Tag Archives: musician

Mark McGaugh

February 27, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mark McGaugh describes himself as “that kid everybody always thought was going to be a doctor or a president.” Known as a young child for reading the encyclopedia and watching the History Channel, it’s no surprise that this 24-year-old’s inquiring mind was fascinated by the possibilities of music. His musical career began in the fourth grade, with a recorder class at Belvedere Elementary School.

By fifth grade, he made his first forays into hip-hop during freestyle rapping sessions in the library with friends. It wasn’t until middle school at King Science & Technology Magnet Center when he picked up the alto saxophone that McGaugh started to explore the worlds of classical and jazz music. Omaha North brought the opportunity to join drumline, but the music alone wasn’t enough to protect a teenage McGaugh from the social pressures he faced.

“Growing up here in North Omaha, in a single-parent household, it’s rough. The story goes on and on, but I went through it,” he says.

When he found himself embroiled in some trouble during his junior year, the young man had to step back and decide what he wanted his focus to be. “It was a turning point in my life,” McGaugh reflects on getting caught up with the wrong crowd as a moment when he chose to dedicate his life to music.

Although hip-hop, church choir, and the musical endeavors of family members have always been in the background, McGaugh realized that his interests in music could only go so far when limited to school band. “To be a DJ, or you know, a little black boy on the corner rapping bars, you can [only] get so far here in Nebraska.” Fortunately, his mother always strongly supported her son’s musical interests, provided he focus on his education first.

When he graduated from North High in 2011, that focus on academic achievement culminated in an opportunity to attend Florida A&M University.

“I flew the coop,” he recalls. “I went to Florida with a dream.” That dream was centered around widening his musical horizons, but the young man found his perspective changing about life as a whole. “Going to Florida A&M, which is a historically black school, just seeing the different perspective of what’s possible for me, that definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things.”

During college, McGaugh discovered a passion for broadcast journalism. As he earned his degree in the field, he hosted campus radio shows that investigated some of the most intense national news issues of the time. From an exclusive interview with the mayor of Flint in the heat of the city’s devastating water crisis, to reporting on violence against students at a Georgia Donald Trump rally, to debate over Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law, McGaugh provided valuable insight and information to his community. “That was a big eye-opener,” he says of the talk show.

While diving into broadcast journalism, McGaugh never lost sight of his dream to pursue music. In addition to his more intense Saturday morning show, he covered sports news and hosted a hip-hop show for campus radio. When he wasn’t studying, he was working for a local music promotion agency to help independent record labels distribute their sound.

“That was a good insight into seeing how the music industry works,” McGaugh says. He learned about the importance of understanding what goes into deciding whose music gets played, met artists, and made connections. He reports that “it’s really an effort over talent thing.”

While he was earning his degree and working with promoters across Florida, McGaugh didn’t forget the needs of his hometown. Upon graduation, he returned to Omaha and could clearly see voids in the artistic community—as well as the potential of the city. “There was an actual music scene that was here when I came back from Florida that wasn’t here when I left.” He refers to a number of musical players changing the Omaha scene—Reverb Lounge, Slowdown, One Percent Productions, and Make Believe Records—all giving new energy to budding artists across the city.

Inspired by these new efforts to invigorate the local music scene, McGaugh made a commitment to making a difference in the musical landscape of the city through community radio. The new Mind and Soul 101.3 station, housed inside the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation on Evans Street, was just the type of platform McGaugh wanted to help develop in his community. He began as assistant program director at the station in January 2017, and now hosts “Lunchtime Live,” formats shows, looks up stories, and keeps things running smoothly to give voice to his community.

“My ultimate goal with being at this radio station is making sure that the message of the community isn’t watered down or isn’t ignored,” McGaugh explains. As he continues to pursue his own passion for music and a newfound interest in DJing, he loves being a part of the platform that shares the messages of all types of people in his city and gives new artists a chance to have their voices heard. McGaugh believes that with the help of organizations like Mind & Soul, the future for Omaha music is bright. “Ultimately, the goal is just to help the world.”

This article appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter

Negative Boogie with David Nance

February 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“You gotta live your own authentic experience.”

