Pick of the Week—Saturday, Sept. 23: Puppies and pumpkins? Why not? Take your pup to Dog Day at the Pumpkin Patch at Skinny Bones Pumpkin Patch in Blair. Doggie admission of $5 will benefit the Nebraska Humane Society. Regular admission will apply for you humans. Be sure your pups are dressed for success in the doggie costume contest. The contest takes place in the morning, with all the regular fall fun happening throughout the day. Check out the Rolling Racers, Jack O’ Shooter, Frankenslide, and numerous other attractions. There’s plenty of food on hand as well, so make a day of it and end the night with a bonfire. Learn more here.
Thursday, Sept. 20: Get an early start on tailgating this weekend at the Midlands Humane Society “Tail”gate. While there’s no stadium involved, you can take a tour of thefacility, learn about volunteer opportunities, and (best of all) spend time with the beautiful critters. This event is put on by the young professionals group, Impact CB. Parking is somewhat limited, so get your friends together and carpool on over. Find out more here.
Friday, Sept. 21: Don’t miss the inaugural show at The Hug Center, a new arts-focused community event space on 25th and Harney streets. Bang, Bang will showcase work by several talented artists, some well-known and others brand-new (check out 10-year-old Finn Michael Bainbridge) to the Omaha art scene. Music by Dojorok and Cult Play will help set the mood. A food truck will be on hand and beverages from Brickway Brewery & Distillery will also be available for the 6-10 p.m. event to provide you with ample sustenance as you peruse the gallery and meet the artists. Get the full rundown here.
Saturday, Sept. 22: Can’t wait to find out who’s up for an OEAA nomination this year? Well, you don’t have to because the wait is over. Head to the OEAA Nominee Reveal Party at Hi-Fi House this Saturday and be one of the first in the know. Cheer on your favorites as their names are announced live. here.
Saturday, Sept. 22: The fall equinox marks the official end of summer this Saturday, so feel free to start settling in to Halloween anticipation mode with Midwest Masquerade at The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge. This annual event combines the winsome, electric vibe of a music festival with the elegant, mysterious feel of a traditional masquerade ball. The headlining artists are String Theory Music and Hyddin, with many more talented artists rounding things out. Formal attire (with mask!) is highly recommended for this 18 and over affair. Get your tickets here.
If Curly Martin has something to say, you can best believe you will hear it if you’re within earshot.
“Man, tell me who came up with this idea for a story about the Chitlin’ Circuit, I know it had to be a white boy,” Martin says during a boisterous conversation. “First, make sure he gets it straight; it’s not chitterlings. It was called the Chitlin’ Circuit!”
While chitterlings—chitlins for short—are a soul-food staple made from the small intestines of pigs, the Chitlin’ Circuit refers to venues in the South (and into the Upper Midwest) that supported traditional rhythm and blues acts. Martin finds the term as repulsive as its namesake.
“I know they think the Chitlin’ Circuit was for the mediocre musicians, but let me tell you, the Blues and R&B Chitlin’ Circuit was different from the Jazz Chitlin’ Circuit. Jazz players ruled Omaha and always stayed sharp. We dressed like pimps and players because that was our clientele.”
There are still jazz heavyweights living on Omaha’s northside, and Martin is testament to the fact. In the music room of his modest home, nestled near Belvedere Point, he collects an assortment of recording equipment and memorabilia: a 1972 Fender Rhodes keyboard, albums worked on with smooth-jazz innovator Grover Washington, and an award for the 2017 Best Jazz Musician in Omaha from the Omaha Entertainment and Art Awards.
“They told me I would have to pay to pick it up, but somehow it wound up here,” he says of the OEAA award. 2017 was an eventful year for Martin. In addition to the local award, he was also nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Album alongside his world-renown, West Coast producer/songwriter son, Terrace Martin.
“Grammy-nominated for Velvet Portraits and Homer’s didn’t even have the album,” Martin recalls. “I brought Terrace to Make Believe Recording Studios to record that album, but these fools in Omaha won’t acknowledge it! There’s even a song named ‘Curly Martin’ my son did with Robert Glasper. Now that’s a tough tune.”
