Tag Archives: Maha

Louder Together

August 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lauren Martin was a small-town farm girl from McCook, Nebraska. She loved country music and never expected she would one day lead Maha—Nebraska’s pre-eminent annual music festival.

On Aug. 19, Martin oversees one of Maha’s boldest lineups ever. Headlined by the controversial hip-hop group Run The Jewels, Maha 2017 is poised to be one huge spectacle that promises to bring together a diverse group of concert-goers.

That kind of unity through music drives Martin, who got her first taste of it when she was a college student working on the campus program council at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “All of the sudden, I realized my favorite thing was to bring people together around experiences,” says Martin, who was named Maha’s first executive director in 2015.

While attending UNL, Martin helped bring such performers as singer-songwriter Jason Mraz and comedian Kathy Griffin to the university. After graduating, she wanted to continue exploring a career of booking musical talent.  Martin interned at Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records in 2007. The following summer, she found herself working at Live Nation, a global entertainment company in St. Louis. However, the Great Recession of 2008 cut her career plans short, forcing her to move back home and assess her future in the music industry.

“I came back to Omaha and felt like a dog with my tail between my legs because I failed—or because I couldn’t hack it—whatever it was” Martin says.

In 2009, Maha was born, and Martin took interest. Over the next few years, she wore many hats, including working as a house manager at Omaha Performing Arts and as programming director at Hear Nebraska. In 2012, she was given the reins to Maha’s social media accounts. She was also named to Maha’s board of directors that same year, eventually serving as vice president.

As she continued to work with Maha, Martin’s view of music changed, especially how it can affect people and bring them together. This feeling and sense of community is something she continues to incorporate into Maha.

“Now I realize music is something we all share, and it has a power to connect. It’s everything from a release, to a way to express yourself,” she says. “And while I myself am not a musician, I find that music helps me process things. It helps me connect with other people. It’s a passion in a way that music is an avenue for my fulfillment.”

Martin also worked in communications at the Omaha Community Foundation, where she helped implement Omaha Gives!, a 24-hour charity event aimed at raising money
for nonprofits.

Then, in 2015, something big happened—Maha sold out for the first time, thanks in large part to a phenomenal lineup that included Modest Mouse and Purity Ring.

“It caused everyone involved with Maha to realize that, if we want the event to continue and really be sustainable and see what even further impact we could have on the community, we needed someone full-time. That’s when I became the executive director,” Martin says.

She also emphasized that the popular festival, currently held at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, is much more than music. The event serves as a medium for other nonprofits to receive attention.

“It’s about raising awareness,” she says, “not forcing anyone to learn about something or expose them to potential trigger topics.”

For example, this year the festival will have information about suicide, the second-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34 in the U.S. Martin says the majority of Maha’s demographic falls in this age range.

“Maha is more than a music festival. It’s a platform for engagement,” she says. “We realized not only can we be a platform for other organizations, but we can help spread education.”

Martin adds that while information is available to event-goers, the staff aren’t trying to make attendees uncomfortable. “Because that isn’t the intent of anyone,” she says. “We’re not impacting the experience by throwing mental health in your face,” Martin says. “We’re not scared to talk about this. We want to be an organization that is listening to what is going on in our community.”

In addition to providing mental health information, other nonprofits team up with Maha as part of its community to culture and social activities.

This year Maha has again partnered with Louder Than a Bomb, an annual youth poetry slam with roots in Chicago that focuses on bringing teens together across all divides. The group was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary of the same name.

Another repeat partner is Omaha Girls Rock, a nonprofit that typically draws plenty of attention. The group empowers young women to voice creativity through music education and performance. In general, to “rock.”

“Maha is an event that connects and reflects the community,” Martin says. “In that kind of structure, you get to walk away saying ‘Omaha’s got some really cool stuff going on.’”

As Maha continues to grow, Martin says people are getting even more out of the music festival. To this date, the event has drawn music fans from 46 states, according to its website.

“While the music is seemingly the main event, you come to Maha and get so much more than that,” Martin says. “I thought I was getting involved with Maha for the music, but what kept me involved with Maha was all the people I’ve gotten to meet.”

Visit mahamusicfestival.com for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

 

Lauren Martin

Local Musician Trades California for Omaha

July 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Venice, California, tempts many people—with sandy beaches and year-round sunshine, it is obvious why folks from around the world flock to the destination. Josh Soto has lived there, and he moved on. He now calls Omaha home.

For the sake of Omaha’s music scene, Soto traded Southern California’s serene climate for volatile weather and bitter winters. He relocated five years ago, and he has been a fixture ever since.

Almost immediately after coming to Omaha, he started playing bass for a local band called The Scene, and he worked at Guitar Center. “I played in the Scene for about five years, and just from working there (at Guitar Center) I got to meet everyone and kind of integrate myself into the Omaha music scene,” Soto says.

JoshSoto2Soto says Omaha feels so much like home it sometimes seems funny to think he came from a completely different place.

“It’s been a slow build, and it’s kind of funny how many people think I am from here,” Soto says. “I am a total gear junkie, so it kind of helped when people would come to me for advice, or just pick my brain about different things as a Guitar Center guy.”

