Tag Archives: music

South O Swagger

October 27, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If doing-things-your-own-way could be personified it would probably look like Miguel Rocha. Commonly known as Rocha by family, friends, and coworkers, the 30-year-old musician and South Omaha native is no stranger to living life his way, on his time. This is evident the second you see his signature shaggy hairdo and carefree swagger. 

From throwing his own show in a basement at 17 to managing one of Omaha’s more recent DIY venues, Milk Run, Rocha has been a staple in the Big O’s counterculture for close to two decades.

“I really fell for the Omaha hardcore screamo scene in like ’98, ’99. That’s when I was going to shows,” he says. “I see these young kids living life and going on tour and having fun and not living the ‘normal’ life. That was honestly my biggest draw to it. It was like ‘This is living. This is what I want to be doing with my life.’”

The allure of freedom wasn’t the only thing pulling a young Rocha into the music scene, though. Rooted in an upbringing set against the backdrop of the “marginalized South Omaha projects,” he also found a passion for inclusion and community development in the arts.

“That’s [the] best thing about what Milk Run did. We were making mixed-media bills, and when you do that you show people that there is more than what they thought was out there in the world,” Rocha says. “That’s honestly my biggest goal, to make everyone come together because there’s no reason to be separate when we’re all oddities in this world.”

Milk Run, an all-ages, all-inclusive, truly ‘do-it-yourself’ effort, enjoyed a short but sweet three-year stint as a home to poets, artists, and musicians of all kinds. Although it closed its doors in 2017, Rocha believes there will always be a need for grassroots efforts to promote inclusion through the arts. 

“We need it as a community,” he says. “When you don’t have a space where everyone feels comfortable and where everyone can create, it creates little groups that don’t need to exist. They want us to be alone; they want us to be in our small little niche communities. But no, we can actually create a large community of people who are all supporting all forms of art. I think that is the most important thing.”

When he isn’t busy booking local shows or helping the voiceless find a way to be heard, Rocha’s focus is on CBN, an industrial music project that he started in 2009.

“What I’m actually talking about is where I’m actually from. This isn’t an image I want to put in front of you,” he says.”This is my release from that existence. It’s me expressing those things that burden my soul from that bringing up.” Rocha says that the goal of the project is to explore what he perceives as a class war in America, “how the disenfranchised will always stay disenfranchised because that’s the way the game is set up.”

Several years and a few tours later, CBN has transformed into a duo with Rocha and fellow producer and friend, Davy Haynes, also known as TNDR PiNK, joining forces. Fresh off a successful 10-city tour that peaked with the End Tymes Festival in New York, Rocha has his sights set on the future of the duo. 

“I’ve been doing Omaha DIY almost half my life now. I need to take a break,” he says. “I have to take a step back and focus on my career with CBN and see where I can get when I put all my dedication and focus into that.”

While he is stepping away from the Omaha DIY scene to pursue other endeavors, the spirit of doing things himself still rings true for Rocha.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand the actual sacrifice it takes to make things work,” he says. An independent artist in every sense of the word, he is willing to keep making those sacrifices to help his dreams come to fruition.


Find Neblastya by CBN on Spotify.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.

The King of Christmas Music

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Despite Best Buy no longer selling CDs, and big-box stores like Target reducing their music inventory to a few small rows of releases, Chip Davis remains married to the physical product. 

His Omaha recording-rehearsal studio is connected to a warehouse full of Fresh Aire and Mannheim Steamroller CDs and albums, ready to be shipped out. But if you want to listen to Mannheim Steamroller’s latest release, you’ll have to pick it up at the merch booth during one of their performances at the Orpheum Theater. 

Davis has released his share of physical product in 2018. In addition to his latest CD, Exotic Spaces (again, currently only available at performances), he released a young adult book trilogy in October. Titled The Wolf and The Warlander, the story about a horse and a timber wolf was written as a collaboration between Davis and Mark Valenti (who has written for Disney, Nickelodeon, and the Hallmark Channel). 

Releasing a book trilogy and a new CD in the span of a year would make a hugely productive calendar for most artists. But for Davis, it’s even more of an accomplishment, given that he was prepping for the holiday season for nearly half of the year. 