When asked if there are remnants of the jazz scene he once knew in Omaha, Martin scoffs.
“The ‘decision-makers’ on the music scene don’t like me because I’ll tell them to their faces they can’t play,” Martin states unapologetically. “I don’t think Omaha artists have enough range, and they’ll get mad at me for telling them the truth!”
One of the few people Martin considers an ally is Kate Dussault, founder of the Hi-Fi House. After hosting a series of successful Jazz Labs with Martin, she acknowledges him as an unappreciated artist in the local music scene.
“Curly is a hoot, but he is passionate about passing his knowledge on to the younger generation,” Dussault says. “He is more akin to a mentor than an academic teacher. I can recall him saying that you can go to class all day and do your homework, but where is the inspiration?”
“They don’t even know that I sold out the Holland Center back in February, man,” Martin asserts. “I brought out some of the best guitarists in the world that still reside in North Omaha like Wali Ali and Calvin Keys or saxophonist Hank Redd. These guys have worked with The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Bennett. Musicians around here aren’t as diverse as we were, so they can’t compare to back in the day.”
Martin goes on to describe the Jazz Circuit lifestyle: thousand-dollar diamond rings, mohair suits, and alligator shoes that had to match the belt. They would play seven days a week traveling between the Blue Note in Minneapolis, Allen’s Showcase in North Omaha, O.G.s in Kansas City, KC Lounge in Denver, and the BTW Hotel and Lounge in San Francisco.
“Man, we rotated through those clubs throughout the ’60s,” Martin reminisces. “Mr. Allen at the Showcase let a lot of us jazz players get our feet wet, but there was also Alice’s Lounge, Shirley’s, and the Black Orchid in North Omaha. Even for the white folks, if they wanted to hear the baddest of the bad they had to come to the northside and downtown!”
Morning breakfast dances from 6-10 a.m. on holidays, Sunday jam sessions, and good music playing on every corner is the North Omaha jazz mecca that Martin remembers.
“I was probably 14 when I started drumming for my first band, Daddy Long Legs and the Rocking Nighthawks. I even had a gig downtown at Mickey’s with a checkerboard band called Danny and the Roulettes because mixed-race bands were popular. We were jamming downtown when the so-called riots of ’69 went down. After that uprising, our era started to wind down.”
These days, Martin focuses on the future. With a new album in the works and another project with Dussault upcoming, he is eager to give back to his community.
“They tried to get me involved with WeBop, but I’m not trying to be a babysitter,” Martin says, referring to the early childhood education program. “I want to get kids when they’re serious about their craft, and show them that North Omaha has a rich background. I can’t let them bury our history; this generation can see me and say, ‘If Curly lived this wonderful life then I can do it, too.’”
Terrace Martin produced Velvet Portraits and is producing his father’s upcoming album. Follow @terracemartinmusic on Facebook for updates.
This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.
Pick of the Week—Friday, June 8 to Sunday June 10: The 44th Annual Omaha Summer Arts Festival keeps getting better. This year, they have expanded hours for the market and added “OSAF After Dark,” an energetic dance party under the big top of the World Music Pavilion on Friday. That’s not the only music, though. Everything from indie pop to Latin to country rock will be the soundtrack to this year’s celebration of artists and art lovers. But obviously, the art’s the thing. Head down to check out the original work of 135 creators from across the country. Don’t miss out! Head here for more info.
Thursday, June 7 to Sunday, June 10: The four-day-long Santa Lucia Festival celebrates all things Italian, but specifically the Sicilian saint of sight, Santa Lucia. Originally created as a way to help Italian immigrants keep their culture and traditions alive, the popularity of this 94-year-old festival now attracts people of all ethnicities. Held at Lewis & Clark Landing again this year, there will be the requisite lighting ceremony, bocce ball tournament, cannoli-eating contest, and of course plenty of music and dancing. Learn more about the festival and its origin here.
