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Rahulapalooza Omaha : Darden Smith

Prologue

Living in Omaha, which is supposed to have a pretty strong underground music scene, has been musically disappointing. Either the scene is really quite far underground, or Omahans feel about their music the same way they feel about their food.

“Omaha has great restaurants! Omaha has more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the country!”

Quantity, my friends, does not equal quality. McDonald’s, Applebees, Chili’s, Village Inn… ugh. The exception, rather than the rule, is that Omaha has great restaurants. The good one’s are really quite good, and I’ll do a post of our favorite restaurants in the area at some point—probably some night when I come back frustrated from trying a new restaurant.

I feel the same way about the music. Again, maybe I just haven’t found it yet. Saddle Creek records is here, and they’ve got about a dozen artists/bands signed to their label—but it seems once you get signed you stop doing shows in Omaha and start playing elsewhere. Although listening to the sample tracks from their artists on their website, most of it isn’t my style anyway. Too much yelling. Ma, get me my cane!

This live music problem is compounded by the fact that musicians who I like very rarely pass through Omaha. Well, they may pass through, but they certainly don’t stop. There’s only been one show I’ve wanted to see since we’ve been here (and we’ve been here for a year and half now!), and unfortunately, I missed it.

So, I’ve taken it upon myself to bring good music to Omaha.

Arist the first: Darden Smith

Thursday night, a show that at times I thought was never going to happen, actually happened. I lost a chunk of change on the deal, was slightly embarassed at times, and quite frustrated at others, but when all was said and done (as it is now), I’m very glad the show came together.

Jeff and I used to throw house concerts in CA, but Jeff did most of the leg work. Jeff booked the act, paid for everything artist-related, communicated with all third parties. I MC’d and provided food and drink. He undoubtedly had the harder job.

Non-specific riders, over-specific, unreasonable riders, crappy microphones, double-booked performance spaces, poor communication, apathetic community…

A learning experience—but not one so painful that I don’t want to do it again.

As I was saying, this past Thursday night Darden Smith did a one hour set at the Reading Grounds in Omaha, NE. Matt Mason and Sarah McKinstry-Brown opened the show with thirty minutes of their fantastic, moving and thought-provoking poetry.

We had about 40 people in the audience–a far cry from the 60 I was hoping for, but better than the 20 or so it looked like we were going to have. A failing on my part was a lack of intensive marketing to get the word out. I think. It’s hard to tell, actually. I don’t know Omaha–I don’t know how knowledgable Omahans are about music. I think I’ll learn as I get a few more of these under my belt.

Large crowd or not, opening the show Darden remarked that the last time he did a show in Omaha it was with Chris Whitley and for an audience of 7. So in his book, this was a huge accomplishment. Darden is a very engaging performer. He elicits dialogue with the audience and seems to shape his show based on this dialogue. I love when an artist can make the audience feel as if this performance is a special performance for the performer. There’s a magic to music already, but for the magic to be a special kind of magic that you the audience member are a part of at this place and at this time, I think can make the magic longer-lasting, more memorable… more real. I think Darden is a sorcerer of this sort.

The set was seemed split about 50-50 between Sunflower (my favorite of his albums) and Field of Crows, his newest album.

A song I hadn’t heard before (and of which I wish I could find a recording), “Broken Branches”, was one of my favorites of the night. During his inter-song patter (another art he’s good at–and admittedly enjoys) he described the inspiration for the song. Stopped at a traffic light with his 3-year-old(?) in the back seat, his car was approached by stoplight a panhandler. As he described it, the panhandler broke the boundries of “polite” pan-handling and stretched his face nearly into the car. The man was dirty, threatening, fetid. Somewhat nervous about having this person near the car with his child in the back seat, Darden, uncertain as to what to say or do, heard brighly from the back seat his son call out “HI!” In that moment Darden noticed the homeless man’s face briefly change, revert back to a child-like state. It was reminder to him that this man is man, was part of a family, felt and feels the way the rest of us do.

