The Reader Omaha Nov 2022

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N OV E M BE R 2022 | volU M E 29 | I SSUE 9

More than a bunch of books RALSTON’S BARIGHT LIBRARY EVOLVES TO MEET NEEDS OF COMMUNITY STORY by

Fernando Antonio Montejano PHOTOS by

Chris Bowling

JOBS: A Simple Immigration Fix | NEWS: The Promised Land | NEWS: Immigration Court | NEWS: Documenters Program Comes to Omaha | THEATER: Diversity on Stage | ART: ‘Windows and Keys’ | HOODOO: November Notes | DISH: Gluten for Punishment | FILM: Thanks to You, 2022 | FILM: ‘Lord of the Rings’ vs. ‘House of the Dragon’ | OVER THE EDGE: Saddle Creek Records | PLUS: Picks, Comics & Crossword


S P O N S O R E D

C O N T E N T

New Giving Tuesday Opportunities Aim to Elevate Generosity in the Metro

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Photo by Joseph Murphy

Join in our region’s largest annual giving celebration: Giving Tuesday on November 29, 2022. Donate to your choice from hundreds of local nonprofits with SHARE Omaha and the newly launched SHARE Iowa. iving Tuesday is a global day of giving. In this region, it’s the biggest giving day G of the year and the most significant oppor-

tunity to raise support for more than 700 local nonprofits — generating $5.5 million for organizations in 2021. This year, the event is promoted through a partnership of SHARE Omaha and SHARE Iowa, with support from Core Bank for #GivingTuesday402 and TS Bank for #GivingTuesday712.

Participants can find Dodge, Douglas, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington county nonprofits to support at SHAREomaha.org. SHARE Iowa, new to Giving Tuesday events, covers counties in the western part of the state, including Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie and Shelby counties. Neighbors across the region are encouraged to give money, items and/or time to organizations that matter to them on Nov. 29, and this year, there are several ways for businesses and groups to get involved.

Ways for businesses to give back Todd Simon, CEO of Omaha Steaks, has made a company commitment and contributed the seed money to spur raising a new six-figure Giving Tuesday bonus fund for participating nonprofits. Together, Simon, SHARE Omaha and SHARE Iowa are calling upon other businesses and executives in the metro area to join in this effort. The bonus fund will be split among participating nonprofits on Giving Tuesday, encouraging them to help the community surpass the $5.5 million raised in 2021. Nonprofits will receive a percentage of the total bonus fund equivalent to the percentage of donors who give, rather than the amount of dollars raised, up to 10% of the total fund. Bonus dollars empower donors who give in smaller amounts by providing a way for them to boost the impact of their donation. Companies interested in learning more about how to contribute to the bonus fund can contact Marjorie Maas at marjorie@shareomaha.org or for Iowa-based businesses, Donna Dostal at ddostal@givewesterniowa.org.

up, hosting a collection drive for hygiene items or spearheading an advocacy effort. Dozens of ways to help are promoted at SHAREomaha.org and SHAREiowa.org. Those interested in igniting generosity should email Katie Fourney at katie@shareomaha. org or Catrina Trabal at ctrabal@ givewesterniowa.org.

Plan your giving Prior to Giving Tuesday, take time to explore causes at SHAREomaha.org or SHAREiowa. org and identify organizations to support on November 29. Donors can support up to 10 local nonprofits in one transaction through the SHARE platform. Gifts are processed by PayPal; givers can check out via PayPal account or with debit or credit card, with a low transaction fee that donors may choose to cover. SHARE does not charge any additional fees to nonprofits or givers. This November 29, all in our region are encouraged to give together, do together and share together for the biggest giving celebration of the year: Giving Tuesday.

How community leaders can help

Core Bank at NE Diaper Bank on Giving Tuesday 2021. Photo by Joseph Murphy

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November 2022

Individuals, families and businesses across the region are encouraged to identify a way to give back this season with a Giving Tuesday project. Examples of projects include organizing a blood drive, leading peer-to-peer fundraising for a favorite nonprofit, planning a neighborhood clean-

Omaha Steaks CEO Todd Simon contributed seed money for the Giving Tuesday bonus fund. Photo courtesy of Share Omaha


November 2022

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t a b l e

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JOBS: Nebraska’s Economy Needs Immigrants. What’s Getting Done?

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NEWS: Documenters Program Makes Its Way to Omaha for Civic Engagement and Participation

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c o n t e n t s

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NEWS: The Promised Land: A Vision for a Space By and For the Community Takes Shape

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News: A Day In Omaha’s Immigration Court

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CULTURE: The Ralston Baright Public Library Is Evolving to Meet the Needs of the Community

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THEATER: Diversity on Stage

publisher/editor........... John Heaston john@thereader.com graphic designers........... Ken Guthrie Albory Seijas news..........................Robyn Murray copy@thereader.com copy chief.............. Michael Newgren spike@thereader.com lead reporter............... Chris Bowling chris@thereader.com associate publisher.... Karlha Velásquez karlha@el-perico.com report for america corps member..........Bridget Fogarty bridget@el-perico.com creative services director....................... Lynn Sanchez lynn@pioneermedia.me editorial & membership associate.........................Arjav Rawal arjav@pioneermedia.me

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS

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ART: ‘Windows and Keys’ Iconic Dimmer Switch Sheds Light on Mixed-Media Exhibit

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DISH: Go Ahead and Get Gluttonous for the Gluten-Free Foods Omaha Is Serving

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PICKS: Cool Things To Do in November

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HOODOO: November Notes: Hot Shows Are Here to Enjoy

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FILM: Thanks to You, 2022: Even Cinematic Gratitude Is Hard This Year

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FILM: ‘Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power’ vs. ‘House of the Dragon’

arts/visual.................... Mike Krainak mixedmedia@thereader.com dish................................ Sara Locke crumbs@thereader.com film.................................Ryan Syrek cuttingroom@thereader.com hoodoo................. B.J. Huchtemann bjhuchtemann@gmail.com over the edge..............Tim McMahan tim.mcmahan@gmail.com theater.................... Beaufield Berry coldcream@thereader.com

OUR SISTER MEDIA CHANNELS

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CROSSWORD: Matt Jones

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COMICS: Jeff Koterba, Jen Sorensen & Garry Trudeau

o n li n e

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OVER THE EDGE: Catching Up with Saddle Creek Records

o nl y OUR DIGITAL MARKETING SERVICES

TR: Anton on Local Government

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TR: Old Incident Gets New Scrutiny In Sheriff Race

NOVEMBER 2022

TR: The Fastest Growing Electorate, Latino Voters

EP: El primer restaurante puertorriqueño en Omaha

Proud to be Carbon Neutral


A THOUSAND WORDS

link to full set

Kurt Vile, a psych-pop multi-instrumentalist from Pennsylvania, visited Omaha’s Admiral Theater on Oct. 20. Known for his off-beat songs and twangy lyrics, Vile played a myriad of new and old songs. The singer-songwriter was joined by Julia Shapiro (of Chastity Belt), who opened the show with an alternative/indie set.

NOVEMBER 2022

PHOTO BY

AMaris Stebbing 5


O M A H A

J O B S

A Simple Immigration Fix

Nebraska’s Economy Needs Immigrants. What’s Getting Done? by Arjav Rawal

I

t’s no secret that Nebraska is dealing with a tight labor market. While “help wanted” signs line storefronts, Nebraska’s unemployment rate remains relatively low (2.2% in September, tied for the fourth-lowest in the nation). The Reader has covered the state’s labor shortage extensively over the last few months — along with the solutions being put forward. Until now, those solutions have centered on policy at the state and local levels, but there are also federal policies that inhibit expansion of the workforce.

ADOBE STOCK

“These are people who live their lives in two-year increments because of how often their legal status here is at risk, whether it’s court challenges or renewal,” Tromanhauser said.

Last month, as part of our gubernatorial election coverage, The Reader talked to two experts to discuss the economic challenges the next governor will have to address. Both cited immigration, a largely federal issue. Eric Thompson, who chairs the economics department at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, said the tightening of legal immigration regulations has made it more difficult for Nebraska to attract and retain working-age people. “There’s more to it than just economics, but if you look at it from a purely economic perspective, it’s slowed the growth of our labor force,” Thompson said.

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Here in Nebraska, the push is being led by Nebraska Appleseed. Darcy Tromanhauser, who runs the nonprofit’s Immigrants and Communities Program, said the bill would add stability to Nebraska’s workforce.

Chris Decker, an economist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said Midwestern states such as Nebraska can and should influence reform. “Retirements are on the increase due to demographics and COVID, and replacement is challenging … Reforming immigration can certainly help this situation,” Decker said. According to the 2021 American Community Survey, Nebraska is home to roughly 144,000 people who were not born in the United States, about 7% of the state’s population. Of those foreign-born, nearly 57% are not U.S. citizens and approximately 53% come from Latin America. Current federal policy allows for what’s known as immigration registry, a process through

NOVEMBER 2022

which anyone who entered and remained in the United States before 1972 can apply for permanent residence (known as a green card). This process does not discriminate based on immigration status, meaning undocumented immigrants who meet the requirements also qualify. Because immigration registry requires one to have entered the United States more than 50 years ago, advocates have pushed to change the eligibility to a rolling date. Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Sen. Alex Padilla, both of California, would do just that — changing the criteria for being on immigration registry to having entered and remained in the United States for seven years prior to the application date.

Tromanhauser has worked in immigration advocacy for 20 years. She said the conversation around immigration registry has moved quickly. “I don’t think I’d even heard of the term ‘registry’ until a couple of years ago,” Tromanhauser said. It’s unclear just how many people in Nebraska the bill would affect, but a press release from Lofgren’s office says the bill would cover approximately 8 million Americans off the bat. About 60,000 Nebraskans are undocumented immigrants, according to the American Immigration Council, making up 41% of the state’s foreign-born population. A 2017 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan

continued on page 8 /


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O M A H A tax policy organization, said undocumented immigrants paid $39.8 million in state and local taxes, and full immigration reform would add $8.4 million. Data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the metro area is home to approximately 1,400 recipients of DACA, an Obama-era program that allows those who came to the United States as children before 2007 to continue living and working here without getting lawful status. Approximately 1,781 recipients of of temporary protected status, the resident program for those who are unable to return home safely due to a country’s situation, live in Nebraska, with most coming from El Salvador, according to data from the National Immigration Forum. Nobody from Nebraska’s congressional delegation has signed on in support of the the Lofgren/ Padilla bill. Tromanhauser said

that’s because of timing – it’s a relatively new piece of legislation, introduced in July. “This bill was introduced right before Congress went on the summer recess, so there wasn’t much time to get up and running with it. Our delegation has been great at working with us on other things, like the Dream and Promise Act,” Tromanhauser said. (The Dream and Promise Act, which streamlines conditional green cards for undocumented immigrants, passed the House in 2019. Don Bacon was the only one of Nebraska’s three congressmen to vote yes.) The new bill is just one page long. Tromanhauser said that’s intentional. “This bill was designed to be a simple and elegant way of helping as many people at once as possible,” Tromanhauser said. “It’s not opening the floodgates

— these are people who already live here, work here and are active players in their communities.” The state government’s role in immigration is largely confined to social services, such as offering in-state tuition or expanding access to driver’s licenses. Nebraska expanded in-state tuition for the University of Nebraska in 2006. It lifted a ban on giving Dreamers driver’s licenses in 2015. Both actions were approved by the Legislature and overrode vetoes from Govs. Dave Heineman and Pete Ricketts, respectively. “Local governments are stuck with this inability to change how many people can come into their cities — they’re forced to rely on Congress to strengthen the fabric of their community,” Tromanhauser said. The bill currently sits in the judiciary committees of both the House and the Senate, where

they were referred to shortly after introduction. It’s unclear whether any immigration reform is likely, let alone this bill’s passage. But Tromanhauser said continuing the conversation is necessary. “This used to be a regular dialogue. Congress has, historically, updated immigration laws regularly — it’s a relatively recent development that immigration laws have stalled,” Tromanhauser said. Community engagement has yielded positive results for Nebraska Appleseed. Often, the group’s presentations can result in surprise and frustration. “A lot of people assume there’s already a mechanism in place for immigration,” Tromanhauser said. “If you haven’t gone through it, you may be unaware of how frustrating it can be. That’s why doing this kind of outreach is so important.”

