Tag Archives: Brent Crampton

MILLENNIAL MYTH: We’re Job Hoppers

June 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I’m a millennial who’s held four different jobs over the past two years. 

This begs the question, “Am I a cliché?”

Gallup called millennials the “job-hopping generation” in a 2016 study. 

An April NBC news article said: “Right now, job-hopping is on the rise because of the good economy and millennials who’ve grown up suspecting that there’s no such thing as loyalty from employers anymore.” 

And a 2016 CNN Money article had the headline: “The new normal: 4 jobs changes by the time you’re 32.”

BTW, I’m 34.

Throughout my job-hopping years, I’ve been an event organizer for/owner of a nightclub, a marketing director for a hip startup, a journalist for a 103-year-old architecture firm, and now a sales manager for an eco-friendly sustainability company.

When I announced my most recent career switch on Facebook, I wrote, “Like a flakey millennial in continual pursuit of purpose, I’ve switched careers…again.” 

One friend resonated with my sentiment by commenting, “Nail on the head lol.” 

In my naive narrative of the generation that I’m a part of, I assumed that millennials do in fact quit their jobs more often than previous generations, and that we do it because we’re driven to find purpose and passion in our work. Which means I once believed the media headline hype, too. 

But in the midst of researching this column in an attempt to reverse engineer my assumptions, I discovered that the numbers say something different, and that I was projecting my own ego onto a whole generation. 

A number of studies do in fact show that millennials are job-hopping quite often. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2014 showed that the typical worker, aged 20-24 at the time, had been in their position for 16 months, as opposed to the five-and-a-half-year median tenure for those aged 25 and older. A widely referenced 2013 study from the consulting firm Millennial Branding said that 60 percent of millennials leave their companies within three years. 

While this all may be true, the problem is how we’re looking at the data. 

Consider this: In a FiveThirtyEight article from 2015, Ben Casselman wrote, “Numbers on job tenure for Americans in their 20s were almost exactly the same in the 1980s as they are today.” And, according to a 2017 Pew Research study, millennials are sticking with their jobs slightly longer than Gen Xers were in 2000. 

What’s the point? The flakiness of millennials is nothing new. It’s not that millennials quit their jobs more than other generations—young people do. 

And while job hopping is simply a symptom of being young and trying to find your place in the world, according to that same FiveThirtyEight article, it also has the benefit of driving up wages. Which is a great thing considering the wage stagnation that’s stemmed from the
Great Recession. 

In other words, as much as I want to think I’m part of a “special generation,” or as much as millennial stereotypes want to perpetuate the myth that my generation is disloyal and complacent, it turns out we have much more in common with Gen X and baby boomers than most might think. (But don’t tell them that.) 

Do you have thoughts, comments, or column ideas? Please share them with us at editor@omahapublications.com. 


This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Being Present for the Small Moments

April 2, 2018 by

My mom passed away three days before this past Christmas. My friend and former co-worker Justin Swanson passed two days before that. Between the two, I wound up saying farewell to Justin in the ICU before his non-responsive body was unplugged from life support and then later, in the emergency room, grasping for the last warmth in my mom’s newly deceased body.

It was an intense, stomach-twisting week.

But I’m not writing this to talk about death. I’m writing this to talk about the small moments that precede death. So let’s go back to May 2014.

We were hosting the closing party for Big Omaha at House of Loom. Among the frivolity of the full-capacity night was a sea of sweaty entrepreneurs, a random guy playing the accordion to house beats, and one of Twitter’s co-founders getting down on the dance floor. In the history books of that club, it was a legendary night.

I can’t remember why, but my brother was in town, so in a rarity, my mom, dad, and brother all wound up stopping by. As we edged out a spot just above the stairs in the upper lounge, a photographer walked by and grabbed a beaming family photo. 

Later that night, my mom experienced two strokes. She was never the same after.

Between dementia and Addison’s disease, we witnessed her expressions, personality, and communication slowly diminish.

There were also frequent trips to the hospital. This past summer, while working just down the street from where she was hospitalized, I took my lunch break to spend some time with her.

She was alone when I arrived, but thanks to the steroids that were pumped into her IV, she was more alert and alive than I had seen her in a very long time.

Given her worsening condition, I knew there was something special about this moment. So I flipped open a voice recording app on my phone, and I began what would become a 40-minute conversation that covered everything from childhood memories, experiences she still wanted to have, and the feeling she got when my 1-year-old daughter—her granddaughter—kissed her.