In mid-August, Davis was at his studio, getting ready to welcome two different Mannheim Steamroller touring groups into his rehearsal room. The setup is old hat at this point: bring in the musicians, run through the set, and make tweaks where appropriate. Most of the musicians have been in the touring band for years and know the routine, Davis says. As a result, he avoids over-rehearsing the material. 

“They’ve played this stuff so much, you don’t want to beat a dead horse,” Davis says. 

On a hot August afternoon, Davis was in casual mode, wearing lime-green shorts and an Under Armor shirt. He walked through the process of choosing a setlist for each of the cities for this winter’s tour. Davis reviews the cities where Mannheim Steamroller will play, and then pulls up what has and has not been played in the past for those audiences. 

“You have to have certain pieces in there, or the audience is going to mutiny,” Davis says. “But you have to have a certain amount of new.” 

Davis won’t be in attendance for the majority of the touring Mannheim Steamroller shows. Instead, he’ll be at Universal Studios in Orlando, conducting the production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with another Mannheim Steamroller band. This will be his 10th year conducting the production, which runs the week before Thanksgiving through Christmas. 

“They’ll probably have me doing it until I drop dead on the podium,” Davis says with a laugh. 

The success of the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums and tours has enabled Davis to pursue other sonic adventures. For Exotic Spaces, he set out to do a musical characterization of places that inspired him, like the pyramids and the Taj Mahal. For each of the tracks, he tried to use musical instruments native to each location. For one track, he used Naval-grade hydrophones to record a whale song off the coast of Oregon. 

In terms of drawing inspiration from newer bands, Davis says he typically sticks to listening to the classical music radio station KVNO. He rarely listens to the radio at home, but in the car, he prefers to listen to Supertramp’s album Crime of the Century. 

“It’s a fabulous album,” Davis says. “Their rhythm chops are so good.” 

Though Davis may stick with the classics, he is a big fan of some of the musical software used by today’s electronic artists. Some of the tracks on Exotic Spaces were recorded with Pro Tools. 

“The percussion sounds [in Pro Tools] are better than real. It’s dead clear,” Davis says. 

Another benefit of Pro Tools is it gives artists the ability to create a virtual symphony. Records that used to demand a full recording studio can now be done on a laptop or tablet. Davis agrees that software like Pro Tools can enable a person to record a symphony, but software can only accomplish so much. 

“The next thing to that is, ‘Do you know how to use a symphony?’” he says. 

If Pro Tools can offer a somewhat inexpensive way to record, then sites like Bandcamp and Spotify represent how artists now use technology to get their work out to mass audiences. Mannheim Steamroller is available on Spotify and iTunes. But Davis says streaming sites are not a good medium for his music. 

“One of the things that throws me for a loop is that this entire company has been devoted to creating the highest audio possible,” he says, “and when you get into streaming, you can’t really do that.” 

However, Davis believes there’s still a place for the physical product. 

“There are people who want it,” he says. “The problem is ‘How do you find them’ and ‘How do they find us?’” 


Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis will offer two live performances at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha on Dec. 22-23. Visit mannheimsteamroller.com for more information. 

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Foxes at Play

October 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Charlie Fox spent years on the road working for rock bands as a tour manager, front-of-house sound engineer, and production manager.

For much of his career, all that time away from home wasn’t a problem. He was single and could go wherever, whenever.

Fox was already used to changing his location.

“I was a military brat, so we moved around a bunch when I was a kid,” he says. His father, a native of O’Neill, Nebraska, was in the Air Force and had long worked toward getting back to his home state.

“When I was a junior in high school [in 2001], he got stationed at Offutt, ” Fox says.

Teenaged Charlie was a drummer in a couple of bands that played the Ranch Bowl and a Papillion venue called The Rock. “Nothing that ever really went anywhere outside of Omaha, or really even drew a whole lot of people to the Ranch Bowl,” he says.

Yet the experience helped spark his interest in recording and sound production.

After high school, he enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha for a year before transferring to UNL.

Though neither school had a live sound program, his time in Lincoln proved beneficial. It was there that he began working at Midwest Sound & Lighting Inc., where a co-worker who owned the public-address system at Duffy’s Tavern gave him opportunities to run the sound board there.

“It was a great place to start really honing my skills,” Fox says. “That was my first live sound gig.”