Friday, June 8: You may remember our Encounterstory on Virginia Kathryn, or perhaps you read our piece in Omaha Magazine on Kate Dussault and Hi-Fi House. Well, this week they combine their considerable music powers for First Listen: Vintage Sepia by Virginia Kathryn at Hi-Fi House. This is not a rock-out event, though. Kathryn’s saving that for her official release at Reverb Lounge next week. This is more of an “intimate conversational experience,” so come prepared to relax, have a drink, enjoy some discussion, and some sweet, sweet tunes. Click here for more information on this free event.
Saturday, June 9:You know you love a good pop-up. This Saturday you can pop over to Saddle Creek to experience O’Leaver’s Patio Pop Up! It’s free, there’s a patio, there’s drinks, and it’s kid friendly. Plus, you can shop for jewelry, artwork, and vintage items from local vendors and creators. So head on down to shop some of your favorites while checking out O’Leaver’s new(ish) patio. Pop on over here to see what’s up.
Saturday, June 9: Drawing inspiration from a program started in Portland, Oregon, Inspirations of Water: A Floating Artist Program asks artists to draw from their float experience, using it to create new work in their established areas of expertise. The final show is this Saturday at Hot Shops Art Center. The exhibit is free, though donations are welcome and purchase of work is encouraged. Float down here to find out more.
Pick of the Week—Friday, March 16: A free performance of African Body, Soul, & MVMNT: A Window Into the Past is happening this Friday night at the Hi-Fi House. This project by Edem K. Garro of Edem Soul Music was chosen by the Omaha Creative Institute as the recipient of their Omaha Gives Back Grant. The performance traces “the journey of generations of African Americans from dehumanization and oppression to hope for a more equitable and inclusive present and future.” Don’t miss the chance to see it performed in an intimate space. While the event is free, you are encouraged to register for tickets here. Learn more about the performance and Edem Soul Music here.
Also, check out our upcoming story on Edem in the next issue of Encounter.
Thursday, March 15: If you haven’t heard the word yet, be sure to catch it tonight. The WORD – Herstory: Focus on HER is happening at The Opollo Music Hall in Benson. This round of The WORD Open Mic celebrates feminine energy. It’s a fusion of live, eclectic jazz and spoken word poetry, presented by artist Withlove, Felicia. The new Opollo will be its permanent home, every third Thursday of the month, from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Hear the word and check out this great new music venue. For more information on this show, click here. To find more Withlove, Felicia events, flow on over here.
Saturday, March 17: Sure, there are plenty of parties going on at the bars this weekend, so we’ll let you choose your poison there. But don’t start your drinking on an empty stomach. Get to the St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon at Lauritzen Gardens and enjoy some real greenery before hitting the patios and downing all those green beers. They’ll be serving up cabbage, corned beef, potatoes—the whole shebang. So get some stick-to-your-ribs Irish fare in you before heading out to get langered. Be sure to make reservations, though. Find out how here.
Saturday, March 17: Come see what Omaha’s all-female roller derby league can do this weekend. Don’t forget to wear green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and show your appreciation for those in uniform during the Omaha Rollergirls Green Out/Military Appreciation Night. Did we mention adult tickets are buy one, get one free for Military, Fire, Rescue, and Police? This jam starts at 6 p.m. at Ralston Arena. Get those tickets here now.
Sunday, March 18: Members of the Nebraska Writers Guild are coming together to read excerpts from an anthology they contributed to at The Bookworm Hosts Voices from the Plains Authors. Over 60 contemporary authors with various backgrounds from across Nebraska contributed to the book. The event starts at 1 p.m. and goes until 3 p.m. Pick up your copy of Voices from the Plains at The Bookworm (Omaha), Francie & Finch or Indigo Bridge (both in Lincoln), and several others. Get more information on the event here.
When you talk with Kate Dussault, it’s obvious how important music is to her.
“I can’t imagine a life without music,” Dussault says. “It’s where I learned a lot. It’s the focus of so many memories. It invades every part of every one of my senses. You can’t eat music, but if you could, I would.”
Her musical passion isn’t merely a personal preoccupation. Dussault wants to share her passion with others and help grow the Omaha music community. That passion is what led her to found the Hi-Fi House.