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N E W S

Kids walk through a canopy of trees at the Black Agenda Alliance’s eight-acre property in Florence.

The Promised Land

A Vision for a Space By and For the Community Takes Shape STORY AND PHOTOS Chris Bowling

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t the end of a wide swath of grass, tucked behind a small private pool in Florence, stands a thick wall of green leaves. A crude sign — “Private Property. No Trespassing.” — peeks from a small opening in the foliage — the start of a path leading deeper into the forest, lined with tangled branches and treelings cut, pulled and dragged out along the way. At a clearing, orange and red leaves hang from tall branches reaching to the clear blue sky while the smell of dirt, fallen leaves and maybe a little sewage fills the air. The eight acres may not seem like much from the outside. Bordered by Forest Lawn Avenue to the north, Weber

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Street to the south and 39th Street to the east, it appears to be an unkept nature refuge in the middle of a residential area in Florence. But to members of the Black Agenda Alliance, the woods look like hope. “I wanted to do something for the community, our people, our kids,” said Jamar Harris, who helped obtain the land and is a member of the Alliance, a grassroots organization advocating for Omaha’s Black community. In fall 2021, the organization bought this land to give its members, and any other interested people in the community, a place to call home. The Alliance wants to build a headquarters in the rugged terrain and allow kids

November 2022

to camp, hike, learn wilderness skills, take care of gardens and beehives and promote the organization’s other activities, which aim to strengthen Black autonomy in Omaha. For Qasam Shabazz Asad, a co-founder and chair in the organization, it’s the realization of an important step. It’s something built by and for Black Omahans and anyone else who wants to be a part of it. And it’s something he and other organization members hope can have a positive effect on the community. “I t ’s ove r whe lm ing — emotionally overwhelming,” S h a b a z z A s a d s a i d . “ I t ’s something we never really seen ourselves experiencing. So now we have it. And it’s

overwhelming in a good way. But it’s scary at the same time because you don’t want to fail.”

Finding Space The idea to find a space for the Black Agenda Alliance goes back to its inception. As protests against police brutality and racial inequity gripped the nation in 2020, the Black Agenda Alliance gained recognition among other organizations advocating for change. Part of that change involves political advocacy — among their members is state Sen. Terrell McKinney — but programs for kids are also viewed as a necessity.


N E W S That means free activities, such as a youth flag football league, paintball outings and a wilderness training program Shabazz Asad calls the “Urban Survival Club,” which launched Oct. 15. The program is open to all kids and adults of any background, although Shabazz Asad said it will likely serve mostly Black children given the group’s mission and the demographics in North Omaha. But the mission is bigger than just giving kids something to do. By engaging predominantly Black kids in activities organized and led by mostly Black adults, Shabazz Asad and other members hope it instills a positive message of community and togetherness. It’s also a gateway to other activities, such as the Alliance’s Black studies program, which teaches Black history and literature to kids. Janae Peak told The Reader in 2021 the organization’s flag football league made a huge impact on her son. “They make sure my baby is motivated,” Peak said. “They make sure schoolwork is good. You know, they make sure at home he respects his mom.”

said he met some good people and some bad. Occasionally, he ran away from home. Whenever he did that, he knew where he was going.

GOOGLE MAPS

An aerial view of the Black Agenda Alliance’s land near 39th Street and Forest Lawn Avenue. “It’s more than football,” said Whitney Jackson, another flag football parent. “They’re trying to make them brothers.” The group as a whole has not avoided controversy, though. Shabazz Asad and other members stirred debate last summer by showing up to a North Omaha parade sporting firearms. Their rationale was that kids and the community should see Black people legally and responsibly arming themselves, especially when they see police officers do the same.

Parade organizers asked police to stop the Alliance members, who also carried flags with their insignia. Later the confrontation was described as a misunderstanding by the NAACP president, according to WOWT. Controversy aside, the programs have continued, as has the vision for a place to call their own.

Freedom Jamar Harris grew up bouncing around the foster care system. Along the way he

The woods south of Forest Lawn Avenue held a lot of complicated emotions for Harris. He said he experienced racism and some fights at the nearby High Point swimming pool as a kid, but the wilderness just to the north was a different story. When he needed to get away, he’d spend nights camping here, hiking through the trees and building bridges out of tires. The cinderblock skeleton of a long-abandoned home added to the woods’ mystery. By a small creek, Harris would write stories or song lyrics as he heard the gentle hum of cars passing beyond the tree line. Simply put, he felt free here. “It’s a lot of negative memories [tied up in this place], but it’s so fucking therapeutic,” Harris said. “I can’t even explain the joy that it brought me.” As he grew older, Harris eventually found out these woods weren’t some random oasis — his family actually owned them. Originally, Harris’ relatives bought the land with

Black Agenda Alliance co-founder James “Hard Jaw” Henley takes a chainsaw to the overgrowth of the Black Agenda Alliance property as others burn brush. November 2022

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N E W S

hopes to develop it into a neighborhood, though those plans were abandoned as the woods became overgrown and mostly forgotten, save for kids like Harris who found liberation there. As his grandfather was dying, his family sold the

property to Harris for a fraction of its appraised value, Harris said. Now, as a man, Harris is back to walking the wooded hills and low-lying creeks he saw as a child. But now he’s helping cut back brush and overgrown trees to make it into the safe

haven he and other Alliance members imagine it could be. He hopes it can give another generation the same refuge he found as a child. “It was a place where I didn’t have to get hit no more,” Harris said. “I can be a kid and run wild through here. That’s what

it gave me, and that’s what I wanted to give other kids.”

Passing It On On a crisp Sunday morning in early October, Shabazz Asad and Harris got to work clearing the property. So far they’d cut, hacked, pulled and dragged debris to make the path that led into the forest. James “Hard Jaw” Henley, a co-founder and chair of the Alliance, revved the engine of a chainsaw. “Hard Jaw,” a nickname he earned from his days as a boxer, sliced through thick wood trunks, clearing the way for walking paths and unobstructed views of the older, magnificent trees. Wesley Williams, an Alliance member, stood by a fire pit as they burned some of the longdead brush. Later, a team from Monkey Man Tree Care came through with bigger equipment, wood chippers and more, making a serious dent in the work ahead.

Black Agenda Alliance member Jamar Harris uses a weed wacker at the organization’s land.

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November 2022

Shabazz Asad said anyone who wants to help is welcome to come — he and at least a few others plan to be there


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Black Agenda Alliance co-founder James “Hard Jaw” Henley (LEFT) and member Jamar Harris. every Sunday morning until the first snow of the season. He’s already led a few hikes through the woods, and by next year he hopes they can start gardening or holding more activities, and eventually someday put some buildings on the property to serve as a headquarters.

The task is daunting, but all the men have to do is listen when they put down their weed spray or chain saws as Shabazz Asad’s daughter and a friend play in the woods. As Harris stepped out from the clearing, he saw they’d built a small hut out of long, thick branches.

It may be small, but watching their creativity and imagination at work shows Harris why all this work is worth it. “I never really had a childhood,” Harris said. “But I feel like my child self here.” It feels like he’s healing, Harris said, and watching plans

for the future unfold is a big part of that. “It’s a beautiful thing. That’s what I was doing,” Harris said of Shabazz Asad’s daughter. “That’s what I was able to do over here. Hopefully, we create that place where every kid [can be themselves].”

A SEASON OF EVENTS RETURNING THIS YEAR!

thanksgiving lighting CEREMONY Thursday, November 24th at 6pm Gene Leahy Mall

making spirits bright concert Thursday, November 24th at 7pm Holland Performing Arts Center

ketv family festival

WAYS TO GET INVOLVED

Donation Barrels

PRESENTED BY BANK OF AMERICA

Sunday, December 4th from 11am to 4pm Downtown Omaha Attractions

Parking Meters

new year’s’ eve fireworks spectacular Saturday, December 31st at 7pm CHI Health Center parking lots

SEE OMAHA DAZZLE!

Volunteer

Lights illuminated every night! Nov. 24th to Jan. 2nd Gene Leahy Mall, Old Market, North & South 24th Streets

holidaylightsfestival.org

November 2022 HLF22.Reader.quarter_page.indd 1

13 10/17/22 10:48 PM


( D I S ) I N V E S T E D

A Day In Omaha’s Immigration Court by Bridget Fogarty

A depiction of a typical immigration court hearing. Illustration by Michael Elizabeth Johnson.

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t 8:20 a.m. on a sunny Wednesday in October, about 25 people crowded the hallway in a government building on the edge of Omaha. Three young women chatting in Spanish leaned against the windows and sat in black metal folding chairs as they waited for a courtroom door to open. In the lobby near the front door, a mother and her son, with his blue-gray Mickey Mouse bomber jacket sagging over his tiny shoulders, walked one by one through a metal de-

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tector watched by three security guards.

in the U.S. or will be ordered deported.

The building that houses Omaha’s immigration court is just off Abbott Drive, the winding road that splits Nebraska from Iowa and might be better known as the route to Omaha’s Eppley Airfield. Five days a week, its halls are crowded with people waiting to appear before an immigration judge for a hearing in which — depending on the status of their case — they’ll learn if they can stay

Omaha’s court is one of more than 60 immigration courts nationwide, run by the U.S. Department of Justice. The court serves Nebraskans and Iowans who have been charged with violating immigration law and placed in removal proceedings. It currently has 26,469 open cases on the three immigration judges’ dockets, and those cases have been pending for nearly three years on average — the second-longest immigration

November 2022

court backlog in the nation, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a Syracuse University project. When people in removal proceedings finally get their day in court, system delays, cancellations and language barriers can further complicate the already confusing immigration system. If they can’t afford legal fees or find a pro-bono lawyer, immigrants have to represent themselves, even though having an attorney typically means better


( D I S ) I N V E S T E D outcomes. And that’s just the first hearing. Immigrants whose cases closed this year waited 3½ years on average before hearing the final verdict in their case. Obtaining lawful status in the U.S. is complex, and each individual’s case differs in its time, money, emotional labor and outcome. By 8:35 that morning, the courtroom hallway was quiet and nearly empty. It would have been busier, but an announcement on the wall opposite security declared one immigration court judge’s day of hearings was rescheduled due to illness. Most people had already piled into courtroom three, where immigration Judge Abby L. Meyer was on the second of about 30 cases on the morning’s docket. Like a cattle-call, the hearing brought dozens of respondents, lawyers and family members to the courtroom at the same time. Each case’s time went quickly; respondents were called up one by one to address the charges, file applications for relief and schedule the next hearing. In a final hearing, the judge hears more evidence and testimony from the respon-

IMMIGRATION COURT CASES IN NEBRASKA

This map shows the density of immigration cases by county subdivision. Nebraska has one of the largest backlog of cases in the country and some of the longest waitlists for decisions. dents, and a representative of the government cross-examines them. Then, the judge determines if they’re removable from the U.S. Over the course of four hours and about 30 cases, Judge Meyer saw multiple families, two of

which had kids under the age of 18. At least eight people had no lawyer. Many who were assigned a final hearing will return in 2023, while others won’t be back to court until 2025. It’s likely that people who are scheduled two years out will