After I said my goodbye and left the room, I made peace with whatever was to come next. She transitioned four months later.

Cut to Nov. 11, 2017. I had just finished DJing a private party in the Old Market, and after packing everything up, I had enough time to catch last call somewhere. With no agenda on where I’d end up, I aimlessly walked down the street where I saw a group of people gather before walking into Brickway Brewery.

My attention caught, I looked inside the near-empty bar to see Justin Swanson cleaning glassware. I walked in behind the group of people and as the crowd cleared, Justin’s eyes widened and his hands went up in surprise at the sight of me.

See, there was about three years of my life that I saw Justin more than my family. He was a bartender and I was a co-owner at House of Loom. Because of our roles, our lives were inextricably intertwined.

That is, until we closed on Jan. 1, 2017. After that, we took separate paths and mostly lost touch. At the time I didn’t even know he worked at Brickway. So while I sat in a near-empty
bar with Justin, we caught up and conversed like old friends.

This column appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

Transitorily Yours

December 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I’m going to get real vulnerable here: When it comes to millennial stereotypes, I can verifiably say that I fit within the “coddled” category.

Even though I grew up in the context of a middle-class family, I was cognizant as a child that I was spoiled. And while I’m incredibly grateful for all the love and support my family has given me (really, they’re some incredible people), there’s just one thing that’s been thrown off in the process: my development.

Author Simon Sinek of Start with Why says that many millennials suffer in the workplace because they “grew up subject to failed parenting strategies,” and that “it’s the company’s responsibility to pick up the slack.”

Many psychologists subscribe to the idea that there are three major stages. First comes dependency (think infancy and early childhood). Second, the yearning for independence (cue the rebellious teen) and the establishment of said independence (early 20s). And if everything works out, you move to interdependence, where you realize you’ve unnecessarily been a jerk to your parents all these years, and that while autonomy is great—cooperation is the highest form of existence.

But when you throw coddling into the equation, the process gets disrupted, and the end result is co-dependency.

According to Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks in Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment, “Co-dependence is an agreement between people to stay locked in unconscious patterns.” This can create unhealthy relationships, addictions, and patterns of dysfunction. And thanks to a few years of therapy, I’ve arrived at the hard truth that, left unchecked, I’m prone to creating co-dependent relationships.

All of this came to a head one evening when I was setting up for a DJ gig.

Stressed and frantic, I was facing a mountain of tangled cords with only 30 minutes left before the event started. Along with that, I was in the middle of raising a 20-inch disco ball on a t-bar. It’s something I’ve done countless times, but due to my frenetically displaced presence, I made a basic mistake and lifted an extension pole past the point of no return.

Instead of securing the magnificent 20-inch ball into place, I began to witness its eight-foot arial descent towards a hard marble floor. Time instantly slowed to a crawl as I felt a childhood wound rise to the surface that seemed to say, “it’s good that you sabotaged yourself, because now they’ll see that you deserve to be rescued.”

And as I held that feeling of self-entitled victimhood—BAM! The sphere smashed to the ground and dozens of glass bits flew about the marble floor. What was once a beautiful sphere now looked like the Death Star.

With my mouth and eyes gaping open, I proceeded to survey the room to see who else witnessed the moment (and subconsciously, who I could blame for not rescuing me).

There were some people scurrying over in the next room, but none looked over. There was a receptionist at a desk just 30 feet away, but she had earbuds in and didn’t even flinch from her downward gaze.

With no rescuer in sight, it was just me, a shattered ball, and the realization that no one could be held responsible for this—but myself.

In shock, attempting to swallow the swell of my own sulking sabotage, I swept up the glass pieces, hid the remnants of the busted ball under a skirted table, and got back to work.

The thing is, I’ve always had a thing for disco balls. They’re a timeless piece of design.

As LED technology rapidly advances and projector mapping changes all the rules, there’s something timeless about being enveloped in an in endless swirl of flickering refraction.

In the cosmology of nightlife, the disco ball is a metaphorical inverse of the sun.

Just think: At each sunset, somewhere a disco ball rises. In the center of a sea of churning bodies, it floats effortlessly. Above our heads and beyond our reach, it serves as a beacon of speckled light in a world of darkness.

Yes, I have an affection for disco balls. Which is why at the end of the night, after the dance floor dust had settled, and I folded back the curtain revealing the brokenness of the sphere, I said to myself, “No more!”