Dussault, who was raised in Omaha and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, grew up in a music-loving family. Her father worked in radio and frequently brought records home, and she and each of her six siblings owned a turntable. She then spent a great deal of her career working in music. She worked in radio—for studios on both coasts—and for venture capitalist firms, performing due diligence whenever they sought to acquire the rights to music and evaluating marketing plans and budgets.
But the idea for the Hi-Fi House came about when Dussault, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, learned that the famous Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles was being converted into condominiums. The city landmark is a round building that resembles a stack of music records. Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, and the Beach Boys are among the many famous artists who have recorded music in its famous echo chambers.
“It was always to me the most iconic music building in America,” Dussault says. “And the fact that they were turning it into condos was just heartbreaking, and I thought that building should be something else.”
As Dussault sat in front of the Capitol Records Building for around four hours, she began to develop a new idea for the building, one where each floor was devoted to a specific type of music. Instead of apartments around the edges of the building, there would be “listening rooms” where people could listen to the music together.
You can see that idea at work in the Hi-Fi House, “a social listening room” located at 38th and Farnam streets in the building that used to house Joseph’s College of Barbering. From the outside, you may think it appears abandoned, but inside is what looks like a giant, carpeted living room with rings of couches and armchairs. Listeners can listen to everything from digital music to cassette tapes. Pictures of famous musicians hang on the walls, and the building hosts a massive collection of vinyl records.
“I think this place’s mission is a very unique one,” says Jon Ochsner, an employee at the Hi-Fi House who catalogues records and helps host shows and programs. “To me, it’s a dream. It’s like a dream come true that I never knew I had.”
During the day, the Hi-Fi House is a musicology lab, hosting events for children and high school students, providing services like music therapy to the elderly and other programs. Dussault says that the daytime mission of the space is also to help grow and improve Omaha’s music community.
For instance, the house hosts the “Curly Martin Jazz Lab.”
“Curly Martin came to us and said there was no place in Omaha for a guy like him to play,” Dussault says.
Martin is from Omaha and an acclaimed drummer who, along with son Terrace, was nominated for the 2017 Grammy for Best R&B Album. His jazz lab is an ongoing project designed to introduce people to multiple forms of jazz and to teach them about the prolific history of jazz in Omaha.
At night, the venue is a private club that occasionally hosts live shows and album release parties. Dussault says it has also become a popular stop for bands coming through Omaha who just want to unwind before shows.
True to her mission of being an asset to the music scene, as well as a place that is welcome to people of creative and artistic bents, Dussault says it was important to provide something new. The Hi-Fi House isn’t a library or a record store or a coffee shop precisely because Dussault wanted it to be fresh.
“I think the hardest thing in developing a new business is finding out how you can live in a community and not cannibalize what’s already there,” Dussault says. “It’s easy to do what everybody else did and do it a little better, or invest a little bit more money in it, but to me that’s not helping. We want to support the venues in town, not compete with the venues in town.”
Dussault and Ochsner both say they’d like to see Hi-Fi Houses in other cities.
“The last 20 years we had this sort of personal revolution in music,” Ochsner says. “It was my iPod with my music, my headphones, my playlist. I think the mission of bringing people a social listening experience, bringing that back to people…I just think it’s very necessary.”
Dussault says it’s a challenge to not be seen as “elitist,” or to give the impression that people who don’t know a lot about music aren’t welcome.
“We built this place so that it was comfortable for people from age 5 to 99,” she says. “We believe in sharing music with everybody.”
PICK OF THE WEEK: Thursday, Jan. 4: This week we’re giving you the chance to check out the Blackstone District’s members-only music club for free when you RSVP to our first party of the year. The Hi-Fi House is featured in our latest issue, which you can pick up at Omaha Magazine’s January/February Launch Party. The Venezuelan food truck, El Arepón, will be on hand to feed your after-work munchies, even offering some free appetizers. There will also be beer available from Farnam House Brewing Company to wash down those savory bites and music from Omaha jazz musician Ed Archibald. To find out more, click here. RSVP at Local Stubs here.