Omaha musician David Nance, 29, has identified that as a personal mantra. It certainly seems to be serving him well.

His 2017 album Negative Boogie, released by Ba Da Bing Records in Brooklyn, has received rave reviews. One reviewer called it “brilliantly raucous and unhinged.” Noisey (the music channel of vice.com) named Negative Boogie in their “100 Best Albums of 2017.”

Nance says The Velvet Underground is an influence on the album, and the influence is apparent on the finished product.

“We went into this big studio, ARC [an acronym for “Another Recording Company” in Omaha], and we got money from the label to screw around with stuff there,” Nance says. “They got a bunch of fun toys and stuff like that.”

Indeed, a colorful write-up from NPR praises the album’s variety of sounds and production styles coming together to create a “spastic dance music for rock ’n’ roll deviants, a jabbing pointer finger at the soullessness of the pixelated present, blown out and blown up like a basement tape.”

In mid-December, Nance and his band just recorded a new album (which they are calling Peaced and Slightly Pulverized). The yet-to-be-released album will be his fourth in the past three years. His first full-band, full-length album was More Than Enough in 2016.

What did they decide to do for their first album post-Negative Boogie? “This one we just did in a basement,” Nance says. “It’s more about the performance and us playing off of each other, because the songs are real loose, just two chords and rough ideas.”

That search for variety and freedom has been a driving force in his music career thus far.

“Playing to what people expect of you, I don’t think there’s much fun in that,” he says. “I think it’s fun to throw curveballs constantly.”

Nance is a native of Grand Island who went on his first tour when he was 18, playing guitar for a band called Brimstone Howl. It was an eye-opening experience to go to other towns and see the varieties of groups “making music that you would have no way of hearing otherwise.”

He started writing songs around that time.

“I started doing my own thing just out of boredom, basically,” Nance says. “Writing songs or whatever, and getting a tape machine in the basement and just going for it.”

From there, he recorded his own albums and tapes. Actor’s Diary, released in 2013 on Grapefruit Records, was his first album in 2013

Over the years, he has enjoyed making cover albums of other musicians’ work (with his own signature style, of course). He says the exercise helps him to better understand the creative process without having to worry about making new material.

However, he may have gotten more than just a better understanding of the creative process in the case of an album he made with fellow Omaha singer-songwriter Simon Joyner. (Over the years, Nance has played lead guitar in Joyner’s bands.) They did a cover of the Rolling Stones’ album Goats Head Soup, thinking only a few people would hear it, but it started getting some attention online after it was released in the summer of 2017 and discovered by “some guy in Germany.”

Nance says he and Joyner thought there was a chance they could be sued. In a sense, though, that would be a positive. “[It] could be kind of cool, you know? Then the Stones’ lawyer would know about us…We made a fake cease-and-desist letter,” he says. “Hopefully one of these days we’ll get an actual cease-and-desist letter from the Stones.”

Nance enjoys making albums and treating the mixing like it’s another member of the band, but he prefers live shows. In January, he embarked on his first overseas tour. The two-month European tour was scheduled to start in Aarhus, Denmark, and conclude in Paris, France.

“When we go out and play, we really don’t have any intention of recreating what we did on the record.” The songs act more as guidelines with some chords. The goal is for everyone in the band to be ‘present.’”

“Sometimes we’ll play for an hour; sometimes we’ll play for 20 minutes or something, just try to ride the feeling and make honest music,” he says, explaining that being “present” as a musician means “having to think on the spot, now what do you come up with? As opposed to, ‘This is this rigid thing. We need to do everything exactly the same every time.’”

To Nance, working is all about experiencing. He lists an eclectic mix of influences, including Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Funkadelic, Nina Simone, and Lou Reed. And he loves meeting people while touring. “You just feel like you’re a part of something. That’s the biggest thing for me…the not feeling alone.”

Is it ever too much? Can someone have too many influences to the point where it drowns out his or her own voice?

In his case, Nance doesn’t think so.

“I used to get worried about that,” he says. “You just listen to how other people do things, and it’s not necessarily how am I going to filter this through myself. It’s just being inspired by it.”