Sinek says that millennials “were just dealt a bad hand and it’s no fault of their own.” But as a generational gesture, I say that at some point us coddled millennials have to take responsibility for ourselves.

It’s time we stop blaming others. Stop looking for the rescuer. Stop slipping into co-dependency. And absolutely stop the subconscious-busting of underserving disco balls.

It’s time to tell a new story.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

Confessions of a Wedding DJ

December 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Derek Joy

I’m a wedding DJ.

That’s the first time I’ve publicly written this sentence.

It’s been a long journey to get to this point right. I went from a 19-year-old starry-eyed kid with a plan to change the world through music, to a 33-year-old wedding-DJ-for-hire, looking to make a quick disco daddy buck. I even advertise on theknot.com, making this about as official as it can get.

See, for DJs like me who identified with the “underground” and focused on musically whipping up emotions into an artful expression of the collective human experience, wedding DJs were the worst.

I mean, nice people. It’s just that between the potentiality of bridezillas, the necessity to play the “Cha-Cha Slide,” and the embarrassing unresponsiveness that follows your microphone announcement when rallying up people for the garter toss, I loathed wedding gigs. Yet here I am.

So how’d this happen? Simple. I became a father.

That sort of thing helps you to drop a fragile ego about what it means to be “true to the scene,” and instead apply your expensive gear and tested skills for the highest paid DJ gig an average guy can get.

As I’ve settled into this role, there’s one thing about the job that surprised me: Only a fraction of DJing a wedding is about DJing. The rest is spent making sure you understand the schedule, keeping everyone on said schedule, and not saying anything dumb on the mic.

Unfortunately, the last one gives me grief.

It could be that I’m secretly a shy-guy who ironically signs himself up for very public scenarios (such as being a DJ). It’s possible that, rooted in my experience as an adopted newborn, I have a fear of abandonment (exemplified by the time I hid in the corner and cried on the first day of kindergarten). Or—according to several of my past teachers—it’s due to my “test anxiety,” (which one time manifested on New Year’s Eve at Nomad Lounge when 250 people were looking up at me to lead the big countdown moment as I blanked out and fumbled around to hook up the microphone).

Just this past weekend, I DJed a wedding where, right after the bride and groom made their reception entrance, I was supposed to announce that the newlyweds didn’t want any “clinking of glasses” (i.e. the thing people do to get the bride and groom to kiss). But instead I mistakenly said, “The bride and groom requested that nobody do any—uh—uh—tinkling of glasses.”

I basically told people not to urinate in a cup.

As I made a “clinking” gesture with my hands to make up for the words that my brain failed to connect, you could hear a mic-feedback sound awkwardly christening the room.

And that’s how the night began.

But you know what? Somewhere along the way, I decided that, while I do have a menacing fear of microphones, these uncomfortable situations are really just an opportunity to tap into that age-old virtue called courage.

Case in point, at another wedding a few weeks ago, I basically played the role of a wedding coordinator and full-on master of ceremonies. To a crowd of a few hundred, I announced every motion of the night, gave the first toast of the evening, and vocally maneuvered in and out of emotional speeches. Apart from the use of breathing techniques, the power stance, and stress-relieving supplements like magnesium and L-theanine, I did the whole thing by myself without a hitch!

And interestingly enough, the same courage I muster up at a wedding now seems to follow me throughout the week—such as the time my wife and I were eating out at a favorite spot. I informed the server (in a cordial way) that the hummus we ordered was so mistakenly sweet that it tastes better as an ice cream topping rather than at the end of a carrot stick.

Or another time walking with my family, there was a couple sitting between two bushes with a river in the background. Their figures were creating a perfect silhouette, and the whole thing just had Instagram written all over it. To gift a keepsake, I told them how great the scene looked, and asked if I could take a photo with their phone.

Normally, I bypass those scenarios to avoid uncomfortable feelings. But by using my voice—my internal microphone—I helped an unknowing restaurant and captured a beautiful moment for two strangers.

As for that night where I told people not to piss in a cup, later in the evening, I jumped on the mic and whipped them up to form a multigenerational conga line to Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line.” Then for the last song, I tapped into the heightened potential of the moment by playing K-Ci and JoJo’s “All My Life,” and prompted the remaining group to hold hands and circle around the newlyweds.

At peak moments of the chorus, I would fade out the volume, leaving nothing but the heartwarming and ridiculous sound of the group belting out the lyrics. With the freshly minted couple in the middle and smiles abounding, the experience crescendoed into a big sweaty group hug.