Friday, Jan. 5: Benson First Friday and Dipped in Soul join forces this Friday at The B Side of Benson Theatre with Dipped in Soul + BFF, an art exhibition and open mic. You’ll get the chance to hear poetry, spoken word, hip-hop, and more after you check out some art by Maggie Heusinkvelt and Stephen Kavanaugh. This family-friendly, open-to-the-public event starts at 6 p.m. and it’s free. Proceeds from the B Side bar will go to the Benson Theatre Project. Click here to find out more.
Friday, Jan. 5: Check out one of Omaha’s favorite local artist at the Art by Bird Williams opening reception happening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Great Plains Black History Museum. The exhibit highlights paintings of famous African-Americans as seen through Aaron Bird Williams’ eyes. Light hors d’ouevres will be available and the artist will be on hand to discuss the exhibit, which is on display from Jan. 4 until Feb. 24. This is the perfect chance to check out the museum and buy some beautiful local art. Find out where to go here.
Saturday, Jan. 6: Been pining away, missing Bowie and all his fabulousness since he left this earth? Bennie Does Bowie III at The Waiting Room is here to help you fill that void. It’s the third annual tribute to the godfather of glam, when Bennie and the Gents pay homage to Ziggy Stardust, playing all the glittery tunes you long to hear. The Beat Seekers will add their own brand of fab by adding their resistance-rock sound to the show. Get your tickets here now.
Saturday, Jan. 6: Head to the Barley St. Tavern this Saturday if you’re feeling the need to hear some one-of-a-kind music from some kickass women (and a couple men). Sissy Brown, Virginia Kathryn, and Tragic Martha will be playing everything from British folk-rock to honky-tonk. Sissy Brown hails from Oklahoma and Texas, and knows how to throw down at a hoedown. Virginia Kathryn is a local, OEAA-nominated blues musician from right here in Omaha. (Check her out in the upcoming issue of Encounter.) And Tragic Martha hails from small-town Hyannis, Nebraska, where they play whatever they feel like playing. Find out more here.
Sunday, Jan. 7: Does all the technical jargon associated with space exploration make you balk at trying to learn more about it? If so, Jay Gallentine’s Ambassadors from Earth should be your next read, followed by his latest, Infinity Beckoned. You can meet him at the reading and signing of his latest work at Barnes & Noble (you know, one of those old-school box bookstores) by Oakview. Gallentine’s very special skill set is that he strips away all that confusing tech speak and tells the human side of the story of space exploration. Learn more here.
Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap, that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”
In a previous life, Greg Eklund was pounding out noisy, angst-filled alt-rock anthems—such as “Santa Monica” and “Father of Mine”—for the Grammy-nominated band Everclear.
Eklund is a relatively new resident of Omaha. He moved here in June of 2015 with his two children and wife, Ellie Kevorkian, artistic director of residency programs at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.
He has since enthusiastically embraced the city’s art and culture scene. Meanwhile, his current job involves touring international concert halls as drummer for Le Bonheur, a band fronted by Storm Large, a Portland-based singer with cult-like following.
“My friends (back in Portland) are always telling me ‘what’s in Omaha?’” says a barefoot Eklund sitting on his home’s couch talking about the coolness of Omaha. “I tell them, ‘a ton of stuff.’”
He says Film Streams is high on his list of favorite Omaha haunts. “To be able to take my son to see Willow in the day and then go back and see a new indie film that night is so cool,” says the part-time stay-at-home dad.
Eklund references his list of Omaha highlights against his former home of Portland: “I’m a member of Hi-Fi House, which I’m excited about. Here’s Portland, the hip of the hip, and they don’t have anything like that…oh, and Under the Radar! What Amanda (DeBoer Bartlett) has done with that is incredible.”
Omaha’s appeal is simple for Eklund: “There’s a lot of artists and musicians, but it’s still affordable.” He says Omaha is like Portland 30 years ago: “It wasn’t a big town, but it was super cheap; that’s why all the musicians and artists moved there.”
He moved to Portland in 1988 after graduating from high school. He enrolled in the University of Oregon, which didn’t go well. After three semesters, he was kicked out for poor academic standing. Eklund knew what he wanted to do, and it wasn’t study. Cue the drumroll.