At the end of the day, Nance just wants to make and find truthful music.

“There’s great music in every genre,” he says. “A person who cares about what they’re doing, who’s being present, I think there’s no flaw to that.”

Visit davidnance.bandcamp.com and badabingrecords.com/david-nance for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Required Listening

June 11, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For years, Chelsea Balzer and Matt Walker ran in the same circles, but somehow didn’t cross paths until Balzer joined the art performance group aetherplough in 2010 and was suddenly thrust into a musical relationship with Walker. Their undeniable compatibility was too much to ignore, and the duo soon formed their own outfit—Vital Organs—a band that fosters Walker’s unquenchable thirst for bold melodies and cinematic qualities, but is danceable at the same time. 

“Back in the day, I was exclusively into hard rock music,” Walker says. “In recent years, I had been dying to write something that made me want to dance.”

Balzer, on the other hand, gravitated toward country artists like Reba McEntire and early LeAnn Rimes because of her father, a loyal country music fan. 

“I would perform for our neighbors and their friends, which I think helped me develop that frontwoman identity from early on,” Balzer says. “But once I hit middle school, I was pretty into Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple, and then soon after I got into stuff like Nine Inch Nails, P.J. Harvey, and The Cure. I’ve always loved vocalists who are brave and provocative—from Christina Aguilera to Zach de la Rocha.” 

Fortunately, Vital Organs isn’t their first endeavor, as aetherplough thoroughly prepared them for what they would do in the future. The collective was built on collaborative creativity and taught them how to compromise.

“It always felt a little like we had no idea what we were doing at the beginning of a project,” Walker says. “As more people threw in their ideas and questions, it would start to take on a life of its own, and suddenly you’re rehearsing a full piece that you all helped bring into being. It was magical.

“I would say our whole philosophy for creating and collaborating is informed by that experience,” he continues. “aetherplough taught us to say, ‘Yes,’ to go all in, to be flexible, and also to listen to each other in a dasdrtist, and I’m so grateful to have been encouraged to play and explore in that community.”

“I personally feel that it taught me to think of all art and performance as ritual that has the power to change its players,” Balzer adds. 

Officially established in 2015, Vital Organs dove right in and pulled from Omaha’s rich musical community, including Make Believe Recordings’ CEO/engineer Rick Carson. The Grammy Award-nominated producer worked on the group’s debut album, The Hysterical Hunger, a decision they didn’t hesitate to make once they fully realized Carson’s “rare combination of expertise, intuition, and top-notch gear.” The album itself gave Balzer and Walker opportunities to explore feminist ideals and the theme of honoring inner desires. 

“We were both going through some real loss, and we needed to rediscover some kind of inner guidance toward true north,” Balzer explains. “For us, that feels like a hunger. We liked the idea of reclaiming the word ‘hysteria,’ which has previously been used as a weapon against women and as a form of gaslighting, but ultimately implies that emotion itself is untrustworthy and that giving yourself over to an experience is dangerous and even insane. We feel that this message is really prevalent in society today and continues to cause harm. We wanted the album to be a way of proclaiming to ourselves and others that we are taking the leap and giving in to that hunger.” 

Drawn to synthesizers and soaring melodies, Vital Organs is actively honing in on its distinctive sound. However, they’re admittedly still trying to figure out how to navigate the rough waters as an indie band. 

“It’s a lot of work and also a lot of head-scratching,” Walker says. “We have been both discouraged and really honored by the process of getting our work ‘out there.’ Some aspects of it are much harder than we anticipated, and yet there are these people who seem to appear from thin air and develop this relationship with your music, and really want to help you succeed. That has been a beautiful experience.”

Vital Organs plans on hitting the road this summer, despite Balzer being in grad school in Boston and Walker busy working at Omaha Children’s Museum. They managed to carve out a few weeks to play some new cities and share the bill with other bands. 

“We know that the music will always mean something different to us than it means to others,” Walker says. “Every song reflects a time in our lives and a message we felt we needed to express. At the same time, we hear the songs and sort of forget that we wrote them. There is a kind of energetic release that comes from finishing songs and letting them exist in the world. It feels simultaneously intimate and mysterious.” 