And that’s how the night ended.

This article printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Encounter.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

Generational Journey Through Nightlife

August 23, 2017 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub

When I was 19, I could be found illegally sneaking into nightclubs. As the youngest person in the room, I was essentially walking into a raucous Generation X party.

Back then, around 2003-2004, the height of the ’90s rave era had passed and the post-rave scene was acclimating into the then-emerging ultra-lounge wave. House music and techno reigned supreme in the underground, Red Bull and vodka covered everything, and Gen Xers lived by this credo to make the most of the weekend. At the time, this apparently meant binge drinking with friends to loud music for long periods of time—every weekend.

As time went on and the millennial flavor began to form, I remember how exciting it was when all the indie kids started dancing. Parties like Goo at Slowdown and Gunk at Waiting Room spawned a new infusion of creativity into nightlife. Along with Bar 415, Loom at España, and Nomad Lounge, it looked as though millennials were headed down the same work-hard, play-hard path as Gen X. That is until the Great Recession struck.

Along with 9/11, and later the technological advancement of social media, the recession of 2008 would become a defining feature of our generation, shaping the millennial psyche and influencing collective movements.

In the face of layoffs and widespread economic downturn, here in Omaha I witnessed early 20-somethings foregoing the cover charges and high drink prices of bars and clubs. Instead they grabbed a gas station six-pack and headed to the nearest midtown house party to aptly channel their youthful angst and economic anxiety through the jaw-grinding sounds of electro. That same year, PBR sales took off and Google searches for “electro music” peaked.

But the millennial taste began to evolve, and all of those sweaty basement experiences transmuted to the rise of micro-breweries, Netflix, and Instagramming your farmer’s market foodie experience as a way to say, “Hey, I didn’t waste away my Friday night like you all did, so now I’m eating this farm-to-table cucumber at 9 a.m.”

There’s an entire industry dedicated to studying generations to predict buying behaviors, and when you study the research, millennials tend to say terrible things about nightclubs. Complaints often touch on high cover charges, rude bouncers, long waits, overcrowding, and loud music—all things that didn’t seem to
bother Gen X.

This notion—supplemented with social media, dating apps, and streaming music—meant that you didn’t really need to leave your house in order to feel connected to your friends, to what’s happening with cutting-edge music, or even to find a date. All compelling reasons to go out for generations before.

Because of these factors, I believe millennials developed a sense of economic conservatism as a response to the Great Recession. Because they didn’t have the expendable income like previous generations, they adapted by finding reasons why the commercial-party atmosphere of a club wasn’t worth it, perhaps merely as a means to justify their inability to participate. This was all, of course, reinforced by the needs technology filled in. But that doesn’t mean our generation doesn’t like a good party.

Yes, nightclubs have been closing in record numbers all across America and the United Kingdom. We are witness to this even in our own city. But festivals have been on the upswing. Think about the rise in awareness of Burning Man, Coachella expanding to two weekends, or even our own Maha festival, which sold out the last two years.

To put it another way, instead of going out every weekend—a routine Gen X had ritualized—millennials decide to save up for the big moments. And with social media and smart phones, they can capture the experience and #TBT-it over the course of many weeks and months as a way to make the moment, and their dollars, last.

All of this in mind, if someone were to ask me today if opening a nightclub was a good idea, I’d tell them, “No.” Throw a festival instead. One that offers coffee with amazing floral and acidic notes, and a fast-casual gastro pub that offers a saffron, foie gras, and grass-fed beef burger.

Now, Generation Z is beginning to pump out its first 21+ers. As they enter into the nightlife picture amidst the Trumpian era, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to present circumstances. Will the pervasive fear, racial tension, and stagnant wages turn our youth inward, or will they tap into the collective anxiety of our times as a source of inspiration to compel the use of art, music, and dancing as a means to escape, to find solutions, and propel our society forward, like generations have done before?

I sure hope so.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

Transitorily Yours

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a new Encounter column focusing on millennial life by Brent Crampton. To share your significant life experiences, email millennials@omahapublications.com

Today is Jan. 7, 2017, and yesterday I walked out of House of Loom one last time. It was a place that I co-owned, DJed at, and curated events for. The scene I left was only a shell. There were no swirling lights or sounds, no Victorian lounge vibes, and certainly no lively, booze-fueled conversations. Just an echo of the life that filled that place for 5 1/2 years remained (along with the bustle of a construction crew ripping a hole in the wood floor).

