Another year, another Maha Music Festival.
With more than 4,300 in attendance, it was the festival's biggest year ever — bigger than their previous high in 2010 and about one third bigger than 2011.
Put in perspective, that's a small crowd compared to many other festivals and plenty of one-off shows. But it was still a big day and shows what a small group of people armed with the desire to do something cool — and a load of volunteers — can pull off.
The bands played well, the venue was wonderful and everything went off without a hitch. With the small exception of some rain, even the weather was gorgeous.
I'm looking forward to when they can expand: More bands, more stages and perhaps more days. After a great day last week, I think the festival has definitely found its footing and the time for multiple days is in the future. The question is “When?”
Best of the Fest
Icky Blossoms — This Omaha band, which put out its debut on Saddle Creek Records, turned an audience who were probably going to wait contentedly for Garbage into a crowd of people smashed to the front of the stage in a half mosh pit, half dance party.
Desaparecidos — The new songs the band played — “Left is Right,” “Backsell” and “MariKKKopa” — were great and fit in well with the band's decade-old material. Bonus points to the group for playing The Clash's “Spanish Bombs,” a cool pick that fit in with their set. The band played incredibly well, though the intensity I saw at their last two Omaha shows wasn't quite there. Minus drummer Matt Baum, who I thought was going to tear his drum kit apart, the band didn't quite have the snarl or intensity that I've seen before. Don't get me wrong: They were great. I just expected a bit more energy for a hometown show, which was one of their only concerts in the last decade.
Garbage — They still have it, especially intensity. The band played well and brought in a lot of older fans who were obviously there for the band. In fact, many of them left as soon as Garbage was done, which I don't really understand. You paid for a ticket, so why don't you stick around for the headliner?
Stage — Maha upgraded its production to a major level. Instead of using Stinson Park's built-in stage as the main stage and hosting the local bands on a smaller setup, they went all-out and the main stage was a huge, professional stage with an excellent sound system rivaling stuff you'd see at any major festival. It made a big difference and made the festival look and sound fantastic, especially in the eyes of the performers and sound people — or so I imagine. The park's stage is not meant for the professional setup of touring bands.
The bigger main stage also allowed the locals to play on the park's stage, which is larger than what they've gotten in past years.
Dum Dum Girls and Delta Spirit — Both bands were right in the middle of the festival's lineup, meaning they weren't the main draw (that's the headliners), and they also have the tough job of holding down the middle of the festival. Both played incredibly well and, I think, won over a lot of new fans. I think both groups were a smart booking.
Could use some work
I have a couple of complaints, but honestly, they aren't anything major. In fact, they're kind of silly but still worth mentioning.
Food lines — I'm sure the food at Maha was great — it sure smelled good — but I didn't eat any. Every time I tried to get a slice of pizza — or anything, really — the lines were very, very long. I could have waited, but I honestly didn't want to miss any of the music. Were they bad for anyone else?
Rain — The rain was annoying and sent some running under tents a few times. Honestly, it was more pesky than anything (and nothing festival organizers could control), but Maha would have been better without it. At least it didn't force anyone or anything to cancel.
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So, what was Conor Oberst's deal with Garbage? At the end of Desaparecidos' set, Oberst kept making jokes about how “Garbage is up next” and “They're a real treat.” It sounded incredibly sarcastic, but I don't know why he was saying it. To me, it just sounded like he was screwing around.
Garbage did take their time clearing the stage and Desaparecidos seemed a bit rushed trying to set up and check monitor levels, but I didn't witness any behavior that seemed way out of line.
One rumor I heard is that Garbage broke something or messed up something on the stage, but I was told by people involved with the festival that was not the case. If you heard some differences in the sound between the last two bands, it's because Garbage ran its own lines and used its own sound engineer and board. That means Desa ran off a different board with a different engineer, so both bands would sound slightly different if you were paying close attention.