The experience led him to a career working for rock bands including Cage the Elephant, Needtobreathe, Yellowcard, Mayday Parade, and The Used.

For more than a decade, from 2005-2017, he was on the road for six to nine months out of the year.

“Even though technically my residence was Omaha, I was rarely in town,” he says.

Time went on, and, on his 28th birthday (Aug. 11, 2013) he met Beth, now his wife of three years. Beth spent several weekends on the road with Fox.

“We had a rule that we didn’t go more than three weeks without seeing each other,” Fox says. “So either I would go home or she would fly out to see me.”

Bothersome though the distance may have been, Beth enjoyed the perks of being part of roadie’s life.

“She had only been in four or five states prior to meeting me,” Fox says. “She’s now doubled, or tripled, that.”

Fox also enjoyed the side benefits of being in rock ’n’ roll. The couple state one or their favorite experiences was spending a week at a resort in Hawaii, courtesy of singer/songwriter Mat Kearney, for whom Fox was then working.

“We still talk about that trip, how much fun and relaxation we had that week,” Fox says.

Another of Beth’s favorite trips was going to New York City when Fox was working for Yellowcard. She had never been to the Big Apple before, and Fox wiggled a day off into his schedule to take her sightseeing.

As time went on, being away for weeks at a time became increasingly bothersome, and by 2015, Fox knew the gig was about up.

“When I got married, we had already started talking about what was going to happen with our future,” he says. “Was I going to stay on the road? Would I eventually get off the road? Would we move out of Omaha? In the line of work that I was in with touring, I wasn’t sure that there was going to be a possibility of staying in the music industry and in Omaha.”

At the time, Fox didn’t see a lot of Omaha-area openings.

“I just kind of assumed I would have to move to Nashville, or L.A., or New York,” he says.

As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary.

In May 2017, opportunity knocked when Omaha Performing Arts had an opening for a booking manager.

“I had relationships with agents and promoters from all across the country from my touring days, but really hadn’t done a whole lot of booking,” he says.

Yet Fox wasn’t without booking experience. Earlier in his career, he had booked empty calendar spots at The Rock with local bands.

At Omaha Performing Arts, he is booking at a national level.

“I’m reaching out to agents for these national bands and trying to bring them in myself,” Fox says. “We do work with outside promoters as well on occasion, so I am still using those relationships with regional and national promoters to try and bring the highest quality of artists that we can into our venues.”

He says his focus has been to expand what Omaha Performing Arts offers.

“One of the first shows that I booked here when I came on was St. Vincent (Annie Clark), which I think probably shocked a lot of people when Annie was playing here as opposed to a traditional rock club. But that’s what the agent was looking for, and I think that as St. Vincent had grown, that was where her career was going to. She needed a larger venue.”

He says Omaha Performing Arts venues—the Holland Performing Arts Center and Orpheum Theater—occupy a particular market niche for a mid-level space. One of his goals is to maximize the use of Omaha Performing Arts venues by artists who might not otherwise play Omaha as their popularity increases.

“A lot of artists, they play the small clubs, and then they kind of disappear from Omaha for a few years for a lack of venue space,” he says. “Maybe they play in Kansas City or Des Moines or Chicago. My goal is to try and get those artists to keep coming here so people can see them and not have to wait until they’re big enough to be playing in the arenas.”

In addition to career satisfaction, Fox’s work gives him an opportunity to come home each night to his wife and Theodore, the couple’s nearly 2-year-old son. Beth, now a stay-at-home mom, is expecting the couple’s second child.

“Working with Omaha Performing Arts has been an amazing experience,” he says. “Being able to come home every day at the end of the day and see my family, to sleep in my own bed, to have dinner with my wife and son every night…that wasn’t possible in my old career.”


Visit omahaperformingarts.org for more information about Charlie and the artists he is booking for OPA.

This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Clockwise from top: Charlie, 
Beth, and Theodore Fox

From the Heart

September 30, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Cristina Bertuldo caught herself singing—and lowered her voice to a slight hum. 

“Sometimes, I’m very selfish with my gift,” she explains. “So many of my friends ask why I don’t sing as often.”

She’s a sensitive soul, that Bertuldo, always looking for the good in others even after she’s been burnt. She’s an Omaha singer-songwriter who battles depression and anxiety.