This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.


Pitch Poet

June 8, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She sets up on a bustling Old Market corner. The footpaths jostle with tourists and locals doing their weekend shopping, dining,
and sightseeing.

Jocelyn Muhammad pulls the acoustic guitar slung over her back then slowly strums a chord that rings throughout the heart of the old-timey business district.

She massages sweet melodies from her guitar, but it’s not until the baby-faced, curly-haired 19-year-old songstress adds her silvery vocals that passersby stop to admire her. No one could escape her charm.

“I want to feel the breeze through my hair, through my hair,” she sings. “I want to go somewhere. I want to be someone. I want to fall in love just like everybody else.”

Muhammad’s voice flows freely at her top notes, pleasantly vibrating eardrums. She’s a showstopper—and a guitar-wielding poet of sorts.

A young musician relatively new to Omaha’s music scene, Muhammad’s voice has a textured, lived-in quality. Perhaps that’s her appeal. Caught off guard, spectators pause to hear her old-soul poetic lyrics and heart-on-her-sleeve folkie romantic songs, which are totally unexpected from such a young, jovial person.

Muhammad is a promising singer-songwriter who has already attracted an incredibly large social media following and the attention of the music industry.

A live, buzzworthy video snippet of her song “Just Like Everybody Else” recently went viral to the tune of almost 5 million plays on YouTube, even before the studio version was released in November. The 23-second clip, filmed on a few cellphone cameras, features Muhammad belting out the chorus of her song.

Taken aback, she was surprised her song reached people from as far away as Russia. It was a humbling experience, says the recent Millard South graduate. In fact, one fan wrote a song in
honor of her.

Songwriting is such an intimate practice and the truest form of flattery, she says. “It’s the idea of singing a song that you wrote about someone. The way they make you feel. And you get to put it to a melody and add words.”

Social-media savvy Muhammad stays connected with her fans through her music blog (jocelynmusic.com), YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter. She documents her musical journey, taking fans along the quirky moments in studio sessions to interviews with the media.

Aside from hearing her from-the-heart work on Old Market street corners, fans catch her at open mic nights around town. She sings a mix of original melodies and covers about love and loss, loneliness and desperation, and pleas to find her soul mate. Under her musical belt, per se, she’s performed at open mic sessions at the legendary Whisky a Go Go in L.A. and the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. She plans to return to L.A. this summer to finish piecing together her first record.

Muhammad got her music start at age 14. Though she participated in school choir, her happenstance of guitar picking came later when she rescued a black Indiana acoustic guitar dubbed “Black Bastard” from the flames of a friend’s bonfire.

She took it home and cleaned it up. She studied her favorite British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s likes and dislikes. His musical preferences and tendencies influenced her own.

A friend taught her the fundamentals of guitar strumming—how to play a G on Cadd9 chord. Two weeks later, she wrote her first song, “Burn It Down.”

She couldn’t bottle up her newfound love for songwriting and guitar playing. So, she packed up her guitar and headed for the Old Market.

A few months later, she says she was introduced to Aly Peeler, who, at the time, was in charge of an open mic night for the then-Side Door lounge. Soon after, she met her current manager, Jeff McClain of Midlands Music Group, who offered her a placement in the group’s free mentoring program for budding musicians.

Muhammad is grateful that she has Peeler and McClain as soundboards to help her polish her melodies and lyrics. Still honing her skills, she says she owes Peeler and McClain for helping develop her talent through many lessons and repetitive exercises, which prepared her to perform live.

“I’m not going to let a melody be just a melody,” she says. “It has to be the right one. I’m practicing constantly…working to get better.”

When she’s performing on stage, Muhammad says, “It’s just me. It’s just me there, singing to you. There’s nothing else … no one else. Just me and you. And, I’m singing.”

Muhammad has been nominated three times for Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards’ best singer-songwriter, but has yet to take home the hardware.

“I’m, like, the youngest artist there…so that’s really cool,” she says. “I’m still working on winning though. I’ll get there someday, but it’s cool just to be nominated.” 