Loom was many things to many people, but to me it was a lovely little social experiment that blended cultures, creatives, and communities. Categorically, it was a nightclub and event venue, but to the folks frequenting its experiences, it was a place where patrons and friends could mobilize around causes, express emotions, mourn passings, and celebrate life’s contrasts.

The influx of people was so fluid that you could not distinguish it as a straight or gay bar, but simply as a people’s bar. On its best nights, it brought together folks who normally wouldn’t intersect in our city, and lifted us out of the doldrums of our daily lives.

It is rare for a business to shut down without the force of an unpaid bill. As a friend and fellow small business owner says, it is a gift to be able to close on your own terms. And that is exactly what we did. For myself and the other owners, House of Loom was never meant to be permanent. It was a successful social experiment. And it was time to move on.

I have spent the past 13 years of my life fervently dedicated to contributing to Omaha’s nightlife. With this new year, I embark on a new chapter—one where the loud and flashy peaks of club life are swapped for the quiet joy of watching my 1-year-old baby stand on her own for the first time. Now, spontaneous social gatherings are traded for intimate dinner parties (often planned months in advance). Instead of falling asleep as the sun rises, I wake up  with the sun.

It is a different life—one with its own advantages. My prior life could never hold a candle to this new world. In fact, as I write this, my baby daughter is napping away on my chest after a messy meal of liquified plums, apples, and carrots. She is tuckered out, and so am I.

This brings me to why I am writing this column. During this next chapter of my life, I will be taking some time to hibernate in the creative womb. The invitation to turn to the reflective act of writing seemed like a synchronistic opportunity. Instead of only sharing my notions of creativity and thought from behind a DJ booth, I will gladly be able to do so in this space.

Much like my life right now, I am going to ad-lib my writing. Most likely I will touch on topics ranging from the social impact of nightlife (of course), the curiosities of parenting (because I’m new at this), food (because I get giddy when I eat good food), and inclusiveness and equality (because of our new president), all through the millennial lens of a 30-something, post-nightclub-owning new papa.

Here’s to new beginnings.

Brent Crampton previously co-owned House of Loom and is co-owner of Berry & Rye, a bar in the Old Market. A multi-award-winning DJ in a former life, he now prefers evenings spent at home with his family.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Brent Crampton & the House of Loom

August 19, 2016 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Photography

The concept was pure, simple, true. A come-as-you-are, judge-free zone. But billing a “safe space” in Omaha’s nightlife scene comes with a great deal of responsibility. House of Loom co-owner Brent Crampton understands this responsibility from experience.

Crampton, 32, fathered Loom 10 years ago. Initially started as a pop-up dance party, Loom circulated through some of the city’s most prestigious venues, operating under the values of inclusivity, unity, creativity, and respectability.

BrentCrampton2“In that era, we were known as a space open to all different types of people that might not normally interact,” Crampton explains in a recent interview. “A space for them to go and be accepted.”

Crampton is a calm, soft-spoken man, full of purpose and persistence. He is keen to talk about Loom’s infancy and how it evolved into a popular brick-and-mortar nightspot on South 10th Street. A place where anyone can relax and fully express themselves without fear of being judged or harassed on account of sex, race, gender identity, religious views, age, or physical or mental ability.

Running a “safe space” is about sharing and creating, trying to build something better. It is not just a nightclub or bar, but a place that connects people on a higher level and facilitates meaningful discussions.

Music is not just a backdrop, Crampton says.

“Music is very much at the forefront, and the events we do take the focus, but the vehicle that we use, to do our best to create a harmonious environment, is rooted in safe
space principle.”

Unintentionally, Crampton, who also serves as the director of management talent and booking, has brought Omaha to the forefront of several larger discussions on what our city could do to make it a more inviting and welcoming place for all.

Crampton collaborated with countless arts and community organizations to help make Omaha a more culturally progressive city. In fact, he sits on the board of Safe Space Nebraska, a grassroots, local non-profit that formed as a response to the need to simply enjoy a good night out, free of assault or harassment.

People are becoming more aware of harassment issues, Crampton says, and realizing they should have a support system to counter harassment when it happens.

He recently took part in a Huffington Post live webcast discussion about safe spaces and why they’re essential to nightlife. He has also met with other local bar owners to discuss how their businesses could become more inclusive and safe for all to enjoy.

Crampton is optimistic about creating an environment filled with like-minds—an optimism that many bar owners quickly replace with the very real practicalities of running a dimly lit bar with loud music and unwelcomed alcohol-induced conversations. Women’s bottoms are grabbed. Harassment happens.