IMMIGRATION COURT BACKLOG

take the time to file applications for relief or update their work visas, attorney Lauren Schmoke, a partner at Kasaby Schmoke who had multiple family cases in court that Wednesday, said in a phone interview. This is helpful given how long it takes the immigration system to process applications, but it can be confusing for clients in the moment, she said. “It’s very difficult for people to see somebody get a hearing in 2025, and then be given a hearing in six months and to understand how people’s cases are different when everything is moving so quickly,” Schmoke said. Many of the immigrants in court came to the U.S. fleeing violence or economic hardship in their home countries. Some entered the country seeking asylum, a legal form of protection from persecution that’s statistically difficult to be granted. Over the past 20 years in Omaha’s courts, 15% of asylum seekers with legal representa-

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( D I S ) I N V E S T E D

An immigration court case comes with lots of waiting. On average, pending cases in Nebraska’s court have been open for nearly three years. Illustration by Michael Elizabeth Johnson. tion won their cases. It’s even more difficult without a lawyer; less than 1% of asylum seekers in Omaha are typically granted relief. Joe Lord is a lead attorney specializing in asylum claims at the Immigrant Legal Center (ILC), a nonprofit that provides free legal services, education and advocacy for immigrants in Nebraska and Southwest Iowa. Out of more than 20 asylum cases he’s had in court the past four years, he said only one was granted asylum and two were eligible for other forms of relief. The rest were denied. Lord said the backlog in cases provides a lot of fear and anxiety for many of his clients because “their cases are basically at a standstill.” On the other hand, the likely years-long wait gives people more time to live

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their lives in the U.S. and apply for other forms of relief they may be eligible for beyond asylum. Statistically, he said, the odds are stacked against asylum seekers — Nebraska’s court has some of the highest asylum denial rates in the country. “We can fight the good fight in court, but the reality is it’s a very slim chance that even the best cases will get a(n) (asylum) grant,” he said. Fifteen-year-old Anthony sat at a courtroom desk and listened to the translator’s Spanish through black headphones that rested on his dark brown hair. He drove an hour and 15 minutes from Crete to the Omaha court Wednesday morning with his godmother, who sat next to him at the desk along with his lawyer. His mom is in Guatemala.

November 2022

“Thank you for bringing him today,” Judge Meyer told his godmother. Anthony’s attorney explained he filed an application for asylum and would like time for that to process. Judge Meyer assigned Anthony’s next hearing in 2025 — not yet a final hearing, giving his attorney time to explore more options for relief. “The court will designate Guatemala as the country of removal if necessary,” Judge Meyer said.

Looking for a lawyer When it came time for hearings for people without representation, Judge Meyer offered those with first-time hearings a continuance on their case until

2023, Reyna, a young mother, was one of seven given more time to find a lawyer. Feb. 10, 2023 is the next time she and her 8-year-old son, Nelson, will have to be back at court, the judge told her. “I felt a little nervous; it’s my first time in court,” Reyna said in Spanish after her hearing. She first learned of her case six months ago and said she didn’t have time to find a lawyer. Sitting on a black folding chair in the courtroom hallway, she held her infant close to her chest. A tint of faded green on the ends of her brown hair rested on her dark-washed blue jean jacket, and a black “Selena” T-shirt peeked out from under it. Her partner, Tómas, stood with Nelson, who sported NASA pajama pants and an orange


( D I S ) I N V E S T E D puffer jacket. A bespectacled woman in a Nebraska sweatshirt stood beside them. She’s Mary Beth, a private translator, who drove Reyna’s family from Crete. Reyna said she wishes she had more time in court to move her case forward like respondents with lawyers seemed to have. Nevertheless, she was relieved to get more time to find legal representation — she thought she might find someone in Lincoln who could help her. “What’s most important now is to look for a lawyer,” Tómas said. All immigration court respondents have a right to a lawyer, but there’s no rule that makes the court provide them with one. High legal fees and lawyers with overbooked case loads mean many immigrants go through the system without legal representation. According

to TRAC data, 43% of Nebraskans’ cases do not have legal representation. Despite the best efforts of organizations like ILC offering free or reduced-price legal services, the need is often far greater than an organization’s ability to help, Lord said. Schmoke feels the same way.

part of a national plan to hire hundreds more immigration judges and support staff in immigration courts to alleviate delays.

“What’s most important now is to look for a lawyer.”

“We really live in an area that’s heavily populated by immigrants,” but the court is too small to meet the growing needs in Iowa and Nebraska, she said. A spokesperson from the DOJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review said Omaha’s immigration court hired two new support staff this year, as

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Luz, a woman who had the final case of the morning, understands what it feels like to go through court on her own. Wearing a cheetah print dress with matching print ballet flats, she sat alone at the desk listening to the court translator’s real-time Spanish translations. “Your case has been on the docket for 12 years,” Judge Meyer said. Luz, a native of Mexico, was first issued a notice to appear in court in 2010, according to

documents Judge Meyer read aloud. Luz told the judge she’s working with an attorney outside of court who helped her file for a U-Visa, a special visa for victims of certain crimes who have been abused and have helped law enforcement in their investigations. The court however had no documentation of any relief filed. Judge Meyer asked Luz to come back a week later with a receipt or some proof of her U-Visa filing; she’ll need good reason to continue the case. As Luz walked out of the court building into the afternoon sun, she said she’s confused and frustrated about the situation — but she would remain focused on finding proof of her visa filing. In the 12 years of her court case, she’s grown accustomed to the complex and difficult system, despite her best efforts to stay on top of it.

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N E W S

The Documenters

NEW PROGRAM LANDS IN OMAMA FOR CIVIC ENGAGEMENT, PARTICIPATION by Elle Love Editor’s Note: The Reader helped fund the Documenters program in Omaha through its nonprofit the Omaha Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

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he legislative chambers of Omaha’s City Hall don’t evoke gravity. They exude bureaucracy with their purple and blue seats, white ceiling tiles and orangish wood typical of so much office furniture. But looks are deceiving.

communities and research longterm projects about civics. Everything produced by the program is free to republish. Its repository of searchable, tagged notes gives local media, nonprof-

This is where local government officials make some of the area’s biggest decisions — and it’s where a new program hopes to employ citizens in a refreshed battle for transparency and civic engagement. “When regular citizens want to go and connect the dots, oftentimes it’s kind of late,” said Abbie Kretz, director of Omaha Documenters, a new chapter of a national network that trains and pays citizens to cover their local government. “Things build upon each other right? ... If you’re not really aware of it, it can be hard to figure out how to participate until it’s often too late.” Omaha Documenters, which launched this fall, is the latest addition to a national network started in 2017 by City Bureau in Chicago that has since expanded to Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Fresno, Minneapolis and Omaha. The network also received a Stronger Democracy Award, along with $10 million which will go toward expanding the network further. The underlying goal is simple: empower community members to cover local meetings, ask questions of their public officials and report back to their neighbors. Each chapter organizes interested candidates, no writing experience necessary, and then trains and pays them $15 an hour to attend meetings, interview people in their

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November 2022

its, grassroots organizations or whomever, a great tool to reference old meetings and keep officials in check. It’s a different model from how communities used to stay in tune

with their local goverment. Years ago the responsibility sat squarely with local newspapers. But staff cuts and changing media trends have opened new opportunities for more collaborations and grassroots approaches. “If we look at newsrooms today, they have been cutting back significantly in the last 10, 20, or even 30 years. We used to cover a full meeting of the City Council right? Well it is no longer happening,” Kretz said Omaha Documenters Director Abbie Kretz. The first Documenters orientation was held virtually on Oct. 13. Kretz said the orientation introduced the program to people who want to get involved in their community. What’s more important, she said, is listening to what they think is important in coverage. “What do these people want to learn? What are other community partners interested in? And how can we either do more research on it or provide trainings and background on that,” Kretz said. After training, Documenters can sign up for assignments on the program’s website, something that may require note taking, live tweeting or other skills. Assignments are made based on applicants skill sets and experience. Once Documenters complete assignments, notes are edited and posted on the program’s website. The initiative all started with the goal of addressing inequitable coverage in the city’s diverse neighborhoods on the south and west sides of Chicago. City Bureau found many people felt their communities were undercovered by local media, and when they were featured it often dealt with crime. Chicago Documenters Community Coordinator Natalie Fraisier said the goal was to provide people a new platform to take back that narrative. “Documenters and the


N E W S City Bureau are all about media equity and making sure that folks have the information they need to hold their government accountable,” Fraisier said.

There’s also a huge opportunity to address big civic questions beyond individual meetings. Noah Kincaide of the Detroit Documenters program said their chapter’s voter guide for Detroit’s primary elections made a big difference — and it all started with a documenter.

Fraisier said one of the best parts of the DocumentAbbie Kretz, Director of “We paid her ers program is Omaha Documenters to build an outline watching people go from interested in a topic of how the Voter Guide will flow like transportation or policing, to and then some of our editors ... assigned Documenters to write make a difference. their sections,” Kincaide said. “We “We had one Documenter, Sabroke it down into 10 different mantha, who started writing about chapters, eight of them were writthe housing situation in the city ten by Documenters ... We put the and then went and got a job at a whole thing together, add artwork housing nonprofit in the city and to it, made it really nice then put it she recently won a $2 million grant up online and all our media partto beautify a park on the west side ners shared it.” of Chicago,” Fraiser said. “Stuff D’Shawn Cunningham, an like that is what really makes me Omaha Documenter said the reaproud.”

son why he decided to participate is to help implement changes in Omaha. By keeping track of local meetings and documenting plans as they form, this program has a real opportunity to increase transparency during what Cunningham feels is a critical time for the city. “A Lot of us in the Documenters program feel like Omaha is at a juncture where we can become a city that is informed and makes its own plans opposed to being a city

that just gets steamrolled by developers with politicians in their pocket,” Cunningham said. “If the plans and meetings are not announced or accessible, maybe that’s the project that the Documenters will be taking up.” To participate in the Documenters program, email Abbie Kretz at abbie@omahaDocumenters. org and fill out an inquiry form on omaha-ne.Documenters. org.

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November 2022

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C O V E R

More Than a Bunch of Books

The Ralston Baright Public Library Is Evolving to Meet the Needs of the Community STORY by Fernando Antonio Montejano | Photos by Chris Bowling

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on as Baright’s first artist in residence. It was an exciting time, and I was thrilled. Not just because I would get to work at a library, but also because of the way the staff made me feel. The first meeting I had with Ellefson was when I met Amanda Peña, the director at Baright, who was filled with this overwhelming sense of passion, this need to offer more to a growing community.

et’s imagine something together.