Bertuldo has the unique ability of conveying the passion and pain in songs yet somehow maintaining a playful mood. She preaches from her scars. The local 101.3 FM radio personality, yoga instructor, photographer, and mentor uses music as a healing force.

“I just want people to know that they aren’t alone and not to be afraid to reach out,” she says. “If I could preach one thing…be kind because you have no idea what another person is going through.”

Bertuldo, now known as Lady Scientist, is (by all appearances) a well-adjusted woman whose voice dances with delight as she recalls a favorite anecdote or takes stock of her good fortune. In college, however, Bertuldo encountered her first bout with depression after her best friend’s parents died in a car accident. Overwhelmed by emotion, she returned home early from college. She turned to music, which soothed her soul.

Shortly after that brief stint in college, Bertuldo attended a Nikka Costa concert at the Music Box, a now-closed Omaha venue, and met producer Printz Board, who put her in touch with musicians to sing backup.

In 2006, Bertuldo sang onstage with Allan “apl.de.ap” Pineda Lindo of the Black Eyed Peas at a Council Bluffs concert. She met Lindo when recording in the same studio as the Black Eyed Peas. He was on the video shoot of “Don’t Lie,” when Bertuldo approached him and threw her spiel about her talent. He asked her to freestyle. She did. They linked up, and Bertuldo moved to LA, but the pressures of the music business, and the big city, brought back demons.

“I was dealing with depression and anxiety on top of that,” she says. “When you’re caught up in that…you can’t grow.” 

In 2008, she moved back to her Nebraska home to heal. By way of random and not-so-random connections, she was occasionally booked as an opening singer at area concerts and music venues. Her sultry  yet soulful voice kept her on stage. In 2011, she won an Omaha Hip Hop Award for Best Female R&B singer. 

“Whenever I tried to push music out of the way,” she explains. “It always fell in my lap.”

Right now, she prefers to be behind the scenes helping others. She helped a friend broaden her reach in fashion design with pop-up boutiques. She began consulting another friend through the use of her photography. And she began mentoring Chikadibia Ebirim, a local self-produced musician whom she assisted with music promotion. 

“I wasn’t trying to heal myself,” she says. “But I was healing myself by helping other people.”

Life has been a roller coaster, she adds. “I’ve hit rock bottom several times. [Because] I deal with dark thoughts, I think people who are capable of so much light have this darkness they also battle.” 


Follow @ladyscientist on Facebook for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Gary Numan Plays the Slowdown Days After Fatal Tour Bus Accident

September 28, 2018 by

“Here in my car, I feel safest of all. I can lock all my doors, it’s the only way to live.”

Gary Numan’s 1979 hit song “Cars” has been a fan-favorite for decades, but the lyrics took on new meaning as the singer performed in downtown Omaha just four days after his tour bus fatally struck an elderly pedestrian. Fans of all ages gathered at the Slowdown on the night of Thursday, Sept. 27, to watch the artist perform.

Aside from the lyrics of his music, the British singer-songwriter didn’t speak a word to the crowd the entire night. But that didn’t keep Omaha down.

The audience went wild for the pioneer of synthesizers in electronic rock, as Numan kicked it back to his ’70s rise to fame with a tent of lights held up by a shimmering disco ball. Wearing a shredded white turtleneck tunic draped to his knees (the latest in mummy fashion?), he made his way through the set list sans monologue.

No one moves quite like the 60-year-old Gary Numan—he swung freely across the stage at awkward angles between dueling guitarists, his cloud of black hair only a millisecond behind his flailing limbs and tattered attire. The message was clear: if you’re going to dance, then dance like you mean it. 

Numan serenaded his guitar during the encore, kissing and sniffing the instrument before he played the final song of the night and waved goodbye.

After the show, Numan tweeted his gratitude for the evening of fun:

“Thanks, Omaha. You really picked us up. We’re grateful.”

Story Telling with Evan Bartels

September 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s a quote featured on Evan Bartels’ website that resonates loudly with the Nebraska-bred musician: “Evan Bartels doesn’t sound like any singer I’ve ever heard. Ever. His voice sounds old and young at the same time. He sounds like he’s a hard drinker and a gentle soul. He is a contradiction and his writing cuts through the air like a knife.”

Although just 25 years old, Bartels says he has always felt like a much older soul, which could explain his penchant for rootsy, Americana music. 