After more than five years working at the shop near Oak View Mall, Soto is now the general manager of Ground Floor Guitars in the Blackstone District. He says Guitar Center customers often complained about the long commute to West Omaha. Ground Floor is a solution to their problem.

“I was approached by Phil (Schaffart, Ground Floor’s owner). He wanted to do a guitar shop in Blackstone, and it just made total sense,” Soto says.

According to Soto, Ground Floor won’t be the shop that has everything, but they will have the basics.

“We are going to have the essentials, so if you need a new pack of picks, or strings, an amp, or a new guitar, it’s all going to be right here,” Soto says.

Soto has a lot of love for the Omaha music scene, and he sees this new adventure with Ground Floor as a way to give back. “I think it is going to allow me to better serve my friends in the music community right here in the neighborhood,” he says.

He recognizes how meaningful it is for a good guitar shop to have caring and attentive employees who build relationships with customers. For Soto, the notion even carries a hint of nostalgia.

“I knew a guy named Josh that worked in Guitar Center back in Hollywood, and he always took care of me, from when I was a 15-year-old idiot kid who had no money to when I actually started being in bands and playing shows,” Soto says.

Soto says he wants to be that person for other guitarists: the guy who always takes care of you, your “man on the inside.” Soto wants people to know they can count on him to take care of their needs.

“It’s sweet that the people of Omaha have trusted me and kind of adopted me,” Soto says with a laugh. “I get a lot of personal satisfaction in being able to help people. I love talking about gear, and I am very fortunate that I can do what I love for a living.”

Just like his employment at Guitar Center, Soto’s band, The Scene, was bound for change, too.

“We did a lot of really cool stuff. We toured a lot, we played Maha in 2012, and we played the opening ceremonies for the College World Series two years ago,” Soto says. “That band just recently ended.”

Soto briefly played with several local bands before joining his current group, High Up. Soto says his first rehearsal with High Up carried a very surreal realization.

“I’m playing with all stars,” Soto says. “That was one of those pinch me moments where I thought, ‘I’m playing with these guys?’” The rest of the band consists of Christine and Orenda Fink (vocals), Greg Elsasser (keyboard), and Eric Ohlsson (drums).

High Up got together just over a year ago and the band is sure to remain in the Omaha music scene for some time—much like their bassist, Josh Soto. Encounter

Visit highup1.bandcamp.com for more information.

Maha Music Festival 2013

June 20, 2013 by

It’s hard to believe the Maha Music Festival will celebrate its fifth anniversary this year. First held in 2009 at the Lewis & Clark Landing in Downtown Omaha, the all-day outdoor indie rock festival moved to Stinson Park at Aksarben Village in 2011, where it remains today. Each year, the event expands and evolves into a bigger musical machine than it was the year before.

Even more surprisingly, Maha is a nonprofit endeavor, run strictly by volunteers and supported by a host of generous corporate sponsors, including Centris Federal Credit Union, Weitz Investment Management, Schnackel Engineers, and 20 other local and national companies. The event is built on a love for the Omaha community and a passion for music. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy feat. Maha Board President Tre Brashear admits he didn’t exactly know what he was getting into when it first began.

Photo by Chip Duden.

Photo by Chip Duden.

“I jokingly say if we knew how much work [Maha] was going to be, we probably would have never done it in the first place,” Brashear says. “But once it gets in your blood a little bit, you want to make it better and better so it keeps going. It was hard to explain to our families that we weren’t making any money [laughs].”

This year’s music lineup announcement sent shockwaves through the Omaha community when people got word The Flaming Lips were headlining the August 17 event. Lips’ frontman Wayne Coyne and his wild, gray-streaked Afro are all over television lately, with Coyne serving as the spokesperson for Virgin Mobile. Not only are The Flaming Lips huge right now, they’re also the most expensive act Maha has ever booked. The organizers spent 25 percent more on talent this year than last, Brashear shares.

Photo by Josh Hollowell.

Photo by Josh Hollowell.

The initial Maha concept was to generate enough profit from the event to donate to various nonprofit organizations around the community; so far, that hasn’t happened. But the Maha committee is determined to make that goal a reality. With The Flaming Lips headlining and prolific artists such as Matt & Kim, The Thermals, and Bob Mould (Sugar) rounding out the bill, Brashear is hopeful this is the year.

“We thought we’d come out gangbusters out of the gate, but we didn’t do that,” he says. “We’re trying to get enough money to put aside so we know Maha is safe and will continue on, even if it rains or nobody likes the headliners. We are slowly getting there, but it’s not to the point we can distribute anything [to nonprofits] yet.”

Despite the challenges, Maha always has an eye on the future. Hip-Hop has been noticeably absent over the years, and the festival also seems a bit confined with just one day of performances.

“Our vision for Maha is to have multiple days on a weekend,” Brashear explains. “We want to be able to expand to different genres. We still want to be true to all of our indie fans that have grown up with us, but we’re not trying to only be this indie music festival. We want to go beyond that.”

Tickets for the Maha Music Festival are available for purchase online at mahamusicfestival.com. Advanced general admission tickets are $45, and day-of general admission tickets are $55.