You walk into a small building. The outside seems small, anyway. The moment you walk in, though, the place feels much bigger. The wooden beams supporting the roof conjure up the coziness of a log cottage with a little fireplace in the corner roaring warmth and comfort. The building is full of gentle A bilingual sign hangs inside the Ralston Baright Public Library. faces wandering about with fled serenity of this space but A cozy, little spot tucked away purpose, no hurried bodies During that first meeting I just loud enough for you to just around the corner from running to finish tasks. learned that one of the biggest feel welcomed. You feel safe Ralston’s town center. In May, I The walls are lined with here, allowed to be vulnerable was contacted by Amy Ellefson, goals the library had was to offer books of all types, there are enough to learn, and free to the adult programs coordina- more services. Peña had found out that Ralston’s demographics cute sections for kids to listen learn without borders. tor at Baright. She emailed to showed a significant and quickly to stories, there are laptops, ask if I’d be free to run a couple This place isn’t some magigrowing Hispanic/Latinx populacomputers and tablets free of writing and poetry workcal space that exists in a movtion — people she noticed were to use. As you walk in someshops over the summer. The ie wonderland. It’s a library. not showing up at Baright. “I one greets you with a kind conversation we had went so More specifically, it’s the started working in libraries when voice, soft against the mufwell that in July I was brought Ralston Baright Public Library. I was 15,” Peña said. “Libraries are

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C O V E R

Kids dance during an activity at the Ralston Baright Public Library. really for everyone and they’re one of the few places in the world that are like that.” The library started making changes and offering services that aren’t exactly traditional but that Peña believes are essential to building community and creating a place for people to find consistency and safety. “I think we’re one of the few places where people can be vulnerable and ask us questions that they don’t want to ask other people,” she said. “Its simple things like, ‘How do you use a mouse?’ You don’t think about it until somebody asks you. ‘How do I print?’ I think we try to build this environment that is open to everybody and nobody’s stupid and nobody has a bad question, and it’s free.”

I had a chance to speak with Peña and Ellefson, as well as Tiffany Zuerlein, the youth services librarian. The idea of building safety and openness is huge for Baright, but the services it offers are the most exciting part of what the library hopes to bring to the community. Zuerlein hosts many programs for youth in the community and is dedicated to creating more. “Every day is different,” she said. “First of all, there is a lot of cleaning. I’m in the kids’ room so there’s a lot of cleaning, but outside of that it’s trying to build awesome programs to help these little people.” Zuerlein is always looking for new things to bring to the youth, not just literature-based activities but all art, and she is especially interested in trying to get more

science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. “We already have great partnerships with 4H,” she said. “They’ve been amazing bringing in STEM teachers, so these kids get awesome experiences. The symphony, they’ve been coming in and doing story times, and we’ve had a cool cultural event with the Omaha Sister Cities Association.” Ellefson has been working at the library for the least amount of time, but she has been one of the biggest parts of Baright’s new direction. Everyone does an immense amount of work, just to be clear, but Ellefson is the communicator. She isn’t just in charge of adult programming, but she also does the networking to get programs and organizations into

the library. That means she’s always on the phone or answering emails, always talking to new people to try to bring as many services to the library as possible. “My grandma told me when I was growing up that the only way to truly understand humanity is to see how other people live,” Ellefson said. “She also said you can do hard things, you just have to figure out who can help you do them. I use that. I want our Ralston community to understand that the community is changing.” Ellefson wants to build programs that are for everyone, for the new residents who need help learning a different language to the families that have been here for a long time. She

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C O V E R From left to right: Amy Ellefson (adult services), Tiffany Zuerlein (youth services) and Amanda Peña (director) of the Ralston Baright Public Library.

wants people to know that the multilingual events the library hosts are for everyone, that they can be a chance for cultures to learn more about one another and build a stronger

sense of community. Ellefson expressed that this isn’t just about cultural lines — she’s using her programs to bring younger and older generations together as well.

Peña said she tries to build an environment in which everyone can feel free to bring ideas. She even said, “As long as it’s not crazy, we can make it happen.” Ellefson remarked that sometimes they do try the crazy ideas, and all three laughed. Zuerlein and Ellefson go out of their way to find exciting programs to bring to Baright. Zuerlein tirelessly works to

know what is trending with the youth she serves. She is always looking up the new books that kids are into, the shows, music, and trying to translate that into programming for the library. Ellefson is trying to bring criminal record- sealing services to Baright, to help people seal old records that can keep them from applying for housing, getting jobs, and accessing other essential needs that could make life much easier. Zuerlein enjoys a teen game night that she runs, an event she’s seen as an oasis for students who may not have the best experience at school. “This is their one place, where

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C O V E R Kids make crafts at the Ralston Baright Public Library. they are completely free to be themselves,” she said. “They act how they want to, and I love it.” She’s also looking to build a robust offering of STEM programming. Ellefson, Peña and Zuerlein are a dynamic team on a mission. Not just to change the library and the way people see it, but to make Baright something else. Or, as they would say: To make it what a library should be. Ellefson wants the Baright Library to be an “absolutely essential community

resource.” It might be there now. Offering free tax help, free food truck lunches over the summer for kids up to age 18, Baright just wants to serve the city and people who make their way into the library. With the right support, the Ralston Baright Library could wind up changing what libraries are capable of offering the communities around them, and I’m proud to be a small part of such a massive endeavor.

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November 2022

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T H E A T E R

Diversity on Stage

AS THEATER RESPONDS TO CALLS FOR MORE REPRESENTATION, ARTISTS OF COLOR FIND MORE OPEN SPACES, WAIT TO SEE WHAT COMES NEXT by Leo Adam Biga A rendering of the Shirley Tyree Theater

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lack, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) creatives are finding new stage opportunities in this era, especially in spaces where diversity, equity, inclusion pledges become practice. Witness Broadway in New York, where scores of Black shows have opened since last fall. Many of their creators and stars were honored at the Tonys. The question is whether this is the new normal or a blip. Last spring’s Great Plains Theatre Commons (GPTC) New Play Conference in Omaha continued a trend as nearly half of its featured guests were BIPOC artists. Staged readings of works by and about African Americans and Korean Americans featured ethnically appropriate casts, meaning opportunities for dozens of actors of color. Omaha natives Q. Smith, Kevyn Morrow and Merle Dandridge are veteran Broadway actors still doing their thing. Regional theater vet John Beasley expects to make his Broadway debut in the musical adaptation of “The Notebook,” which just ended a worldpremiere preview run at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Andre McGraw and Kelcey Watson, who got their starts at the John Beasley

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Theatre & Workshop, are following his footsteps as regional theater performers. A new Omaha cohort is breaking big. Roni Shelley Perez appeared in off-Broadway’s first all-Asian cast show. Yolonda Ross hopes her work in a New York reading of an all-female version of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” is her entree to Broadway. Wai Yim and Don Nguyen are forging directing-playwriting careers in Chicago and New York, respectively. Playwright Noah Diaz’s “You Will Get Sick” is at New York’s Roundabout Theatre. His “The Guadalupes” got a GPTC reading last spring. Gospel playwright Llana Smith is produced regionally. Since the Denver world premiere of her “In the Upper Room,” playwright Beaufield Berry has netted a commission to write the book of a Broadway musical biopic of Josephine Baker. Her “Buffalo Women” got a staged reading in Des Moines and is slated for Omaha and Kansas City productions. “Upper Room” will have a full Omaha production as well. In 2021 The Broadway League hired Gennean Scott as its first

November 2022

director of equity, diversity and inclusion. Nik Whitcomb became program director of the Black Theatre Coalition in New York. “We’re showing out right now,” actress-director TammyRa’ said of Omaha BIPOC talents, including her daughter Nadia Ra’Shaun Williams, who’s earned parts in two consecutive national Broadway touring companies. It may not be long before TammyRa’ joins her in New York. “Andre (McGraw) and John (Beasley) call me and be like, ‘Why are you still in Omaha? What are you waiting for? It’s time to go.’” Actress-director Kathy Tyree said this synergy of trending stage and screen (Gabriele Union, Amber Ruffin) talent inspires. “Those artists have been committed and dedicated to their craft. It’s good for up-and-coming artists to look at them and realize that can be me, too, if I put in the work and stay dedicated.” The talent’s always been here, TammyRa’ said, “but more folks are just moving forward in following their dreams.” She appreciates having Smith and Scott as surrogate aunt and mother, respectively, “looking after my baby in New

York. That’s the kind of community we have. We family like that.” Locally, historic representation is evident at the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP), for which Tyree became its first Black manager in 2021 as director of inclusion and community engagement. Tyree’s also helmed “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” “The Color Purple” and “Respect” there. She’s directing OCP’s upcoming production of “Dreamgirls.” She’s since been joined by two more Black managers, marketing director Dara Hogan and associate artistic director Brady Patsy, who’s directing August Wilson’s “Fences” early next year. Nebraska Shakespeare disrupted its much-maligned homogeny by hiring Tyrone Beasley as artistic director with a mandate to diversify cast-crew-staff ranks. His hip-hop “Romeo and Juliet” and diverse casting of “The Tempest” and “Othello” signaled change. Opera Omaha, which hosts the Amplifying the Black Experience series, is a producing partner of “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X,” which it staged at the Orpheum Theater Nov. 4 and 6. continued on page 26 /


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T H E A T E R

Actress-director Kathy Tyree

Playwright-director Denise Chapman

Playwright Kim Louise

Actress-director TammyRa’

Omaha Performing Arts is a DEI leader with its Voices Amplified series, whose 2021-2022 June finale, “Omaha’s Forgotten Century,” enlisted Tyree, playwright Peggy Jones, muralist Hugo Zamorano and Omaha native and New York based-choreographer Ray Mercer for a North Omaha-South Omaha history revue. The 2022-23 series celebrates Latino culture.

a similar path. She’s directing “Goose” on Nov. 18-20 at Yates Illuminates and is assistant director for “Fences” at OCP.

America in all of its flavors, colors in a way that I think is meaningful.”

I’ve seen the past year with more and more BIPOC artists getting opportunities,” she said. “Not just on the stage but off-stage.”

“More and more opportunities are opening up for Black and brown artists,” Tyree said. “It’s beautiful.” “I don’t know they’ve had the opportunity to be able to shine (until now),” said playwrightdirector Denise Chapman, producing artistic director for theater at The Union for Contemporary Art. “The talent’s always been here. It’s just that people weren’t paying attention.” The Union is building a larger, black-box space, the Shirley Tyree Theater, to open fall 2023. “It’s important to the theater landscape for the work to be a healthy representation of the community. It’s about us doing the work and making sure other folks have the opportunity to also do the work.” Omaha playwrights-composers Justin Payne and Eric Lawson are developing stage works at the Union under Chapman’s guidance. Payne and Dani Cleveland’s “Heaven Come Home” was read at UNO. The Union and GPTC are catalysts for artists to broaden their work. Tyree credits each with “supporting me early on in my directing career,” adding, “They said, ‘C’mon, we’ve got you, you can do this.’” TammyRa’s following

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“I’ve been doing this 40-plus years,” Tyree said, “and these opportunities are new and fresh in our community.” “It’s expanding,” TammyRa’ said. Talent is emerging. “Over 50 people auditioned for ‘Dreamgirls’ and more than half I had never met before,” said Tyree. “Not only was there a good showing, these people were sincerely talented and gifted. Some amazing talent is hitting these stages.” GPTC’s annual spring conference convenes artists to develop plays and center conversations on pressing issues. Its year-round programs offer safe spaces for diverse artists to discuss and nurture craft. Playwright Kim Louise, whose “Moneychangers” recently got a reading, was a fellow in its two-year Commoners residency. Said Louise, “It has enriched my writing life. The networking is amazing. I’ve made connections with people I would never, ever have met otherwise. I’ve discovered this whole cadre of people I knew nothing about and now they’re busy, getting work, being paid as they’re becoming more visible.” Louise goes back to GPTC’s 2006 start. From then till now, she said, “It resonates with more cultural diversity and is more representative of the people actually writing plays.” The result, she said, is “theater that more authentically mirrors the nation and represents

November 2022

GPTC leans into TammyRa’ as a Community Connector. “They ask me what can we do differently or better. It’s a wonderful feeling to be included and to be asked questions. They’re very open to suggestions and ideas. I love that.” While artists are sure of the diversity-equity-inclusion (DEI) commitment of Great Plains, the Playhouse, Omaha Performing Arts and The Union take a wait-and-see attitude about Broadway. Omaha’s own Gennean Scott is tasked with holding producers accountable. Despite gains, Tyree and Co. said efforts to make theater more equitable involve heavy lifting and nuance in the face of continued pushback or inertia. “What puzzles me is the consistent opposition to it that surfaces,” Tyree said. “It’s just a reminder that, yeah, we are no way close to there yet. We’ve made some wonderful strides. A lot of good work has been done. A lot of good intention. We need more work to measure up to that intention. I keep reminding myself institutional racism and racist practices have been in place for hundreds of years. It’s not going to change overnight. It’s up to those of us that have taken up the charge to continue doing this work and having these uncomfortable conversations, unapologetically. It’s by no means fun work, but it is very meaningful and necessary work.” She sees enough progress to be guardedly hopeful. “I can attest to the fruits of that labor

As doors open for established artists like herself, Tyree feels called to advocate. “One of the keys to all of this is to uplift and pour into each other,” she said. “With every opportunity gifted to me, I have a responsibility to gift others. That’s how we continue to develop and grow fresh, new talent.” “We have built this community now where the support system is strong among actors, writers, directors,” said TammyRa’. Strength in numbers can open doors. “Just the connections alone you make are a huge gift. You get connected to artists from other parts of the country. It’s a pathway into the theater world,” said Tyree, who parlayed those relationships into an audition with a regional theater company that resulted in her earning her first regional theater role. Besides getting your name and voice known in theater circles, networking provides a community of like-minded artists and potential collaborators. “We look out for each other,” TammyRa’ said. “We welcome new people in. We don’t want to hold anybody back. We reach out, work together, share ideas. It’s like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a play, I need a director and some actors.’ If nobody wants to give us work we’re going to create our own. We won’t be limited.”


