STINSON PARK – OMAHA, NE On August 14 to 17, 2019

An American singer, rapper Lizzo performs at during Maha Festival at Stinson Park - Aksarben Village in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday, August 17, 2019. Photo by Dean Birkheimer.

BY DEAN BIRKHEIMER | Go Venue Magazine

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” ― Billy Joel

Whoa, wait a second. 10,000 maniacs headlined Maha? Yep sure did, but not the band. If you were at Maha, then you were one of the 10,000 who helped make this the finest Maha ever.  As far as I’m concerned, this two-day gathering was headlined by all of you maniacs who attended.

If the entire affair would have just been Friday’s line-up you would have went home fully satisfied with the show you had seen. The winner of the 2018 Omaha Arts & Entertainment “Best DJ”, Erin McMorrow, aka Sharkweek, kicked things off with a bang.  She spins like no other and has no equal.  Hip-hop, dubstep as well as high energy techno. You need somebody to warm up a crowd and get them in the mood, look no farther than Sharkweek.  What was great about this festival was the diversity of sound. We had everything from punk to acoustic, soft to loud, head-banging to swaying.  A great of example of this was Esentia Latina Band.  A well-polished band whose Latin style had us all wishing we could salsa.  A three-piece indie rock back took the stage next. Snail Mail is fronted by Lindsey Jordan. Her voice can be whisper quiet or Joan Jett loud. This band set the tone for what was to come for the rest of evening.  My main reason for wanting to cover this festival, besides the fact that it’s freakin’ Maha, was because of the next act. Courtney Barnett from Melbourne Australia is simply put.  A rocker.  I love her sing/talk style. I love the fact that she spits her words out, and I love the way she can make a guitar sound.  Her final song, Pedestrian at Best was the song of the night.  The closer of the Friday line-up was Jenny Lewis. She is a super-talented performer and my God, when she came up from behind the keyboard in that glistening evening gown, we all felt under-dressed.  I almost left to go rent a tux.  The audience worshipped her, and I think she was able to feel the love from the crowd. 


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Before we go into Saturday, just a few words in general about the festival. It wasn’t just about music. It was about art, entertainment, technology and family.  There was so much to do. You could ride the Ferris wheel, play guitar, ride skateboards, see a comedy show and of course shop. So many vendors selling their wares.  Everything you can imagine could have been bought at Maha. It was so very well organized from entrance to exit; the flow of people was controlled and not chaotic like Dodge St at 7:30 a.m.  You didn’t need cash to purchase anything. You simply just added funds via a website to a chip that you wore on your wrist. When you wanted something, all you did was swipe your chip and you were on your way.  A super well done to all who helped make Maha 2019 the incredible show it was.

Ok now on to Saturday.  Domestic Blend and their soulful sound started things off in the right way. They are as comfortable playing the blues as they are hip-hop.  A remarkably diverse band who can handle any genre of music. Oh yeah, they are local, so catch one of their shows as soon as you can.  Do you like the B-52’s. Remember back in the 80s how Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson used to never stop dancing while on stage? Well, that’s what Mari Matz of Muscle Cousins gives you. She is quite the pistol, as my mom used to say. They are as quick as lightning and as frantic as a disturbed ant bed.  I couldn’t get enough of them. They kept me smiling through-out their entire set.  Another catch em’ soon as you can band. Omaha Girls Rock were next. This is an organization that empowers young women through music education. They are dedicated to change and teach leadership and communication skills.  On this night, two Omaha Girls Rock bands took the stage and played a song that each had learned only 24 hours earlier. They were honestly inspiring. You Go Girl!!  There was time back in the early 90’s when I would listen to Julianna Hatfield, Throwing Muses and bands/artists like that.  Sadgirl music it was called. Next up was Beach Bunny.  This band brought back memories of Tanya Donnelly and that style of music.  They are a three-piece band from Chicago and really excel at the power-pop sound. From Virginia Beach, Matt Maeson hit the stage. This guy has quite the following. A singer of songs as well as damn fine blues guitarist. His set was perfection. Perfect sound, perfect pace and perfect showmanship. And now for something completely different.  Duckwrth (nope I didn’t misspell it).  Funk, Rap, Hip-Hop….and oh yeah….ROCK!! “Start a Riot” could be heard miles away as the entire crowd was screaming the lyrics at him. Duckwrth bounces from one end of the stage to the other, engaging everybody and continuously chatting with the crowd and initiating call-backs.  He is a superb entertainer who knows how to amp people up.  Oh Sees from San Francisco are a punk band, but to just say that’s all they are does not do them justice.  These guys will sweat for their audience and demand that you sweat back at them.  Incredible energy that never ceased. A mosh pit quickly formed and for all I know it may still be going on. They were the surprise band of the night for me. Matt & Kim are from Brooklyn, and they don’t mind showing off their Brooklyn attitude/style. They present a hard driving, beat driven musical style that can be felt down to your bones. Their music is infectious, and the pounding is endless.  Balloons, confetti, unicorns, blow up dolls and commands to the crowd ensure that you are always are part of the show.  During one song, Kim climbed atop her bass drum and took a tumble. Word is, another ACL tear. Something she did back in 2017 in Mexico. Hopefully it’s not that serious and they can continue touring as they seem to get such a kick out of it. O.K. so by now there isn’t a blade of grass visible. The sold-out Saturday crowd has taken over Stinson Park and they are all chanting for Lizzo.  When Lizzo hits the stage, the sound is deafening. It was amazing how loud the crowd became. When Lizzo finished her first song, all she could do was stare out into the screaming and appreciative crowd. I honestly believe Lizzo was touched emotionally by the Maha patrons.  She went on to give a performance for the ages. She and her “Big Girls” danced and sang until there was simply nothing left of us.  Her vocal range is stunning and damn near unbelievable. Like a line from an old Jackson Browne song. “That girl could sing”.  When it was over, it was truly over. There was nothing left undone. Maha 2019 was a HUGE success. It’s gonna be tuff in 2020 to outdo 2019’s festival, but I’m sure the people at Maha will make it happen. Maybe next year we can get 15,000 maniacs.


(Please click any photos to enlarge)

All images © Dean Birkheimer
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