“I always dreamed that I’d be happier 200 years ago in the mountains,” Bartels admits. “I think there’s a part of me that maybe was that man in a past life, like maybe part of that shines through. I shouldn’t feel as old as I do, but I’ve put on some hard miles and I think that’s what connects me to the older self I have. It’s almost an alter ego in a sense.” 

In 2017, Bartels released The Devil, God & Me. Throughout the 11-track project, he dives into addiction and how it’s affected his life. With his slick guitar solos and a raspy, bellowing voice, Bartels channels his deepest emotions and wears them on his sleeve. 

“The only thing I’ve been hardcore hooked on has been tobacco,” Bartels says. “Everything else I kinda skirted the line and was able to make it out. But I have friends who didn’t, good folks I love and respect who didn’t, and you can see it everywhere on the street.”

Ultimately, he recognizes everyone has a vice they hold on to—from alcohol to anger. 

“Whenever people talk of addiction, it’s really easy to picture a burned-out junkie or an alcoholic, but everybody has something,” he says. “There’s plenty of people addicted to attention or even addicted to being angry.”

“I think what’s really interesting is the cause of what drives someone to become addicted to something. In my experience, it’s more often than not something really bad in their life rather than whatever they’re addicted to. It’s just a cycle, some people break it and some people don’t. Either way, there’s lots of stories in there that deserve to be told.” Bartels has become adept at telling such narratives. 

For as long as he can remember, storytelling has been a part of his life. It all started with an old, folk song called “The Cuckoo.” As a child, his father would play it to him and Bartels remembers watching him strum the chords and thinking how beautiful it sounded. His obsession with music blossomed from there. 

“I liked listening to Chopin and Beethoven when I was a kid, and I still do,” he says. “I like to close my eyes and just feel. I don’t know how old I was but music just made sense to me. I could hear the patterns and I think that it just naturally turned into a passion.”

Bartels is laying out plans for a follow-up to The Devil, God & Me, as well as launching a fundraising event for a national publicity campaign. In the meantime, he’s focused on playing as many live shows as he can, perfecting his pie-crust recipe, and trying not to swear so much. But mostly, it’s all about the music. 

“I’ll just play to whoever’s listening for as long as they listen,” he says. “If and when the day comes no one wants to hear what I’m singing, I’ll just play for myself. I don’t know if I’d rather be heard by others or just get out the words—even if I’m talking to myself.”  


For more information, visit evanbartels.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.

 

The Intersection of Africa with Latin Music

September 10, 2018 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

In a previous issue, I explored how the African-American tradition deserves credit for inventing all major forms of music created in America, such as hip-hop, disco, funk, soul, jazz, rhythm and blues, blues, house, techno, and of course, rock ’n’ roll. 

What I didn’t have space to address was how Hispanic and Latin music fit into the equation. So in this column, I’m going to explore how the same evolutionary music process that took place in North America, specifically in the United States, also occurred in Central and South America.

Well, here’s how that generally worked: African people were involuntarily brought to the “New World.” Since most came from Western Africa, where the drum was the foundation of their music, their African culture mixed with whichever local culture and region in which they landed. New forms of culture and music sprouted from the interactions. 

This is how we got hip-hop, disco, funk, soul, jazz, R&B, blues, and rock. But the same thing that happened in the U.S. also happened in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Jamaica, and so on. 

But instead of funk, it was cumbia in Columbia. Instead of R&B, it was reggae in Jamaica. Instead of disco, it was samba in Brazil. 

In fact, here’s a somewhat more complete list of Latin American forms of music with an African basis: bachata, batucada, cha-cha-cha, conga, funk carioca, mambo, tango, pachanga, reggaeton, rumba, son, tropicalia, and zouk…just to name a few. 

Some folks may think of the music that came from the U.S. and Latin America as separate entities divided by geography and ethnicity. But the two are more connected than you’d think.

For example, one genre name that wasn’t in the list is salsa. Most folks think of salsa as a uniquely Latin American music form and assume it was created somewhere with warm, sunny beaches where pina coladas are served. But in fact, salsa was invented in the United States. 

Between mass migrations of Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants to New York City (especially in the 1950s when half a million Puerto Ricans came to NYC), New York had a thriving Latin music scene that centered mostly around the legendary Palladium nightclub. But between the myriad of music genres, there lacked a cohesive glue that brought it all together. 