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I ST HS AD R

Windows and Keys

Iconic Dimmer Switch Sheds Light on Omaha Artist’s Mixed-Media Exhibit by Kent Behrens

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he current mixedmedia exhibit of artist Thomas Wharton, an adjunct professor at Midland University and Metropolitan Community College, provides a perplexing puzzle, but rewards with craft, concept and discovery. “Windows and Keys,” Wharton’s exhibit at the Garden of the Zodiac Gallery in the Old Market, features more than two dozen photographs paintings and sculptures, exploring concepts of light, transformation and perception. The artist has taken a simple and rather mundane thing – a dimmer switch – out of its comfort zone and transformed it into an icon, a symbol,

by rectangles, punctuated by circles, and continued them out to the frames, incorporating the frame into the piece. Through use of stains, paints, and inlaid wood, the frame is married permanently to the image; nuanced tapers mirror similar shapes withing the image.

Garden of the Zodiac Gallery: “Windows and Keys” by Thomas Wharton, 2022 an essential tool. Transformed into a graceful, sleek, sculptured “spindle,” this new, fertile muse becomes a guide, a “Key,” to the translation and dissection of each enigmatic piece, the “Window.” This modern take on the ivory plastic knob to which we are all accustomed, becomes elemental to every work in the show, which ends Nov. 27.

“View of the Pool in Summer” by Thomas Wharton, 2022, oil on canvas, plexiglass, wood, 20” x 16”

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The most notable pieces, if only because of size, are eight framed color photos, roughly 5 feet by 4 feet each, that are initially puzzling, almost indecipherable. The subject of the photos is not obvious, nor is the vantage point. Aside from a few recognizable nuances, they simply look like an interesting arrangement of blue, white and grey rectangles, bi-

NOVEMBER 2022

sected at times by a sharp angle or line, and randomly sprinkled with recognizable shapes or things. The very symmetrical, minimalist arrangements of rectangles, in fact, begin to reveal secrets that lead to partial solution: hints of perspective and vantage point; a shadow reminds you of a tree branch, or a roofline; a reflection takes shape as a cloud; this looks like snow; a black mark becomes a paw print. And, in deference to the muse, a central shadow becomes a distortion of the spindle. In these, Wharton has taken shadows and shapes, patterns formed

Many artists tend to try this at some point in their careers, only to come up short with a cloying interruption in an otherwise enjoyable image. Wharton’s understanding of subtlety, line and composition, along with his skills as a wood smith, let the frames become part of the image. Moving on, and keeping with the rectangle theme, you will find six smaller photographic works – black and white photo collages mounted to panels – that are in-

“Shadow (01)” by Thomas Wharton, 2022, charcoal on canvas, photo collage on panel, 17” x 18”


I ST HS AD R

“Portrait of a Spindle in White” by Thomas Wharton, 2022, oil on linen, archival inlet print on panel, 27” x 23” set into a canvas or linen “frame,” and onto which Wharton has carried the patterns of shadow and light via soft charcoal renderings of shadow and light elements. The collage is simply one photo set into another, and the whole could have easily become chaotic had it been more complex. The central photo, collaged or not, is by itself a strong minimalist image, but the surrounding drawing joins it back the themes of the show. This style of repetition framing, reduction and expansion of the light/shadow elements within the original scene, is right at home here, and rendered without pretense.

Interspersed through the front room are three “pairings,” each consisting of a pedestal sculpture and a wall piece – a minimalist photo inset into a painted background. Each pair creates an elegant maquette, a simple mirrored curio stand displaying a spindle, and an atmospheric photo of the same spindle. The artist chose to list each work in the pair as separate pieces, but they work so well together, one would be remiss in separating them.

Continuing with the sculptural, the back room contains three model-like constructions or maquettes. Each is set upon a table-like pedestal; one, “Black Pond,” helps greatly in deciphering the large photos mentioned earlier. The two others, “Shadow Table” and “Spire Light,” are electrified luminaires controlled by their own spindle, which then becomes the focal point of each piece. With the artist’s stated philosophy and objective, it might have been exciting to see more of the electrified sculptures. This is one of the most complete and cohesive exhibits you may see in a while. If you need dropped names

for further reading, see Gyorgy Kepes, Roger Ballen, Zeke Berman. Wharton’s work is admittedly more minimal, but it is also meticulously constructed. Wharton delves into other mediums without apprehension. His result is affecting in its thorough dissection and derivation of an idea, combined with adept craftmanship. Three small, photorealist oil paintings provide a needed contrast by examining alternate perspectives and asymmetrical views. These might have been stronger had the three been larger, but the contrast is needed to break up the symmetry and repetition of shape prevalent in the rest of the show. Though very different, the first piece in the show may be one of the best. It is a wall-hung shelf featuring three spindles upon a transparent, plexiglass shelf. The overhead track lighting not only lights the piece, but shows through the plexiglass shelf, creating interesting shadows below. Of course, if someone were to

purchase this, the resulting shadows would change, but that may be partly the essence of the message. Thoreau said: “It’s not what you look at. It’s what you see.” Wharton’s work is challenging at first, but the reward is a short course in seeing. It is photography about photography, art about art, and it is a solid examination of an idea. “Windows and Keys” is a cohesive presentation from this Omaha-based artist and teacher, showcasing his interests and skills in woodworking, painting, photography and sculpture. If you are lucky, you may even catch the artist on a folding chair in the corner of the gallery, providing pleasing ambiance from his Spanish guitar. “Windows and Keys” shows through Nov. 27. The Garden of the Zodiac can be found inside the Old Market Passageway. It is on Facebook and can be reached at 402-341-1877, or email gardenofthezodiac@gmail.com.

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W PICKS W In-Between,” another of his large group shows featuring Omaha artists, opening Nov. 5 at Hot Shops Art Center. “Like ‘My Dreams, My Nightmares’ show James incited back in 2015, ‘eclectic/eccentric’ is the best way to describe (this exhibit),” collaborator Susan McGilvrey said. Also “established, emerging and existing” describes the artists’ list: Kristin Pluhacek, Reagen Pufall, Paula Wallace, Barb Simcoe, Becky Hermann, Jim Butkis, Mica Lilith Smith, Emily Stokes, Yun Shin, Freeman and McGilvrey, among others. — Mike Krainak

November 6 suffering and resilience, frequent themes in her work. The show includes “Life in Purgatory,” an ongoing series of photopolymer intaglio prints. Fields intends them to create an abstracted space to connect with the void in preparation for glory.

Death From Above 1979 Slowdown

Check out www.bffomaha.org/ petshop for more information. — Janet Farber

November 4

Morgan Fields: Barbed Labyrinth

Hot Shops Art Center

Petshop Gallery

Using her art to dig deep into life’s thornier realities, multimedia artist Morgan Fields presents a new installation of sculpture and prints at Petshop, with a First Friday opening on Nov. 4, 7-10 p.m., and continuing through Dec. 30. Fields will create a disorienting, cave-like experience from spires of woven barbed wire and fabric. Evoking the five stages of grief, the labyrinth communicates both

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Though James Freeman owns his dark and surreal vision, it’s not the whole story, something he “shares” with other artists as well. To that end, Freeman offers “Heaven, Hell, and Everything

NOVEMBER 2022

The Omaha Jewish Film Festival Omaha Jewish Community Center

The Alan J. Levine Performing Arts Theater will host the Omaha Jewish Film Festival over four nights throughout November and early December. The festival at the Jewish Community Center has been breaking ground for 20 years, and this year’s theme is “views of the world through Israeli eyes.” Each of the four films starts at 7 p.m. They are “A Lullaby for the Valley” (Nov. 8), “The Museum” (Nov. 22), “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” (Nov. 29) and “Kiss Me Kosher” (Dec. 6). Tickets are $10 for each showing. — Matt Casas

November 5

Heaven, Hell, and Everything In-Between

November 8, 22, 29 & December 6

November 9 Death From Above 1979 will visit the Slowdown in early November in support of their latest full-length LP, “Is 4 Lovers.” The album dropped in 2020. The show is more exciting news for fans who loved the band back in the day (the mid-2000s) and wondered if the drum and bass/synth duo would ever return from calling it quits shortly upon releasing their bombastic debut. The band regrouped in 2011 and has released three more stellar albums. Joining them on the highly anticipated Canada-UK-USA tour is The OBGMs (Canada). Tickets for this all-ages show are $25-$30. — Matt Casas

Van Gogh (1991) Film Streams

Film Streams will screen “Van Gogh” on Nov. 9. The indie cinema and the Joslyn Art Museum will partner for this one-of-a-kind showcase of the French film by Maurice Pialat, lauded for NOT romanticizing the demise of the Dutch painter, played by Jacques Dutronc. Thirty minutes before the movie, there will be a meet and greet,


W PICKS W French food, adult drinks and conversation with the chief curator of European art from Joslyn. Joslyn and AFO members can get a $5 discount on admission. The event runs from 5:30-8:30 p.m., with the film starting at 6. — Matt Casas

November 12-13

Midsummer’s Night Dream Scottish Rite Masonic Center

November 11

2022 Regional Photography Biennial Gallery 1516

trancing underground and mainstream crowds since the mid1990s, and building a dedicated fan base here in Omaha. Many indie-heads are familiar with the Boston band from its 2006 song, the jangly “Satellite” — but the Guster discography boasts staying power, thanks to records like “Keep It Together” (2003) and “Ganging Up on the Sun” (2006).

The Heartland Youth Ballet will perform “Midsummer’s Night Dream” for two days at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center.

The event is from 6-9 p.m. For information, go to www.gallery1516.org. — Janet Farber

UNO

November 17

Risograph Basics Union for Contemporary Art

“Into The Woods” will run for seven dates at UNO, with university students and non-enrolled cast from around Omaha.

The story is filled with the bard’s trademark characters, irony, love and mischief, plus other-worldly elements: fairies flub the days of four Athenian lovers and a group of actors, but even the sprites have love problems.