This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

The Evolution 
of Pop Music

April 15, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Admittedly, 34-year-old Omaha native Jonathan Tvrdik doesn’t sleep much. Between co-owning Benson’s Krug Park, working as a consultant for his wife Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik’s business Hello Holiday, being a father to 2-year-old son Hugo, directing music videos and commercials, making music, and holding down a day job as both the executive creative director at Phenomblue and head of product design at Rova, there’s not a lot of room for much else. It’s a path he can trace back to childhood.

“When I was a little kid, I played by myself and was always building things,” Tvrdik recalls. “I’m an adult version of that kid who is constantly making new project—like a band, bar, new app, or music video. I’ve always been a goal-oriented person with lots of irons in the fire.”

Ironically, that’s where the inspiration behind the name of Tvrdik’s upcoming solo album came from. Titled Irons, it’s a project over two years in the making and one that took careful crafting with the help of longtime friend and drummer for The Faint Clark Baechle. Busting at the seams with heavy themes of introspection and emotional growth, Irons illustrates a tumultuous period in Tvrdik’s life.

“For better or for worse, that’s where I’ve always been—busy,” he says. “I don’t even know what that has created in me—like who am I as a person? I’ve always been a workhorse, but who am I really? Each song dissects a different thing I am doing or interested in, or a certain vice I have as a result of all the stuff I am working with. It’s a very self-analytical sort of record.”

Beginning with “Something Better” and culminating with “Star Stick,” the 11-track album is like Joy Division meets The Faint, or as Tvrdik describes it, “Frank Sinatra on top of electronica-goth.” It was a true labor of love and Tvrdik really trusted Baechle’s expertise. Some tracks he thought were polished and ready to go; Baechle would hear them and mistakingly refer to them as “demos.” It took the experience of his fine-tuned ear to sew up any loose ends.

“We’ve made a lot music together over the years from a musician and engineer standpoint,” Tvrdik explains. “For this one, we started working through the process of what it was going to look like. I always knew when I was done mixing and recording it on my own, I would take it to him to refine. My producorial technique is very raw. For songs I thought were done and perfect, Clark would be like, ‘I got your demos’ [laughs]. I’m very right brained and he’s very left. I wanted his brain to go through it with a fine-toothed comb and nit pick the hell out of it, which he did. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

Although Tvrdik’s music background goes back to The Cog Factory days, where Omaha staples like Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, Cursive’s Tim Kasher, and The Faint’s Todd Fink (Baechle’s older brother) got their start in the early ’90s, naturally he’s experienced plenty of evolutionary changes in terms of his musical output. At one point, he was in a hardcore band, and later a noise-based outfit. While he felt he was still emotionally expressive in all of them, it’s with the forthcoming Irons he felt he was truly able to effectively communicate to the listener exactly what he was experiencing.

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


April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A boozy brunch between girlfriends, a meeting of coworkers over coffee, a couple splitting a glass   of wine—conversations captured around the city, all serve as fodder and inspiration for Brion Poloncic’s work. In the quiet corners of Omaha’s local coffee shops and wine bars, Poloncic puts pen to paper, his ear tuned into the surrounding babble, creating art that he feels represents those around him and the experiences they discuss.

But don’t expect a still life of women gossiping between sips of their Venti mochas. As a visual artist, author, and former musician, Poloncic is a man of many hats but always remains a creator of thought-provoking and idiosyncratic work that paints middle America in a psychedelic wash.

“I’ve always fancied myself an artist,” Poloncic says. “My art is an affirmation of my peculiar skill set, and it just so happens to make me happy. It’s my own blend of therapy.”

It was through chance that Poloncic was first bitten by the creative bug. After he didn’t make the baseball team, he traded mitts for guitars and started writing music. A fan of everyone from Pink Floyd to Johnny Cash, he parlayed his early love for listening to his parent’s records into seven albums, all released under the moniker “A Tomato A Day (helps keep the tornado away).” A prolific songwriter, his discography is filled with character and colorful song titles, including ditties like “You Little Shit” and “Weirdo Park.”