“People were getting confused with the mambo, cha cha chá, and guaracha—so what we did was, we took the music and put it under one roof and we called it ‘salsa,’” said Johnny Pacheco.

Pacheco was one of the founding partners of Fania Records, which was a label created in 1964 “to produce, promote, and market the music of Latinos in New York,” according to PBS’s Latin Music USA documentary series. 

Fania also released a lesser-known genre called boogaloo. Perhaps the best known boogaloo song is Joe Cuba’s “Bang Bang,” which has a Latin-tinged staccato piano, Afro-Latin drums, and African American-inspired call-and-response lyrics.

“Between the years of ’66 and ’69, boogaloo became the sound of young blacks in New York,” wrote music journalist Maulud Sadiq Allah in Medium. “The 30 years of Cuban music and Black American music had finally merged and took on a life of its own.” 

Perhaps during no other time in history has the convergence of Afro-Latinos and African-Americans been so creatively infused than through boogaloo. 

Fania brought salsa and boogaloo to a commercial market, which funneled the Latin fervor in NYC into a marketable movement that was enough to sell out Yankee stadium for a Fania concert in 1973.

“The early 1970s was a political coming-of-age of Latinos across the country,” said Felix Contreras, co-host of NPR’s Alt.Latino podcast. “Fania was the soundtrack for the empowerment for many of these communities, because it was brash, it was vibrant, it was new. It embraced the Afro identity of Latin America. And it made me—a young Chicano teenager in California, just discovering music—want to be part of this exciting new sound and movement.”

So while Fania catapulted the music with origins in Puerto Rico and Cuba,  “salsa, and all the genres that informed it, is an African-based music,” according to Sadiq Allah. 

What’s the point of sharing all of this in the back of Encounter Magazine? 

Well, when we consider that nearly all major forms of music were created in the Americas as a result of the slave trade, is our society fully aware of the origins of its beloved music? And if not, what might change if everyone were made aware? My hope is that it makes you listen to music differently, and question any sense of ownership you have to a particular history of music. 

Just something to ponder the next time you hear your favorite song. 


This column is Brent’s last for now. His full life of fathering and trying to save the planet are his priorities. But rest assured, when he has something to say about Omaha’s art scene, we will give him the forum to speak. In the meantime, we will feature guest columnists from all walks of the arts and culture scene. We invite you to share your thoughts and ideas with us and look for an exciting new columnist in our upcoming November/December issue.

Curly Martin

July 29, 2018 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

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. 

Review: Frank Foster’s Redneck Rock ’N’ Roll

June 18, 2018 by
Photography by provided

Frank Foster was a sweet relief on a sweltering summer night.

The country musician performed in Omaha on Friday, June 15, at The Waiting Room Lounge (with Bucka Ruse opening the night).

Although Foster has been independently producing music since the release of his first album in 2011, Rowdy Reputation, the line of people waiting outside for the doors to open before the show demonstrated his rapidly growing fan base.

When Foster took the stage a little after 10 p.m., the energy in the room felt like the air before a summer thunderstorm.

Most of the roughly 70 people in the audience were on their feet in front of the stage, dancing and having a good time listening to music that Foster describes as “Redneck Rock ’N’ Roll”—also the title of the second song in his set.

He seemed to channel the look and sound of country stars Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney, with Foster’s own Louisiana style tying it all together. Before finding national success with his music, the self-described “country boy” had a job working in an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. The oil fields have also inspired Foster songs such as “Rig and the Road.”

Foster’s stage presence could have filled an arena, making it a special treat to catch him up close at The Waiting Room. His constant movement and tendency to jump up and stand on the speakers pumped up the energy and gave the show a big-time feel.

Foster interspersed a few slow songs in his set of upbeat, sing-along songs, but the most exciting song had the refrain “In the South, they get loud,” from his upcoming album set to debut in September.

If audience members weren’t Frank Foster fans before, they are now.


Visit frankfostermusic.com for more information.

Spirit Lives Here

June 12, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Daisies may blow with the wind, but that doesn’t mean they are fragile.