The exhibition features 93 works selected by jurors Diego and April Uchitel. Viewers will see a stylistic range of approaches to street, landscape and nature photography, photojournalism, human and animal subjects, as well as abstract/conceptual compositions. Works in the exhibition are available for purchase.

Into The Woods

Tickets are $30. The show starts at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6. — Matt Casas

Critics classify the 430-year-old play as a Shakespearean comedy, but it’s a rom-com (and an underrated fantasy) set 800-900 years ago in Athens, Greece.

Now that it has established a biennial program of juried exhibitions open to Nebraska-affiliated artists, Gallery 1516 introduces a new format for its in-between years. The “2022 Regional Photography Biennial,” opening Nov. 11 and running through Jan. 29, is its inaugural show and is limited to a particular medium — photography — and open to artists connected to Nebraska and its six contiguous states.

November 17, 19, 20 & December 1-4

Tickets range from $10-20, with 7 p.m. and 2 p.m. start times. — Matt Casas

November 13

Guster The Admiral

The musical comedy was written in 1987 by the great 20th-century mastermind Stephen Sondheim and the innovative James Lapine.

The Union for Contemporary Art will host a Risograph Basics class on Nov. 17. This 18-plus workshop introduces newcomer artists to Riso printing, a high-end digital process of “duplication” that combines copying and screen printing to transform sketches into prints with unique and striking styles and textures.

Tickets are $10-$20 for the 7:30 and 2 p.m. shows, and UNO students receive free admission with a MavCARD. — Matt Casas

This hands-on class combines traditional and digital printing techniques for the best educational experience.

Curio by Gabriella Quiroz

Tickets are $25, and the event runs from 5:30-7 p.m. Guster is gearing up to play The Admiral this November with special guests Ratboys. The alt-rocking four-piece has been kicking up dust on stages with kaleidoscopic tunes, en-

Using familiar Brothers Grimm fairy-tale characters, it is an original story full of love, tragedy and magic, with a childless couple trying to help break a curse.

Email your image to info@u-ca. org beforehand, bring one to the class in print or digital form, or create a spontaneous sketch. — Matt Casas

November 18

Nebraska Arts Council Fred Simon Gallery The Fred Simon Gallery invites you to its exhibit, “Curio,” by Gabriella Quiroz. An opening reception for the artist is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 18, from 5-7 p.m.

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W PICKS W The Boston alt-rockers originated as a late-’80s punk band and are most notable for the 1992 album “It’s A Shame About Ray,” their major label debut, and its closely related single, their cover of “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel.

November 26

Art Battle Omaha Culxr House

Lemon’s sound has not soured, boasting fulfilling, guitar-driven music that tastefully balances hard-rocking, pop sensibilities and softer acoustic anthems. Music starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30-$35 before fees. — Matt Casas

The exhibit continues through Jan. 11. Quiroz, an award-winning, Omaha-based artist, works as a fine artist and commercial illustrator from her studio in the Hot Shops Art Center. Her work has been featured in numerous group and solo exhibits.

November 23

Dinner Drinks and Drag! Funny Bone

Quiroz works primarily in oils and colored pencils, finding inspiration in flora and fauna – its life stages, structures and remnants. This show builds on her search for beauty and human connection in the commonplace and discarded.

Or not. Bring your family and friends to this post-festivities evening so everyone can pile on the laughs and delicious drinks. Culxr House will host an installment of the worldwide competitive phenomenon known as Art Battle on Nov. 26. As an all-ages night of entertainment at the inner-city-focused hub, the faceoff will come down to three 20-minute rounds of improvised canvas painting, and in the end, the audience helps choose a winner. At the close, there will be an anonymous auction in which you can bid to take the rad art home.

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November 30

The Movement Slowdown

November 26

Thanksgiving Leftovers Visit the Funny Bone on Nov. 23 for a night of drinks, eats and entertainment with some of Omaha’s finest LGBTQ+ performers.

The Backline

Opening artist Mike Love — no, not the one from The Beach Boys — is Hawaii-based and describes his reggae-intoned sound as “revolutionary consciousness music.”

All the while, the premiere comedy venue has a full bar and restaurant that will dazzle the rest of your senses and contribute to a rad Wednesday evening event. Tickets are $20 for this 21-andover show. Doors open at 6:45 p.m., with a 7:30 start. — Matt Casas

NOVEMBER 2022

The Movement will lay it down at the Slowdown on Nov. 30, with support from Mike Love. Hailing from South Carolina, The Movement is an alternative, reggae-rooted band that made an impact with their 2008 album, “Set Sail.” “Habit” and the title track remain among the group’s most streamed songs. Their sixth record topped the Billboard Reggae chart in 2019.

The drag entertainers and Midwest divas dance to elaborate routines featuring popular numbers onstage and excel at crowd interaction while performing for tips.

The Lemonheads will play the Waiting Room on Nov. 21, supporting the 30th anniversary of their breakthrough during a fullon grunge explosion.

Tickets start at $10, but no one under 18 gets in. The show begins at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30. — Matt Casas

Admission costs $20-$30, doors open at 6 p.m., and the battle begins at 7. — Matt Casas

November 21

The Waiting Room Lounge

The post-Thanksgiving show punctuates a month-long set of Backline showcases and open-mic events with all the spice of variety and humor some may need after a long holiday weekend with family.

To compete as an artist, apply at artbattle.com/artists.

For more information, go to www.artscouncil.nebraska.gov. — Kent Behrens

The Lemonheads

don, and Tyler Walsh — will headline the Backline on Nov. 26.

Three Omaha comedians — David Kousgaard, Cameron Logs-

Tickets are $20-$25 for the all-ages show, which starts at 8 p.m. — Matt Casas


H O O D O O

November Notes

Hot Shows Are Here to Enjoy While Opportunities to Help Others Offer Ways to Celebrate the Spirit of Thanksgiving by B.J. Huchtemann

S

ome notable events hit at the beginning of the month. There’s a benefit for Lincoln guitarist Benjamin Kushner on Friday, Nov. 4, 5:30-8:30 p.m., at The B. Bar. Kushner plays with both Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal and Mezcal Brothers. Alt rock fans will recognize Kushner as a former guitarist for The Millions. Kushner is battling a return of cancer. The benefit features Omaha rockabilly favorites The Mercurys and the Mezcal Brothers with a lineup change in light of Kushner’s current health. Gerald Lee Jr. opens the show with an acoustic set. Look for the “Rock-a-Benny” event on Facebook for more details. The Omaha show follows an October event in Lincoln that featured multiple bands at two venues, launching efforts to raise support for Kushner’s medical and living expenses. At the Benson Theatre on Friday, Nov. 4, 7 p.m. Kris Lager hosts a rock ‘n’ roll variety show presenting Kris Lager & The Assembly of Assassins, a special eight-piece band with a horn section. Other featured guests are Héctor Anchondo and Enjoli Mitchell. The event will include comedy by Nick Allen, a DJ MC, a magician, spoken word and Josh Audiss painting during the show. Look for ticket details at facebook.com/krislagerband.

BSO Presents The Blues Society of Omaha shows for November feature a special Club Crawl at the Capitol District on Thursday, Nov. 17, starting at 5 p.m. Horn- and keyboard-driven Wisconsin band The Jimmys play at Beer Can Alley at 5 and 7:45 p.m. Minneapolis-based vocalist Joyann Parker, described as “saucy and sexy … with an intelligent and intriguing style,” performs at The Jewell at 6:30 and 9 p.m. Admission is $15 per venue

Nov. 4, 7:30-10:30 p.m. The Jewell regularly presents a variety of jazz, blues and special solo acoustic events, such as Héctor Anchondo on Wednesday, Nov. 9, and Wednesday, Nov. 30, 6:30 p.m. See the calendar at jewellomaha. com/shows.

Wisconsin-based band The Jimmys celebrate 14 years together with shows at Beer Can Alley on Thursday, Nov. 17, 5 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., plus at Lincoln’s Zoo Bar on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18-19, 5 p.m. Photo courtesy facebook.com/thejimmysband or $10 at the second venue with a wristband from the other participating venue. The month starts with Alligator Records guitar star Jarekus Singleton at The Strut on Thursday, Nov. 3, 6-9 p.m. High-energy Texas guitarist Hamilton Loomis plugs in at The Jewell on Thursday, Nov. 10, 6-9 p.m. John Primer & the Real Deal Blues Band bring Chicago blues to The Strut on Thursday, Dec. 1, 6-9 p.m. Visit facebook. com/bluessocietyofomaha for the latest events and blues news. You’ll find a curated list of local blues and roots music shows at omahablues. com.

Toy Drive for Pine Ridge Update The Toy Drive for Pine Ridge is changing its mission to focus solely on raising money for the emergency propane fund that serves families in need during the bitter winters on the Pine Ridge Reservation. “The heating fund contributes greatly to the health and well-being of many families on Pine Ridge, and has the potential to save lives every winter,” founder Larry “Lash LaRue” Dunn said

in a Facebook update in which he thanked everyone who has supported the events through the years. Find out more or learn how to support the cause at facebook. com/toydriveforpineridge.

Jon Dee Graham Recovering from a Stroke Hoodoo hero and Austin, Texas, roots-music legend Jon Dee Graham suffered a stroke in August. He is slowly recovering and unable to manage more than his weekly Continental Club performance. There’s a Go Fund Me for anyone wishing to help with Graham’s expenses while he rehabilitates and recovers. Search for Jon Dee Graham at gofundme.com. Graham has also made available for sale a limited-edition book collection of his bear art, “Bear Witness 20082022,” along with the children’s book he authored at the beginning of the year, “Bear: The Search for a Hug.” Both can be found on Amazon. Follow Graham’s recovery at facebook.com/jon.d.graham.

Hot Notes Popular Nebraska band The OK Sisters play The Jewell on Friday,

The documentary about Lincoln’s iconic ‘80s chicken restaurant turned rock club, “Remember the Drumstick,” has a one-week run at The Ross theater on the UNL campus beginning Friday, Nov. 4. See facebook.com/rememberthedrumstick and theross.org for details. Grammy-winner Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives are as good as it gets. They play two nights at The Waiting Room, Thursday, Nov. 10, and Friday, Nov. 11. Both shows start at 7:30 and a twoshow ticket package is available. See waitingroomlounge.com for tickets. The Indigo Girls perform at The Orpheum on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7:30 p.m. See ticketomaha.com. Three-time Grammy-winning guitar virtuoso Steve Vai rocks Lincoln’s Bourbon Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m. See bourbontheatre.com. Grammy and Americana Award-winning artist Amanda Shires is scheduled at Barnato on Sunday, Nov. 20, 8 p.m. See barnato.bar/events. Lincoln’s historic Zoo Bar continues to present multiple great touring shows each week. November shows include Jackson Stokes, Friday, Nov. 11, 9 p.m. Stokes is known for his work with the Devon Allman Band. His new CD was produced by Luther Dickinson. Keep up with the schedule at zoobar.com and follow facebook.com/zoobarblues.

NOVEMBER 2022

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D I S H

Gluten for Punishment Go Ahead and Get Gluttonous for the Gluten-Free Foods Omaha Is Serving by Sara Locke

with a bowl of loaded baked potato soup.

Le Voltaire 569 N 155th Plaza

The gluten-free dedicated display looks just as tempting as its glutinous counterpart at Edge of the Universe.

N

ovember is National Gluten-Free Diet Awareness Month, and The Reader knows there are a number of reasons diners may choose a wheat, rye, barley, and oat-free existence. Regardless of the reasons, restaurants and their staff are growing increasingly aware of just how serious a gluten allergy or intolerance can be. A decade ago, telling someone you were allergic to spaghetti would probably get you a snicker or an eyeroll, but a gluten reaction is more than a pain in the butt. And it is also a pain in the butt. These days, asking wait staff about gluten-free options comes with a Master Class in cross contamination, shared fryers, and designated prep spaces.