In “Broken Branches” he sings of a pair of homeless people he sees on a street corner, mournfully referring to them as “broken branches from a family tree”. (I may be misquoting, it could be (broken branches from the family tree”.) A beautiful song.

To close out the night (and to sell more CDs, undoubtedly–shrewd this one), Darden unplugged the guitar, stepped away from the mic and did a fully acoustic version of the title track from “Field of Crows”. Came back and did a couple more songs as an encore…

The show turned out very nicely.

After the show Darden and I went to the bar next door and had a few drinks. Very interesting man… very happy man. It’s nice to meet artists content in their work. He’s been doing this for 20+ years now and has found a way to have fun with his work day after day. We talked about being artists, about politics, about Omaha, about the music industry… It was nice to spend a couple of hours with him; I hope to again.

His sense is that all Omaha needs is someone (like me, perhaps) to take some initiative and invite musicians to come out and do shows… Build a little momentum and word will spread. His opinion is that Omaha is located in a great place because just about anywhere you’re goin’ in the midwest you’re gonna pass through Omaha. If artists can do a show while en route to another it’ll be a great situation for everyone.

Hopefully by the time we leave Omaha we’ll turn Omaha into a destination for musicians instead of a way station.

Blitz!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sarah and I are busy. BUSY BUSY BUSY!

She’s studying everyday at least until 8 and I’m working on my startup just as much so sometimes it’s hard to get non-work/non-school stuff done.

After time, the messiness catches up with us and starts to grate… not just the messiness, but little home projects we’ve wanted to do (like putting curtains up in my office). I mean, we’re in our late 20s–it’s time to stop living like undergrads for crying out loud!

So we’ve instituted a daily “blitz”. We agree on a 20 minute chunk of the day, pick a project we want to work on, and then (using a timer) spend 20 minutes working specifically on that project.

So far I’ve unpacked my suitcase from Thanksgiving, taken it down to our storage room and put up my office curtains. Sarah has also unpacked her suitcase, straightened up our bedroom and helped me with my office curtains. We haven’t been doing it long, but we really enjoy doing it.

It’s working better for us than to say something like “Saturday morning is for housework”. Mostly cause we always find something more fun or pressing to do. We feel very accomplished and we haven’t taken much time away from the pursuit of our bigger goals which really do require a great deal of focus right now.

Hopefully it’ll allow us to get some of the more time-consuming projects done, too. Instead of filling a free block of time with 5 or 6 mini-chores, we can get one big one done.

We’re finding ways to structure our time such that we can accomplish our big-picture goals, spend time with each other, eat well, and still have fun. It’s an interesting way of life. Structure isn’t all that bad. I feel like I’m starting to use “type-A” personality tools, while still maintaining a lot of the type-b traits which make me me.

Anyway, if there’s some chore that’s been nagging at you, take 20 minutes right now and get it done. It probably won’t take much longer than that.

Big Brother (in the good way)

Well, after a thorough background check, an hour-long personal in-home interview, and 4 character reference interviews, I’ve finally been matched up with a little brother through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

If you’re looking for a cause to support, and particularly if you’re male, I’d suggest looking into this. Even if I didn’t feel that way before meeting my little brother, I certainly would after our first meeting together. The first time you meet your little sib, it’s with the sib, the parent(s), and a facilitator from BBBS. Once all the ground rules have been laid out and the introductions have been made, it’s suggested that you go out for a short visit–to get ice cream, or something. So we went to Ted & Wally’s (which I think I’ve mentioned before, but if not: Ted & Wally’s is quite likely the best ice cream in America.), where I got a scoop of Vanilla Malted and Chris got a scoop of Cotton Candy. We sat for about 1/2 an hour and talked and talked and talked.

About 3/4 of the way through, he said “Y’know I had to wait about a year for this.” (meaning being assigned a big brother). Sagely, I said, “That’s a long time.” He nodded and replied, “I think it was worth it.”

It was unbelievably sweet, and made me realize how even 1/2 an hour can make a difference in someone’s life.