For Poloncic, music wasn’t enough. He needed to sink his teeth into his next artistic outlet. So when a friend needed help setting up an Iowa art studio, he asked Polonic to draw pieces that illustrated his career. With no formal training or experience, unless coloring backpacks with magic markers counts, he dove in.

Two years later, Poloncic sold his first piece at a gallery in Lincoln. He has also shown work in Omaha and Kansas City and has a collection represented at Gallery 72, all those diploma-yielding pros be damned.

“My art isn’t constrained by my knowledge or training, and I think this makes me naturally less critical of my work,” Poloncic says.

Filled with abstract shapes, haunting faces, and stark use of color, his off-kilter yet original drawings mirror the tone of his written work. Through The Journal of Experimental Fiction, he published his first book Xanthous Mermaid Mechanics in 2012, following this up in 2014 with his second printed work On the Shoulders of Madmen. Both explored concepts of the subconscious mind, and the novel he is currently working on will follow suit.

“I’ll be surprised if anyone can read it,” Poloncic says. “It’s got no characters, no story arc, and isn’t about anything in particular.”

And he admits this is his niche, comparing his art to improvisational jazz or free-style rap where “things just happen.” For whatever he’s working on, he says the hardest part is just getting started. Once that happens, everything else just falls into place, and if he can’t get over a block, he always has another craft to turn to.

“If I stumble off the creative wagon with drawing, I get back on with writing and vice versa,” Poloncic says. “As you work on one, the other comes right along with it.”

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

One of Ours

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“There aren’t a lot of people in Nebraska writing new musicals,” says Roxanne Wach, executive director of Shelterbelt Theatre.

The Omaha theater company is in the middle of its 24th season of producing original work by Midlands theater artists, and Wach reads around 200 original plays a year. But when she discovered the musical Catherland, it stood out from the pack.

A collaboration between Lincoln-based theater artist Becky Boesen and musician-composer David von Kampen, Catherland will open at the Shelterbelt April 21. It’s the latest incarnation of the project after a staged reading was produced at the Red Cloud Opera House in 2015, followed by a workshop at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln.

“I championed the piece because I thought it had such potential. I liked the music to begin with, and that’s a huge hurdle with musicals. I liked a lot of the script and where it’s going,” Wach says. “David has really captured something in the music, and Becky is really talented with her lyrics, and it’s a pretty engaging score.”

It’s hard to imagine a story more quintessentially Nebraskan than Catherland, which is set in Red Cloud, the central Nebraska hometown of writer Willa Cather. The musical focuses on a present-day couple, Jeffrey and Susan, who move from Chicago to Red Cloud. Susan has some reservations about leaving Chicago; but early in their marriage, the couple agreed that once she finished her first novel they would slow down, move to Jeffrey’s hometown of Red Cloud, and possibly start a family.

Boesen explains that when people are experiencing culture shock they go through a honeymoon phase. Jeffrey and Susan are in that phase when “someone crashes into the barn outside and their life starts to unravel as a result, and there’s an immediate life or death problem that has to be solved,” Boesen says. “Willa Cather shows up, too. Susan, the novelist, is not a Willa Cather fan, and that’s a problem.”

That would be the ghost of Willa Cather. Boesen says that a lot of her own writing tends to include ghosts, though the ghosts are not always literal.

“I mean like a missing piece of your heart. Anything that’s missing to a protagonist,” she says. “But in this [show], there are legit ghosts, which is pretty fun.”

Von Kampen agrees, “And I don’t really like ghost stories. I don’t seek out movies or books that are like that, but from a creative standpoint, it feels really good.”

Boesen was born in southern Missouri and von Kampen is originally from Michigan, but they both moved to Nebraska as children. They’ve lived other places thanks to their careers, but are now settled in Lincoln raising their respective families. Boesen and von Kampen are full-time artists and arts educators who met briefly in 2013 while working on another project.
Boesen’s company, BLIXT, is an arts management and consulting firm that produces projects for the Lied Center, Lincoln Arts Council, and other entities. Von Kampen is a musician and composer who also teaches at Concordia University in Seward as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Roughly a year after their initial meeting, Boesen talked von Kampen into working as the musical director on a staged reading she was directing.