His drumming career first began when his parents bought him a set for Christmas in 1982. The gift was negotiated. They promised to let him play drums after he took piano lessons for two years.
But that initial drum set didn’t come with a cymbal, so he used pizza boxes to keep the beat, mowing lawns until he earned approximately $100 to purchase “the cheapest cymbal I could get.”
His passion and talent bloomed throughout high school. His career-military father moved the family from Florida, to London, to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Greg attended Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. The school boasted a top-notch band and symphony program, with music teachers who performed in the military band.
The young Eklund managed to secure the last chair in the percussion section. Knowing the competitiveness of the school’s music program, he sought extra lessons to improve. He also knew Garwood Whaley, a Juilliard-educated percussionist who wrote several popular method books.
“I just happened to be dating his daughter at the time,” Eklund says. “He took one student a year. Because I was dating his daughter, she prepped me for the audition, and said, ‘don’t tell him you want to play drum set.’ So when he asked, I said I wanted to a symphonic percussionist.”
It was listening to records, however, that gave him the chance to play rock ’n’ roll. In 1994, he joined a band that was about to be signed to Capitol Records. With Everclear, Eklund rode the tidal wave of alt-rock through the 1990s, moving from city to city each night for performances. By 2003, he was ready to slow down.
He played guitar and sang vocals for another band, The Oohlas, began raising his kids with Kevorkian, and evolved from a noisy rocker to keeping beat for a symphonic performer.
“It feels more mature,” Eklund says of his current place in life. “We play in these gorgeous opera houses and beautiful old theaters. Because of her stature, we are taken care of. And the fact that I’m able to do this now, I’m really fortunate.”
Sam Parker wants to help his patrons find that feeling—the rush of emotion that happens when people lose themselves in a song.
A true-to-form millennial, Parker has pursued passion projects and labors of love from city to city. Originally a transplant from the Washington, D.C., area, he came to Omaha some years ago to study business marketing. He later left to work with Paper & Plastick Records in Florida and returned to find that Omaha’s creatives were ready to put his business savvy to good use.
If you are a musician or an artist in town, you have likely crossed paths with Parker. Though he sits at the helm of a couple major operations and has his hands in even more, he is quick to state that nothing he does is a solo effort: “I have a very solid group of people surrounding me in every project that I’m doing. I really couldn’t do any of this without them.”
That collaborative vision is a thread weaving through all the enterprises Parker is involved with, from his role as co-founder of production company Perpetual Nerves, to his position as talent buyer for the music festival Lincoln Calling, to his work at Hi-Fi House, a vinyl record musicology lab/library (founded by Kate Dussault). Parker wants his ventures to foster connection and further the movement for social progress. His new music venue, Milk Run, is no exception.
Milk Run, which opened last fall, defines itself as an all-ages community space. Primarily hosting concerts, the site is on Leavenworth Street, tucked between Shucks and Club Vibe. On the front door is a yellow sign which reads “Safe Space,” signifying an inclusive ideology that welcomes all.
Stepping into Milk Run feels a bit like visiting your cool grandma’s house, with black and white walls and a string of lights behind the performance area. It is intimate, modest, and entirely unpretentious. The space invites you to be yourself.
Milk Run was founded on Parker’s desire, and that of his colleagues, to help grow Omaha’s music scene; he says they “wanted to see more bands come to town, including artists who are under the radar.” When asked whether he thinks Omaha is ready to support eccentric creators, his stance is confident: “There are a lot of people who want change.”
As with all of Parker’s projects, Milk Run does more than promote musicians. They also provide organizations like Omaha Zine Fest and Feminist Book Club with a space to meet when needed. “We get so many different kinds of people walking through these doors, I feel like I’m constantly learning.”
Ultimately, that’s what he cultivates: opportunities for folks to experience something new and to connect over live music. “It’s cool to see people come together. Omaha is an evolving city, and I want to be a part of that.” It is clear that Parker has already begun to influence our city’s evolution, pointing us toward a more dynamic future, one great show at a time.