person I know who is able to eke out a living while playing music in a streaming world. 9. What one profession other than music would you like to attempt; what one profession would you absolutely hate to do? I’ve been very singularly minded toward music for basically the past 20 years, However, I’ve always found urban planning and public transportation fascinating. We’ve been lucky to see a lot of cities and ride a lot of public transit, and it’s something I find myself reading more and more about both online and in books. I would absolutely hate to be a banker or any other profession that revels in bald-faced capitalism. 10. What are the stories you’ve heard about Omaha, Nebraska? I heard the guitar player in PUP was suffering from the worst food poisoning of his life while onstage in Omaha in 2015. He’s probably looking forward to having a nicer time exploring the city in 2020 when they visit! PUP plays with Screaming Females and The Drew Thomson Foundation March 4 at The Waiting Room. Tickets are $20 Adv./$23 DOS. Showtime is 8 p.m. For more information, go to onepercentproductions.com. Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Reader - March 2020