The young members of Daisy Distraction have seen a lot of dilemmas. Dilemma was, in fact, the name of the band that several of the members first played in together. Vocalist Erin Mitchell, guitarist John Staples, bassist and keyboardist Neil Osborn, and vocalist Anna Abbott were members of BluesEd, a youth development program. Staples, Osborn, and Abbott were placed in Dilemma with Mitchell, drummer Eric Shouse, and guitarist Logan Hawkins.

The most ethereal member of the group is also the biggest influence. Abbott, along with Staples and Osborn, joined BluesEd in early 2016. Sweet and shy, she performed live starting in April that year. The band was proud to be part of Omaha Entertainment & Arts Summer Showcase on June 10, and at Bridge Beats on June 24. 

The show on June 24 was the quad’s final performance together. Abbott suffered an asthma attack the next day that sent her into cardiac arrest, and she died on July 2. The band’s next performance was one week later. 

BluesEd gave the heartbroken singers the opportunity to sit out their performance, but the group members knew the ever-positive Abbott wouldn’t want them to miss a performance because of her.

“One time, Anna could see that I was having a bad day,” Mitchell recalls. “I was being negative, but she took the time to show me a photo of a fox because she loves foxes, and it just brightened my day. To this day, when I see a fox it reminds me of that experience and of her.”

The cover band decided to throw caution (and petals) to the wind. Abbott had wanted to perform original music to push herself as an artist, and throughout the summer Dilemma began to perform original songs at their sets, including at a benefit for Anna held at 21st Saloon on July 24, 2016, and as the opening act for the New Generation Music Festival. Dilemma ended their season (and their group) on Aug. 13 with the In the Market for Blues festival.

Aside from the loss of Anna, the group members faced other dilemmas in fall of 2016, one of which was distance. Mitchell stayed in Omaha for classes, but Osborn traveled nearly 170 miles away to college.  

Then there was the dilemma of the music. With the change in their musical style, Mitchell, Osborn, and Staples needed a new identity. Mitchell thought of the name one day while driving past a field of daisies and thinking of Anna. “Man, I need a distraction,” she thought.

It may not have been pure coincidence.

“We talked about [how] she was one with the earth,” Mitchell recalls of Abbott. “She just kind of emulated that.”

The group transitioned to Daisy Distraction in late 2016. They performed as often as possible and began to think about recording an album.
The individual members (including original drummer Alex Holliger, a close friend of Staples) began to write songs and bring them to
practice sessions. 

Osborn took the role of producer and, in between gigs and engineering classes at Iowa State University, the album came together bit by bit, using each member’s basement throughout the ensuing year. Abbott remained a guiding force for the group.

“The theme of the album is her energy and her essence,” Mitchell says. “It started out with us trying to get through stuff for Anna.”

Even while recording and attending school, the group found time to perform. In April 2017 they performed at ISU’s Battle of the Bands and brought back a trophy.  

Record, perform, study, repeat. By late summer, the group had finished the album, titled For Anna, and they released it during a party on Aug. 31, 2017, at Lucy’s Pub. 

The favorite song off the album for many of the members is, naturally, “Sweet Anna Jane.”

“We used a sample of her singing on the last song of the track,” Osborn says. “We thought that was a nice send-off.”

The day after the release party they performed the new music at Femme Fest in Benson. In mid-September they played in Lincoln at the Do-It-Ourselves Fest.

They were nominated for an OEAA in the best alternative/indie and best new artist categories, but did not take home an award.  

The next distraction came in the percussion section. Holliger left in early 2018 when he discovered the rigors of the chemical engineering degree he is obtaining from UNL was keeping him too busy to perform. The group announced the addition of drummer Mark Winkelbauer one week after the OEAAs.

“Before I joined, these guys were one of my favorite bands in Omaha,” Winkelbauer says. 

Through the spring, the group performed about once a month locally. “We make it work,” Staples says. “We all practice on our own time.”

Now, the group has a new dilemma. “John is moving to Mesa, Arizona,” Mitchell wrote in an email in mid-May. “Neil is most likely taking an internship in Maryland. We hope to have some interim members soon until we figure out something more permanent. They will both be playing in Daisy at some point in the future and hopefully contributing from afar as well.”

And like the free-spirited wildflowers they are, these musicians will persevere no matter the directions in which they scatter.  


Visit daisydistraction.com to learn more about the band. 

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