It’s a pervasive issue, Crampton says. One that shouldn’t be ignored.

“Responsibility,” Crampton says. “We need to be conscious of that and how to respond as bar owners.”

Everyone is hyper-aware of the value of space. Safety implies privacy, but even with a strict door policy, in bars, the variables are much less controllable.

Crampton has established a code of conduct and stuck to it. As patrons visit, they’re encouraged to respect the House of Loom values. In fact, the nightspot is one of the first Omaha bars to initiate a zero-tolerance policy for any form of harassment, Crampton says. If patrons feel unsafe, they are encouraged to notify staff immediately in order to remove the person responsible for the harassment. The incident is then documented in a report.

The House of Loom’s code has inspired many, igniting a current of social rebellion in Omaha’s nightlife scene. But as with all paradigm shifts, people must understand the new way of thinking before change happens on a larger scale.

Crampton continues to strive for an inclusive and safe community. He considers it his passion project.

“Positive response. It empowers people,” he says. “Collectively we can change nightlife culture.” 

Visit www.houseofloom.com for more information.

Free to Be

May 29, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jared Spence is a unique star in the dance of life. Seriously, you should see his dance moves.

“As a DJ, you always want Jared on your dance floor,” says Brent Crampton, DJ/co-creator of House of Loom and Berry and Rye. “He’ll be front and center just going off to the music.”

A jack of all trades and staple of the Old Market, Spence brings that same sincere enthusiasm to everything he does, whether beauty, fashion, journalism, design, theater makeup, or costuming.
He’s ubiquitous in Omaha’s social scene. If you’re out and about, especially downtown, you’ve likely shared a dancefloor or bartender. Perhaps that’s why a friend of Spence’s always introduces him as “an Omaha institution.”

“In college I really started to become one with Downtown,” says Spence, who moved to the Omaha area in elementary school.

Circa 2008, he worked at the now-closed boutique, Trocadero. During this time, he says, he really “fell in love with the area,” began doing styling for fashion shows and photo shoots downtown, and making lots of creative connections.

“[Downtown] is a very creative environment,” says Spence. “I feed off the energy and I’m always inspired by the different things and people I see.”

First it was work. Then it was work and play. Now Spence works, plays, and lives in the Old Market.
“It’s kind of a romantic thing, the relationship the Old Market and I have,” he says. “It’s just the best to me. Everything I need is here.”

Still freelancing as a stylist, Spence also works as a natural nail tech at Sirens at the Loft Salon & Day Spa, doing spa hand and foot services.

“I’ve always had an affinity for beauty, skincare, haircare … and I love helping people, making them feel good and beautiful,” he says.

“Jared is a unique soul,” says Sirens owner Chevy Kozisek. “His customer service is above and beyond—we get rave reviews about his pedicure treatments. He is amazing.”

On a typical day you might see Spence at Barry O’s, House of Loom, or Berry and Rye.

“Downtown is very cozy, spatially for sure, but also in terms of people,” he says. “It’s a friendly place where people feel comfortable no matter who they are, because they’re always so many different types of people.”

Spence, who now often wears makeup and occasionally a wig, was insecure growing up worried what others thought of him or how they might judge him.

“I’m a big advocate for being yourself,” he says. “I’ve learned that the beauty of being a person is being an individual. There’s no one else like you, or him or her or anyone. Being an individual is what it’s all about; it’s what sets you apart that makes you beautiful. And I think the Old Market is a great place to be yourself.”

Spence says he gets the occasional look when he’s out, but that doesn’t bother him.
“I think it’s important to make people aware that not everybody’s the same, but that you’re allowed to do what makes you feel good even if others don’t agree or understand.”

“Jared’s an integral part of downtown, bringing laughter and joy,” says Crampton. “He just wants to look fabulous and treat others like they’re fabulous. He has a gift for empathy and an ability to sense what others are feeling.”

Spence concurs he is “everybody’s Oprah,” doling out wisdom and support when needed.
“Happiness is a state of mind, it’s not something you wait for,” he says, with insight beyond his 25 years. “You have good days and bad, but focus on the positive and you’ll realize you’re surrounded by lots of love and opportunity.”

Art Show + Party

November 18, 2013 by

This Thursday at 7 p.m., Sokol Auditorium will host Omaha’s inaugural RAWards semifinals. Twenty-five local artists across nine categories will compete for a chance to be one of nine finalists at the National RAWards in Los Angeles in January.