This month, The Reader took a look at ten of our favorite establishments where diners can feast without fear. Inflammation has left the station, let’s sink our teeth into this delicious list.

Gravy Train ‑‑ Scratch Biscuits and Gravy 1911 S 67th St. (Inner Rail) Blend Food Hall (Online ordering only) My first swing at writing a gluten-free dining guide for Omaha years ago was a desperate list of places that served a lot of plain meat on a stick. Even some meat wasn’t safe, as flour and fillers are used in a lot of gyro meat, loaf meats, and near-

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ly every sauce and gravy you sink your teeth into. Gravy Train founder Meghan McLarney decided that even those with allergies deserved to be uncomfortably full on the hardiest, most savory, stick-to-your ribs dishes without the inflammation that often follows. Biscuits and gravy may be the ultimate comfort food, and Gravy Train has made it a lot more comfortable for those with celiac, Crohn’s, or food allergies.

Blue & Fly Asian Kitchen 721 S 72nd St. The gluten-free options at Blue & Fly are just as decadent and immersive as the rest of the impeccable menu. You’ll find something to satisfy any appetite, and you can eat until your stomach is satisfied instead of swollen. The meals are as beautiful on the plate as they are on the palate, and taking away the gluten doesn’t take away the sense of celebration you get dining on these delicious dishes.

Burning Bridges Food Truck (Trucks & Taps) 5402 S 108th St. Gluten intolerance means you have had to become a picky eater. Gone are the days of ordering chicken tendies and fries. Or are they? Give your inner child, your actual child, or your childish eater a treat and sink into a gluten-free chicken finger basket, snack on savory gluten-free cheese curds, or warm up

November 2022

Fine dining should have never been just for those iron of stomach. Rich, decadent, and a feast for the eyes, French cuisine is anything but lean. Gluten-free diners are welcomed to enjoy the fresh flavors, robust bouquet, and tantalizing tastes of the fine art of French dining … but hold the baguette.

Pitch Coal-Fire Pizza 5021 Underwood Ave. 17808 Burke You know Pitch has set the standard for high-quality ingredients and a firing technique that’s tasty and unique, but Omaha’s gluten-free elite know the vegan cauliflower crust is a must. Make any pizza gluten free without making it taste like your togo box. Inventive salads, an extensive wine list, and a seasonal menu that keeps everything fresh in more ways than one make Pitch Omaha’s go-to for a pie you can’t deny.

Texas de Brazil 1110 Capitol Ave. New to Omaha, but a veteran of the Gaucho game, Texas de Brazil has more than a mouthful of options for gluten-free diners. A quick conversation with the team has, on more than one occasion, resulted in a personal tour of the buffet to point out every item that’s safe for consumption, even if you’re not consuming grain.

Early Bird 3824 Farnam (Blackstone) 7775 Olsen Drive (Shadow Lake) Coming soon to 108th and Pacific (Regency) From granola to waffles, Early Bird’s gluten-free menu will ensure

your breakfast is anything but boring. Enjoy bright flavors, sweet and savory toppings, and a cocktail list to brunch about.

Omaha Tap House 579 N 155th Plaza (Pepperwood Location Only) The Northwest location is the only one with the capacity to accommodate a fries-only fryer, allowing even those with celiac to enjoy the fries at this can’t-miss grill. Burgers can be served on a gluten-free bun, and gluten-free beer is available. While the downtown location offers gluten-free bread, it cannot guarantee a gluten-free cooking surface or that cross contamination won’t happen.

Edge of the Universe 6070 Maple A night out on the town, girls’ day out, romantic date night, or just an excuse to have a whimsical time without taking a literal flight of fancy, Edge of the Universe delivers it all from its cute and convenient Benson location. This magical café hosts book clubs, trivia nights, and themed events year-round, all with a menu of creative concoctions and opulent options that are gluten free and vegan.

Veg.Edible Vegan and Gluten-Free Catering Chef/owner Stacie Vancleave is no stranger to the pitfalls of dining with food allergies. The dairy-wary food artisan grew so tired of working for restaurants that belittled diners for their food sensitivities that she decided to begin a business of her own. While one bite might suggest that flawless flavor is Veg.Edible’s No. 1 priority, it falls far behind Vancleave’s passion for transparency and food safety. Be sure to follow us on Instagram (@readeromaha), where we will be highlighting gluten-free options in Omaha through November.


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F I L M

Thanks to You, 2022

Even Cinematic Gratitude Is Hard This Year O by Ryan Syrek

nce calMarch, within endars months of our w e r e leader, John made of pebHeaston, fightbles, but we ing cancer. Just carry these as he has made recent years our community like boulders. better, stronWe bear their ger over these weight in unpast decades, seen backpacks he has chalthat slump lenged me to shoulders and grow as a critbreak backs. ic, writer, and Their heft decitizen. “Thank mands the you” feels like work of every Hallmark inademuscle, inquacy. Just havcluding our ing a space to tongues. We’re think on paper, too heavy to a reason to do say, “Thank so each week, you.” We’re too has fundamenPlease read this sincere Thanksgiving meditation about movies with the manic afraid of what’s tally shaped energy of Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler.” I am grateful but also feel Jakey next to show me. Soon, the G-level bonkers. IMAGE: A still from “Nightcrawler” distributed by Open Road Films reverence to scales will tip, what (or who) and I will have has passed. worked for The plain how many times cinema agenda as liberating agency to We’re too tired to count bless- has pulled me back. How often be and love whoever we want. Reader for a longer portion of my ings. We’re too busy screaming my anxiety quieted when the life than I didn’t. I didn’t get an This year, I am so grateful to because there’s too much to be theater lights dimmed. How anemerald for my 20th anniversary, every local theater still open and loud about. alyzing plot contrivances does to those that shut their doors. just the first award nominations and first win for my criticism. Gratitude, however quiet, is more than just distract. Many married couples had their They mean so embarrassingly, always, always, always worth the This year, I am so grateful for first date at the Alamo Draftimpossibly much to me. work. “Everything Everywhere All at house Midtown. Somebody in These things don’t make Once.” At a time when the very town went with the family to see Don’t laugh. concept of finding a “purpose” something at the Westwood Cin- the year any lighter. They don’t I am so thankful for movies. in life feels more cruel than quix- ema 8, and it was the first time make the dark any brighter. They The silent focus they demand is otic, along came a movie that they laughed together in years. don’t make the future any clearthe only meditation that I have turned nihilism into a bear hug. Long after those bricks and mor- er. But they will be what I keep. mastered. They are scheduled Containing literal multitudes, tars are home to another restau- They will be what I choose to zip solitude, compartmentalized the film demands we appreciate rant or store, those memories up and protect in that invisible escapism. They are so necessary backpack. They will be treasured immediacy; that we celebrate will be carried. to my sanity that I found a way long after the weight lifts. stupid, fleeting, silly love; that This year, I am so grateful for to require myself to see at least we see the absence of divine The Reader. More now than ever. one weekly. This isn’t a job, it’s Our relationship turned 20 in a self-treatment plan. I can’t ex-

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NOVEMBER 2022


F I L M

You Down With R-O-P? Yeah, It’s No HotD ‘Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power’ vs. ‘House of the Dragon’

R

by Ryan Syrek

tale creatures should be anything other than white skinned. If you’d like an Aryan character color palate, HotD stands at the ready.

elax. Here there be no spoilers: Unless you were unaware that George R.R. Martin loves incest more than he hates deadlines. When deciding whether to watch Amazon Prime’s “Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power” (ROP) or HBO’s “House of the Dragon” (HotD), simply ask whether or not you get ancestry. com and Tinder confused.

Let’s do this right and proper and quickly review both, starting with the age-old adage “worst first.” HotD is set almost 200 years before the events of “Game of Thrones,” a show that ended so poorly that it is ROP is a graceful, now rated TV-PTSD. majestic symphony of grand fantasy themes Pitting two shows against each other simply because they’re both loosely Ostensibly a look in the same genre and premiered at the same time is stupid. Let’s do it! at battles over the that finally pushes toIMAGE: A still from Amazon’s “Rings of Power” and HBO’s “House of the Dragon” Iron Throne during ward at least minimal the rule of the Tarbasic diversity and isode so dark that it was no lon- then by Emma D’Arcy), copugaryens, it so rarely inclusivity in its cast. lates with his brother, Daemon features dragons. They are the HotD is about banging folks who ger visible on purpose.” (Matt Smith). As a “Doctor Who” coolest, and they get Dame have most of your DNA. ROP They’re basically the same fan, I’ve seen Smith work harder Judi Dench in “Shakespeare in prompts conversations about show! and do more acting opposite a Love”-level screen time. The the intended and unintended If you ask people why they severed robot head. show is mostly people talking evils of colonialism. like HotD, why they may prefer about babies, pouting, and Alternately, the knock against Someone in HotD mastur- it to ROP, you’re almost certainly whispering. Everyone is always bates out of a window. ROP has going to get some version of how ROP is that it is too similar to Pevery serious all the time, espeter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings,” present-day implications about they love the tension and the cially when they want to hump how ignoring smoldering, fas- politics. After all, what is watch- which is a hilarious complaint. children and extended family. Yes, the new live-action series cist evil allows it to ignite at any ing copious, explicit incest, if Although historical evidence moment. HotD filmed an uncle not the price we pay for enter- that adapts the works of JRR sleeping with his teenage niece tainment about fake kingdoms Tolkien is very similar to the de- of incest in royal families most set to flourishing romantic mu- at fake war? Others may say that finitive live-action adaptation of certainly exists, many things JRR Tolkien. The other criticisms that really happened are not sic. the acting in HotD is incredible, seem to arise from drooling pleasant to watch and hold no ROP has a “mystery box” which is sometimes true. Padreprobates who pause Joe Ro- significant value. Were HotD the component about the secret dy Considine does a fabo job gen just long enough to bang show that others claim it to be, identity of one of its characters. as King Viserys Targaryen, who out a screed on why Galadriel with Machiavellian scheming, HotD had to put out a press re- rules over an empire at unrest (Morfydd Clark) shouldn’t be enthralling betrayals, and omilease saying, “We made the ep- while his daughter, Rhaenyra doing cool fight moves because nous prophecies, it may actually (played first by Milly Alcock and she’s a lady elf or that no fairy rival ROP. All of that comprises

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F I L M a minimal amount of running time, with the vast majority devoted to nonsense that vacillates between boring and grotesque. Smith has had a few redeeming moments, the dragons get a pass, one battle was fairly cool, and everything else is evidence why prequels are doody. ROP is set like 5,000 years before Bilbo got his “Hobbit” on and explores the resurfacing of Sauron after his initial defeat. Galadriel is the only elf who seems sus about what the pointy-headed evildoer is doing. Meanwhile, dwarves have found a new metal substance, humans are being attacked by Orcs, Harfoots (hobbit ancestors) have discovered a mysterious stranger during their migration, and the birth of Mordor is shown. Without that, Sean Bean wouldn’t talk about walking into Mordor, and we’d have so many fewer memes. The show juggles a huge cast but features episodes that feel like mini movies. They are bright and visually stunning, with the kind of flawless CGI you can get only with Bezos money. The characters pop, growing and changing over the course of the season, with some evolving out of being calloused, narcissistic jerks and others inching closer to their full Goddess form (Cate Blanchett). Intraspecies and interspecies politics are in play, wartime demands are discussed, and yet nobody diddles a cousin. ROP is comfort food. HotD is whiskey and milk. ROP is inspirational. HotD is exhausting. ROP is among the best shows of the year. HotD exists to fill a void everyone should leave empty. Also, I’ll learn to roll every “R” in a Tolkien name before I ever bother to distinguish between 12 humans named something Egon.