Von Kampen says, “I remember when (Becky) called, and I was thinking, ‘How can I get out of this?’”

She talked him into working with her, and it went well.

“David said, ‘Hey, don’t you write stuff? We should get together and talk about writing sometime.’ And I said, ‘cool let’s get together,’” Boesen explains.

They discovered their work “sort of sounded alike” and began to share ideas. Boesen had been thinking about her experience as a teaching artist in Red Cloud. Her play, What the Wind Taught Me, ran at the Red Cloud Opera House while on tour, and she says she fell in love with the town.

“You’re driving in Nebraska and all of a sudden you feel like you’re on Mars, because the prairie is like an ocean out there,” says Boesen, who started thinking about Cather and “what it must have been like to live in Red Cloud, Nebraska, in the late 1800s.”

The Nebraska prairie might be considered a character on its own in some of Cather’s work. That striking landscape also has inspired the creative team behind Catherland.

“It’s an exploration of sense of place, what it means to be home, what does it mean to make a commitment, and how does that change over the course of time, and the messy nature of long-term love,” Boesen says.

“I really think they’ve captured something. I’m so excited to be working on it. I just can’t wait for people to see it,” Wach says, impressed with Boesen’s willingness to revise her script. “To have somebody who’s that fearless in the process is a real asset to Shelterbelt in really giving new works their highest potential.”

Wach points out that supporting and nurturing new work by local artists is essential to the vitality of the Omaha theater scene.

“There are very few theaters our size who do new work in a city of our size.” Wach says, “We have a very vibrant theater community, and having new works helps feed it.”

Boesen says she and von Kampen feel lucky to have such a joyful creative process, “We just like making stuff, and we make stuff well together, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

Visit shelterbelt.org for more information.

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

Dr. James Salhany

October 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

He’s an experienced musician, composer and producer. He’s a published poet. He’s a university scientist and medical researcher with widely recognized expertise in hematology and authorship or co-authorship of numerous academic papers.

Among other things.

Whether you know him as Jim from the Old Market or Jimmy the musician or Dr. James Salhany, Jim Salhany is a dynamic, amazingly multifaceted individual who manages to find a perfect balance between his highly scientific and prolifically creative halves.

“I don’t sleep much,” Sakhany says, wryly. But he insists there’s no magic to how he manages to integrate his many interests into the same 24 hours the rest of us have each day; it’s just how he is. “For me, there was never a time when I didn’t have the humanities and science, to various degrees, as part of my life,” he explains.

“I was born in Detroit and grew up in the suburbs—the row house kind of suburbs—and I got my first guitar when I was like 12 or 13. “It was one in a junk store that my mom gave me ten bucks for,” he says. “We played a lot of two-note chords, which you could get away with in the ‘50s, and the drummer had a kick, a snare, and a cymbal—and that was it. And our bass player had a crummy little amplifier and we played in this little garage. People started coming around to listen to us, and that started becoming fun.”

And then there was that other big interest.

“I was also really into science, too,” he continues, “and Sputnik went up when I was in high school, thereabouts. Anybody with a math and science sort of inclination was turned on by this whole thing. It was just very exciting.”

Salhany continued to play in bands (with some interesting names like Penetrations and City Dog) as he pursued his education and launched his career, earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and his Ph. D. from the University of Chicago. He also did postdoctoral research at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey before landing in Omaha, joining the University of Nebraska Medical Center faculty as an assistant professor in 1975. He was a full professor in UNMC’s departments of internal medicine and biochemistry and molecular biology by 1989, and also did scientific research with both a magnetic resonance heart laboratory at the Med Center and a blood laboratory at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“I’m officially retired. They give you the emeritus status,” he says, but their isn’t anything “emeritus” about his music. Salhany regularly works with his vocalist/flutist wife, Christine, on various projects. And he still plays with a couple of local ensembles, adding to the long line of collaborations he’s enjoyed over the years.

“It’s been a blast,” he says.




Denise Fackler

September 5, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Denise Fackler is cool.