While RAW as an international, independent arts organization is itself five years old, RAW:Omaha is only now trying out its wings. “We just started in April,” says RAW:Omaha director Amber Keller. “So we didn’t have a full season.”

Due to the short 2013 season, the filmmaker category will be represented by one artist, Rob Kasel, as opposed to the usual three per category this Thursday. The remaining nominees are:

“It’s a mix between a nightlife event, an art show, and a party,” Keller says, attempting to describe the look of the evening. “Every artist that’s involved will have a booth section, but musicians will play on stage, and we’ll have a runway for hair, fashion, and makeup.” Artists will have decorated their space according to their craft, and “anything that anybody sets out will also be for sale,” Keller says.

A few examples of artistry to expect include Omaha Street Percussion, who will play for guests waiting in line; the Wetworks special effects team’s live demonstration of making up a model; and Alyssa Keller, who will be painting a canvas at her booth.

Given that the goal of RAW is to empower artists professionally, $15 tickets are available online to sponsor a particular artist. Otherwise, general admission tickets online are $17 and $20 at the door.

“Door money doesn’t go to artists directly,” Keller points out. Those fees go instead toward two showcases, one local and the other in another participating RAW city, for each artist plus a media packet. The packets include materials for the artists’ promotional use, such as video interviews of each artist, professional headshots, and candid photos and B-roll footage at their shows.

C.J. America Bergner will host this Thursday’s RAWards semifinal, and Brent Crampton will DJ. The Sokol bar will be open, and Scotty’s Go-Go Grill will be parked outside. Guests should note that the RAWards after-party at House of Loom at 10th and Pacific streets will feature $10 bottles of champagne.

RAWards Gen Flyer

The Church of Tomorrow

August 30, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Dillon Gitano

Nicholas Wasserberger and Mark Steffan are almost, well, In Real Life meme generators. “We really feel that immersing people in an artificial environment, in a bubble, in a world, is amazing,” Wasserberger says. “We want to immerse them in a certain genre, a theme, so that everyone can have this experience, this nostalgia.”

Together, Wasserberger and Steffan are the Church of Tomorrow, an avant-garde party-planning duo responsible for themed events in Benson galleries and Downtown Omaha nightclubs. They’ve also collaborated with local band Icky Blossoms and North Sea Films for video styling, as well as local dance-party group GOO.

The Church specializes in themes of music and fashion from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. “With events at, like, [House of] Loom, we come up with the ideas and concepts and themes,” Steffan says. “We promote it. We decorate it. We set the theme, the mood. And then we discuss with the DJs what the music genre should be. We set up the environment.”

“There’s a lot of history and education that goes into it,” Wasserberger says of their event prep. For example, their inaugural David Bowie tribute party last October at House of Loom was a study in glam rock. “Other cities around the nation throw David Bowie parties,” Steffan points out, “which just brings Omaha to a greater connectivity with other cities’ night-life culture.”

“Nobody’s trying to be too cool. We can see how people find the humor in what we do. It looks completely outrageous, and we’re completely outrageous, and we can laugh about that.” – Mark Steffan

“Our New Romantic Party was based off of one club that ran in London for, like, six months,” Wasserberger says. Such ’80s London nightclubs started a trend of evenings dedicated to specific themes. “Boy George came from there,” Steffan says. “Duran Duran. Spandau Ballet. Changed music forever.”

Wasserberger and Steffan encourage party-goers to dress to the theme. “It’s Halloween all year-round,” Steffan says. Realizing that not everyone is up on the movements or music they select, they try to educate the masses ahead of time. In the weeks leading up to a party, they post links on Facebook Event pages to documentaries such as Paris Is Burning or songs like “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by The Velvet Underground.

“We want to let people in Omaha experience where the roots of music and youth movements and nightclubbing came from,” Wasserberger says.

Last January, the Sweatshop Gallery in Benson asked Church of Tomorrow to create “a full-on art installation” for their Afterbirth show during the neighborhood’s First Friday art crawl. “We went thrifting for about three or four weeks just picking up the ugliest stuff. Kids’ bed sheets, after-Christmas-sale tinsel,” Wasserberger says. “We put the sheets on the walls and spray-painted them with political symbols, grabbed every disco light we could find in Omaha.”

“They both have a very distinct style,” says Caitlin Little of Sweatshop Gallery, “and they were able in this instance to transform thought into feeling and experience. The events they put on are meant to challenge the normal, beat the boring, and provide an all-inclusive, full-force fun time.”