In Omaha, Little Brothers are waiting between a year and a year and a half to be matched up with Big Brothers. I’m sure the rates are similar where you live. If you’ve got a a few hours every couple of weeks to spare, you should sign up. I think the demand for Big Sisters isn’t as high, but you’re still needed; so, women, you should sign up, too.

This week we’re going to get together and do something fun. Not sure what yet. Anyone know what 8-year-olds like to do?

Banned Books Week

Last week I had the privilege of participating in an ACLU sponsored event in support of the American Library Association‘s Banned Books Week. There is an active effort in this country to “protect” its citizens from works such as:

• I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
• Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
• To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
• A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
• The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
• Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
• Where’s Waldo by Martin Hanford

(selected from The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000)

Along with Judy Hart and her Angels Theatre Company I participated in two public readings of banned books. Amy Miller of the ACLU moderated the event which consisted of banned music, 10 readings by 4 actors (including me) and an audience discussion. I read Heather Has Two Mommies in its entirety and an excerpt from The Giver by Lois Lowry.

The Omaha reading was at the Reading Grounds, a new bookstore a few blocks from us where I’ll be hosting a Darden Smith concert in January. It’s a great bookstore—a liberal-thinking outfit which feels really out of place in Omaha. It would fit better in Berkeley than Omaha. But they say they’re makin’ it—of which I’m glad. It’s now my local coffee shop and bookstore. Won’t go anywhere else unless I’m looking for a programming or business book.

Both readings left me wanting slightly. It’s tough to be liberal sometimes. The discussions which accompanied the discussions would often become diverted by personal hang-ups:

“Well, the reason Harry Potter is banned is because of the war in Iraq. Bush is such an…”

or

“Well, I know people like that and they’ve got their gas guzzling SUVs….”.

Well, I’m exaggerating a bit for brevity’s sake, but still. What is wrong with us liberals?

Events like this often leave me feeling like I’ve done not much more than preach to the choir. Reflecting on it, though, a lot of the people who attended these events didn’t realize that there’s an on-going banned book list being maintained. Like me, they believed it was something which was done away with in the middle of the last century. So maybe I opened up some eyes.

Wait a minute. At the very least I opened up my own. And that’s something, isn’t it?

I learned things like:
To keep people from reading banned books, people will go to libraries, check them out, and never return them–opting to pay for the book rather than have them accessible to the public.
Children’s books like Heather Has Two Mommies will often be shelved with the adult books.
People still burn books.

Hm. I guess activism is kinda like church. You preach to a congregation (or just the choir of it) about the evils of the world and how to fight them. The congregation builds some momentum in a certain direction, and hopefully slight change slowly emanates from them as a body. It’s edifying—reminding you you’re not alone in your beliefs.

All in all, I’m glad I participated. I made some new friends, got out of the house for a bit, and got to do a little work in front of an audience.

Now: go to your local bookstore, buy a banned book, read it to your kid.

Buddies having Babies

I’ve said from time to time that the thing I miss most since moving to Omaha is the food. And it’s true, I do miss the variety and quality of food available in the bay area.

As it turns out, I miss something more than even that. I am missing my friends become parents. It’s kind of an abstract thing that I probably wouldn’t even notice happening if I were around, but not being around makes it evident.

I’ve been reflecting on these people (Jeff and Leah, Lisa and Eric, Fei and Wael, Ben and Teri, Matt and Julie, Joel and Laura, Rehan and Aliya, Evance and Angela… the list keeps growing!), these friends of mine. These are people with whom I’ve grown up in one way or another: middle school, high school, college, marriage… and we took these steps together. Helped each other just by being there, being something familiar, knowing each other–knowing the we that we were before we were forced into the next phase of life by Time.

These feelings were brought into my field of vision by Sophia, the impending Screaming Little Person of Jeff and Leah; They were brought into focus by the news of Lisa’s pregnancy and Fei’s second.

Such old friends, such new experiences.

I feel like I have more to say on this, but I’m having trouble getting the words out…

So to my baby-wielding (or soon-to-be-baby-wielding) friends: I miss you. I wish I was there with you. But more important than that, I’m happy and excited for you! Hooray!