Grades: ROP = A HotD = A chilly D38

CUTTING ROOM by Ryan Syrek

Van Gogh’s legacy goes beyond creating targets for tomato soup. A conversation at Film Streams will tackle his cultural and historical impact, hopefully answering the question: “What else would be on dorm room walls were it not for him?” IMAGE: Studio Canal

A theater that featured a big display of the Iron Giant was always going to break our hearts, right? Silence your phones and pour one out for Alamo Drafthouse Midtown. Without much warning, the location showed its final flick on Oct. 10, citing lingering fallout from that whole pesky pandemic thing. It opened in 2019, a blissful time when the CDC recommended routinely French kissing strangers. At least, that feels like how life was back then. Alamo Drafthouse La Vista is still powering ahead, almost certainly with whatever the movie theater equivalent of phantom limb syndrome is. At least there’s still one place in town to see films where unruly patrons are openly mocked and threatened, as the Lumière always intended.

The death of its twin won’t stop Alamo Drafthouse La Vista from celebrating “Magic Hour.” No, that’s not a special hour set aside for you to French kiss strangers. I don’t know why you keep bringing that up. On Nov. 30, a happy hour (from 5:30-6:45) filled with promos and a prize raffle precedes a 7 p.m. screening of Teton Gravity Research’s “Magic Hour.” The ski documentary is billed as “a culmination of powerful moments

NOVEMBER 2022

in some of the most beautiful, wild places on the planet.” I can only assume they mean the luscious hills of Iowa. If you’re into nature and acknowledge and appreciate gravity, you’ll fall head over heels for this one. That counts as a science joke, so don’t judge me.

In mid-October, climate change activists threw tomato soup on a Van Gogh painting. I mean, it’s an oil painting, I guess? Hey, it got attention for something we should all care about, and “Sunflowers” now probably tastes as delicious as it looks. In less skunk-smell-removing news, Film Streams is collaborating with Alliance Francaise of Omaha for a screening of Maurice Pialat’s “Van Gogh.” The documentary was released in the halcyon days of 1991, when people hosted group parties where you could French kiss strangers. Note: I will not be making that joke in the next blurb. Following the screening on Nov. 9 at 6 p.m., Taylor J. Acosta, PhD (chief curator and Willis A. Strauss curator of European Art at Joslyn Art Museum) will discuss the historical and cultural footprint of the “Starry Night” navigator and how Pialat’s biopic functioned as a foil to various cliches that still follow the artist. Here’s hoping you are as touched as the “Vincent

and the Doctor” episode of “Doctor Who,” as I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

Sometimes I get to include important film stuff that requires no snark like, say, when there’s a screening of a film about Nazi atrocities at the Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE). Given the rabid antisemitism casually displayed recently by crazed musicians and politicians, it seems like a really good time to watch “Escape from Treblinka,” a film about Joseph Polonski’s harrowing journey from an extermination camp. The IHE says he eventually settled in Omaha, and two of Polonski’s children, who have been invited to speak, will attend the screening at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6. With the Holocaust falling out of living memory, it is incumbent upon us to remember, and events like this certainly help. See, no snark. 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.


C R O S S W O R D

Packet and Go

AnswerS in next month’s issue or online at TheReader.com

— it may ring a bell — by Matt Jones

Across

1

1. “___ Good Men” (1992 film)

13

5. “Schitt’s Creek” Emmy winner Catherine

16

2

3

4

5

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15. Author Lebowitz

35

36

16. Protection from flying pucks

38

18. Mystical presence

43

25

26

39

41

46 49

50

51

49. Part of MSG 53

56

58

59

60

61

62

63

Down 1. Mo. with no major holidays

56. Everywhere (or what Grover tried to teach by running a lot)

2. “Who’s it ___?”

58. A single time

3. “Ozark” actor Morales

43. 2000 U.S. Open champion Marat

59. “The Crucible” setting

4. Actor Eli of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

44. Funny twosome?

60. Having nothing to do

5. Do-___ (second chances)

61. Feathery garb

6. Third follower, at times

62. Clear the DVR

47. “___ Macabre” (Stephen King book) 48. Good-but-not-great sporting effort

52

54 57

7. Barely at all 8. Breathing, to an M.D. 9. “Argo” actor Alan 10. Long hauler’s itinerary 11. Mayor ___ (“My Little Pony” character, fittingly) 12. TV chef Garten 15. Co-star of Kate and Jaclyn 17. “American ___” (Green Day album) 20. Big name in the Old West

41. It started on September 8th, 2022 for King Charles III 42. Travel company that owns Vrbo

42

55

55. Optimistic

31

48

49. They may write independently about the press

46. No longer working (abbr.)

30

45

47

35. Beavers’ sch.

45. Boardroom bigwigs

40. ___ Raymi (Incainspired festival in South America)

29

40

63. Poses questions

38. Risk taker’s worry about a big decision, maybe

39. T-shirt design Ben & Jerry’s sold in the 1990s

37

48. Marcel Marceau character

37. “Weird Al” Yankovic cult movie

28

33. #1 bud 34. Pester

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32. Actor’s hard-copy headshot, typically

36. Comedian Borg of “Pitch Perfect 2”

27

44

19. Historic Joan Crawford title role

12

22

32

24

11

20 21

21. “___ for Alibi” (Grafton novel)

10 15

19

14. Mail-in ballot submitter

29. Gets on one’s hind legs, with “up”

9

18

23

26. Used to be

8

17

13. “Major” sky attraction

23. “Uh-oh, better get ...” company

7

14

10. “Way more than necessary”

22. British informant

6

50. With “The,” Hulu series set in a Chicago restaurant 51. “___ Land” (Emma Stone movie) 52. Alloy sources

23. “Let me in” sounds, perhaps

53. Farm country mailing addresses, for short 54. Bacteriologist Jonas

24. Tyler of “Archer”

55. Take inventory?

25. Fruit drink at a taqueria

57. Notes to follow do © 2022 Matt Jones

26. Chef Dufresne behind influential restaurant WD-50 27. Take ___ for the better 28. 1990-92 French Open winner 30. Body of morals 31. Slang for futures commodities like sugar and grains

November 2022

AnsweR to last month’s “FREEFALL” T I L T

O M O O

B Y I T S

R E O M I T

F A T H P A

F U D O G A G I N A C H N E S A S E C U T E E L A R E N S T U C A N T P E R I A D I T E S J E N O S O A V O R A B E N E W L R S L E Y

S L E R Y F R S M O N A P I O D E P S O A I N B T U N A L M A J Y S O T R S H Y L E R E Y W E D S E S

D I S C B E F E L L

G E T S A R A I S E

E D N D E R F I R S T S

K O S H Y

S H E V I E W G A M E A M E S

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C O M I C S Garry Trudeau

JeffREY Koterba

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Jen Sorensen

November 2022


O V E R

T H E

E D G E

Catching Up with Saddle Creek Records A Look at Recent Releases From Our Hometown Record Label

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o before I begin talking about Saddle Creek Records’ latest releases, here’s a little background on your hometown record label, an outfit I’ve written about since it was founded 29 years ago. The label’s original “crown jewels” were Omaha bands Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Faint. After gaining national (global?) attention in the early aughts, all three bands left the label (though The Faint wandered back for their last formal release, “Egowerk” in 2019). Other notable bands that released albums on Saddle Creek include Desaparecidos, The Good Life, Spoon, The Thermals, Rilo Kiley, Azure Ray and Eric Bachmann. In recent years, Saddle Creek quietly continued to stoke a reputation for breaking young, important indie artists. It signed one of today’s most lauded indie acts — Big Thief — only to see them jump ship for a larger label. Saddle Creek’s current biggest names are Indigo De Souza (729,000 Spotify monthly listeners), Hand Habits (429,000 monthly listeners) and Tomberlin (386,000 listeners). None is from Omaha. Though the label still has an office in the Slowdown complex downtown, Saddle Creek seems to be doing most — if not all — its A&R work from its Los Angeles office. The last local release on Saddle Creek was last year’s “Culxr House: Freedom Summer” collection featuring hip-hop innovators Marcey Yates and XOBIO. So far in 2022, Saddle Creek has released seven LPs and nine singles or EPs. Among them: Palm, “Nicks and Grazes” — Signed to the label this past

by Tim McMahan

July, Palm is a Philadelphiabased fourpiece that’s been together for a decade. Their last LP was released in 2018 on boutique label Carpark Records. Their rep is for playing inventive art-rock, and they live up to it here. The first single, “Feathers,” opens to the din of hammer on sheet metal before breaking into a bouncing celebration of throbbing bass and guitarist Eve Alpert singing “I don’t wanna be a passenger / I don’t wanna see you calendar / Ima make it up as I go.” An invitation or a warning? For every modern, progressive rock song there’s a dissonant noise collage, like “Suffer Dragon,” which will have you lurching for the “forward” button after 20 seconds. Hold on. It can be a rough ride, and for some, worth it. Pitchfork, the bible of indie music taste-makers, graced the album with an 8.0 rating out of 10, calling it “a totalizing vision for the band as an artistic unit, one that organically builds on everything they’ve done so far.” Saddle Creek’s next big hope? Young Jesus, “Shepherd Head” — Also cast as an exper iment al outfit, the Los Angeles act that signed to Saddle Creek in 2017 has since dissolved to only its founding member, John Rossiter, on this eight-song collection of sonic meditations, some you can dance to. Rossiter’s

angel coo falls somewhere between Anohni and Bon Iver on the album highlight, “Ocean,” which features guest vocals by Tomberlin. There’s nothing experimental here at all, and it’s better for it. Disq, “Desperately Imagining Someplace Quiet” — Signed to Saddle Creek in early 2019, the Wisconsin fivepiece is a throwback to the indie rock the label was known for in the early aughts. On this sophomore effort, bassist Raina Bock shoulders forward as a sort of co-leader, thanks to quirky tracks like bouncy “Cujo Kiddies” that recall Wet Leg. Isaac DeBroux-Slone, meanwhile, continues to churn out steady rockers (“Meant to Be”) that remind me of Teenage Fanclub. Steady as she goes. Tomberlin, “I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This…” — Sarah Beth Tomberlin joined the Creek team in the summer of 2018 and fits nicely among the current wave of critically acclaimed singer/ songwriters that includes Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, and label mates De Souza, Adrianne Lenker and Meg Duffy (Hand Habits), who continue to dominate indie music. On her sophomore LP, Tomberlin fills out her sound despite arrangements as timid as her breathy, lonely voice, singing lyrics as personal as diary entries.

Pendant, “Harp” — Pendant, a.k.a. West Coast producer/ songwriter Chris Adams, joined the Creek team in June 2021 and may be its oddest recent signing. Adams started in hardcore and noise-punk but switched to electronic/shoegaze pop that sort of recalls Madchester days … sort of. Shalom, 7-inch singles — Shalom could be the label’s next big thing. Born in Maryland, raised in South Africa, living in Brooklyn, she’s released two singles since joining Saddle Creek this year, each with a B-side cover (by Glass Animals and Hovvdy). The gold is in the originals, “DTAP” and “Agnes, bass-driven heartbreakers created in partnership with Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth, whose “Quarter-Life Crisis” album was released by Saddle Creek in 2020. Can’t wait for the full-length. It’s an impressive list, and I didn’t even touch on the Desaparecedos and Neva Dinova reissues. As Saddle Creek heads toward its 30th year, the label continues to be a trendsetter in a business in which trendsetting is the only way to survive.

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 tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

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