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“We wanted to present what our physical chapel would look like,” Steffan says. “This is basically our religion, these are things we like to do, and they’re sometimes a little more progressive.” They both are advocates of women’s and transgender rights and radical homosexuality.

To fully immerse people in their passions and ideals, the pair burned incense and filled the gallery with flashing lights, projections, and obscure disco music. “It was a sensory overload,” Wasserberger says.

Little agrees. “Afterbirth in particular was like going to a sleepover in their brains!”

About 200 people came, they estimate. “That’s probably an average crowd,” Steffan says. “We get more at Loom,” Wasserberger counters.

“Everybody that comes to our events, they’re the nicest people,” Steffan says. “Nobody’s trying to be too cool. We can see how people find the humor in what we do. It looks completely outrageous, and we’re completely outrageous, and we can laugh about that.”

If there’s money involved, the two split the profit 50-50. Their one-of-a-kind buttons help fund their parties, too. Steffan and Wasserberger wear them out on the town, and if someone admires one, “Oh, they’re $2,” Steffan says, “take one.” They also design the buttons that Icky Blossoms takes on tour. The pair splits cover charges among themselves and an event’s DJs. “We’re pretty savvy about thrifting,” Steffan says.

House of Loom co-owner Brent Crampton agrees. “Their DIY method of throwing a party is raw yet fabulously tacky,” he says. “Meaning, I’ll give them $100 for decorations, and they’ll make the place look like a thousand bucks.” He adds that, quite simply, the Church of Tomorrow is his favorite promoter to work with. “They come up with some of the off-the-wall, almost forgotten corners of culture to celebrate.”

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Crampton points out that the pair not only designs and decorates an event, they clean up after it as well. “At the end of the night when everyone just wants to get paid and go home, they’ll stick around and help the staff clean. It’s quite amazing.”

“Everything we do, we do sober,” Wasserberger says. “Which surprises a lot of people. If we were sloppy at a party, come 1:30 in the morning, we would not still be on the dance floor keeping everyone there.”

Steffan has been clean and sober for two and a half years. “And in the last two and a half years, I’ve been the most creative I’ve ever been.”

Wasserberger will occasionally have a drink. “Never when I’m working,” he clarifies, “because you don’t need it. The true freaks are always sober. Like Boy George. Sober now.”

Steffan has plans to promote Church of Tomorrow events in New York after he settles in from his move in May to be with partner Joey Koneko. “And then when he comes back for visits, we’ll do more together here,” Wasserberger says, such as the second David Bowie Tribute this Oct. 5 at House of Loom. He also hints that he already has things set up to do on his own with Sweatshop Gallery and Loom.

Party Animal Style

Style is (obviously) a huge part of life for Wasserberger and Steffan. Their inspirations include such flamboyant names as Boy George, David Bowie, Vivienne Westwood, Isabella Blow, Leigh Bowery, and Anna Biaggi. “Otherwise, our style is just wear what you want,” Wasserberger says. He points to his shirt that he bought for a dollar, but his pants are Versace, no matter that he found them at Goodwill. “As long as you feel good, you’re going to look it.”

“I think that’s what it all basically comes down to,” Steffan says. “Our bodies are the medium for our art.”

“Sometimes we look really shallow, but there’s philosophy behind this,” Wasserberger says. “We know fashion history. If you make fun of us for wearing skirts, we’ll tell you that skirts were invented by men for men.”

Steffan and Wassberger at their David Bowie tribute party

Steffan and Wassberger at their David Bowie tribute party

Fortunately, Omaha has amazing thrifting, and Steffan and Wasserberger know where to find it all: The Salvation Army, Second Chance, Shop Around the Corner. “I don’t invest in fine art or other collectibles,” Steffan says. “Purchasing clothes, that’s my collection. There’s only a few things I’d pay a lot of money for, but it has to be really special.”

“If we pay $3 for most of our wardrobe,” Wasserberger explains, “then we can afford that one special item.”

Their experiments extend to hair as well. Wasserberger’s lavender hair is a result of Steffan’s experimentation with toner and fabric dyes. “Constant evolution is key,” Steffan says. “When you get stuck in the same old routine, that’s when you start feeling trapped.”

“It blows our minds when other people are like, that’s so foreign,” Wasserberger says. “Why should it be? Everyone should be constantly changing. It’s a really positive thing.”