After seven and a half to eight and a half hours on the road1 I arrived in Omaha at
the home of my friends Scott and Michael. We had plans to meet the only other two
friends I have in Omaha, Travis and Linda.
Each of these friends is a great and interesting and vital person. But let’s focus on
Travis for a moment.
Travis is a native of Tecumseh, OK. He moved to Omaha to attend Creighton
He’s been in a lot of bands through the years. Most of them may be unfamiliar to
you, but that’s because you don’t live in Omaha2. Some of his credits include Dark
Town House Band, the Black Squirrels, All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, the
Whipkey 3, and lately the Electroliners. Great bands, all.
I first learned of Travis when I moved to Tecumseh in the early nineties. He
graduated the year before leaving the high school band with slots in the saxophone
line and at bass guitar, gaps I attempted to fill. I quickly learned that no matter how
well I performed I’d remain firmly in his shadow.
I got to hang out with Travis when he would visit home for holidays and school
breaks. It turned out he wasn’t just good at playing music, he was also this energetic
and patient3 and cool and genuinely great guy.
Last year around this time my band went on a mini-tour. Travis helped us out by
getting us on a bill with his (award-winning!) trio All Young Girls Are Machine
Guns. We were sandwiched between them and another local act. Putting the pretty-
unknown touring act in the middle is apparently a common preventative measure, I
Driving to the gig Travis said, “I hope you guys don’t get Omaha’d.”
Omaha’d: v. when a little-known touring band plays with a local band that
draws fans, all of whom leave when the touring band takes the stage
All Young Girls Are Machine Guns played to a meager crowd, but my band played
to a crowd of ten (half of whom were All Young Girls Are Machine Guns and their
Color me Omaha’d.
I was disheartened. There were few in the room where we played but the bar out
front was pretty full. Why wouldn’t they come in?
After cutting our set in half I walked outside to smoke a cigarette, angry. On my way
back in I saw that the television sets above the bar where the patrons had had their
eyes glued were a closed-circuit feed of the stage where we had played.
This crowd of bug eaters had sat fifteen feet away watching us on television rather
than sitting in front us.
The next day Travis sent me a very kind and encouraging message. He pointed out
that a lot of good bands don’t get audiences sometimes. I got from him that I need to
play to the crowd that shows up rather than playing with resentment for the crowd
On this trip I have no performances booked in Omaha, nor any other city. But
I’m making it a point to take a look at some of the places I’ve played in the past,
retracing my steps as I said in “Part 1”.
Wednesday night my friends and I went out in the Benson neighborhood4. We were
right around the corner from the Barley Street Tavern, the venue where my band
was Omaha’d last September.
I took a break from my friends for a smoke and walked down to look at the place.
It was the same.
Same wood paneling. Same bartender. Same televisions. Same mixture of beardy
hipsters and haggard townies.
But it was different.
I stood across the street and looked at the bar. What appeared was a palimpsest.
There, fading through my view of this old bar, was this: My two-piece band is now a
Last year I had company when I went to Omaha. This year I came alone.
I can play as well as I did before, and now I can sell these sad songs possibly better
than I did. But it will always be different.
The venues I played before will always have that shadow in them.
I’ll play the songs in the venues and I’ll wonder if anybody recognizes the subtext.
They probably won’t know the details, but they’ll know something about it is real
and present to me, right?
They’ll know that my performance isn’t an act, but a way of displaying my past?
But if they show up I’ll play to them anyway.
And somebody’s going to feel it, whether that somebody is in the audience or on the
1 While on the road I obsess with the time I’m making. When I arrive at my destination, it is forgotten entirely. Ditto gas mileage.↩
2 I am not an expert on Omaha. This was my second visit. I find the place delightful and confounding.
What I notice about Omaha is that it is nothing like what you expect. Except for when it is exactly what you expect.
Here you may eat surprising and innovative cuisine and drink excellent locally handcrafted beer before listening to several hyper-talented local bands for a very low cover charge. Then on your walk home you may, as I did, pass a 20-year-old hesher in Tap-Out shorts, black high-tops, and no shirt polishing his bowstaff skills with an old broom handle.
A little something for everybody!↩
3 The first song I ever wrote, I co-wrote with him. Which is to say that he came up with a pretty good chord progression and I awkwardly sang one of my terrible poems over it. See? Patient!↩
4 If you visit Omaha, make sure to go to Benson. Do. Not. Miss. Krug Park and Lot2.↩