That is, if cool still means what it meant when the singer-songwriter was touring coffeehouses as a teenager in the ‘60s, or later helicoptering over the war-torn jungles of South Vietnam. The Omaha native even dashed off at 19 to marry her guitar-shredding flame, Lightnin’ Lyle, whose long locks made him an ill-fitted suitor in her parents’ eyes.

Yeah, the 62-year-old is pretty cool.

Of course, a duet with John Denver, a rock performance with Ted Nugent, and two improbable encounters with Lou Rawls and Ed Sullivan doesn’t hurt either.

At the very least, Fackler’s life can surely gussy up a diner — Shirley’s Diner in Millard, to be exact, which she’s owned with her husband, Lyle “Doug” Fackler, for 22 years.

“We decided to do something different,” Fackler says, reflecting on her transition from musician to business owner. “We needed something a little more secure.”

Adorned with relics from less certain times, to call Shirley’s a mausoleum would be a big mistake. The memories Fackler has amassed in the form of photographs, newspaper clippings and other miscellany are very much alive to tell her story.

Above the diner’s booths and tables, a guitar case displays the name, “We, the Living,” the three-piece folkadelic act she says she helped found in junior high. At 14, Fackler and her bandmates, Nikki Lycan and Salli Evans, signed to a local agency and began playing out-of-town gigs.

“We were good. We did three-part harmony,” she says. “We just practiced so much after school everyday, that you just get good — you get good at anything you practice at,” just like the wonder that is the diner’s Stick-to-Your-Ribs Chili.

Like all good things, the band eventually petered out, but a lingering war and its disheartened U.S. troops still required their musical prowess. A framed letter and photograph hanging just outside the diner’s kitchen reminds Fackler of her tours with the USO through Vietnam and Thailand.

“I’m most proud of that in my life,” she says with watery eyes. “I remember the sad faces of those boys—never smiling. I had no idea what they were going through every day.”

And then there’s Fackler’s youngest son, filmmaker/musician Nik, 29, whose framed movie poster for Lovely, Still, starring Martin Landau and Ellen Barkin—both Oscar-winners—proudly decorates the opposite wall. The director wrote the film’s script in high school and credits his mother for encouraging him to write at a young age.

“It didn’t matter what the story was about or how it ended, just that it was created,” Nik says. “Because of her, it became a habit to create.”

Perhaps as a form of continued maternal support—and amping up her hipster quotient three more notches—Denise has even provided background vocals while performing on the Waiting Room stage with her son’s ethereal art-rock band, InDreama.

Yep, in this or any other decade, Denise Fackler is just that cool.   



OnTrack, Inc.

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’ve ever found yourself singing “Pepper, Pepper, Pepperjax Grill,” or “You’ll like it…Kelly’s Carpet,” or “It pays to cross the bridge…Lake Manawa Kia,” Johnny Ray Gomez IV is the man largely responsible. He created these jingles, along with dozens and dozens of others, and it’s only a facet of what he does as the owner, president, and creative director of OnTrack.

Gomez rattles off a long list of OnTrack’s offerings: “We’re an audio post-production facility. We do original music jingles for radio, television, web, and multimedia. I do demos for singers and musicians. I do audio for video. We do ADR [Additional or Automated Dialogue Recording for TV and movies]. We do sound design, sound effects, a lot of voiceover work.”

Gomez manages all of this from his 3,200-square foot facility near 118th and Harrison streets in Omaha. “We have a main studio, one smaller studio, and what I call the composing suite. We have the latest computers with music software, industry standard. And we also have the capability to link up to studios worldwide, which basically brings anybody to your doorstep with the touch of a button,” he adds proudly.

This technical capability means Gomez works with clients from all over the country.

“Just last October, [actor and Saturday Night Live alum] Will Forte was in town working on the new Nebraska movie with Alexander Payne. He was in Norfolk filming for a month and doing a sequel to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, so we actually recorded all of his voice animation parts here,” he says. “For three years, we did work for Teen Mom with Farrah Abraham. Instead of MTV flying her to New York, they just brought her here to OnTrack.” He adds that even YouTube sensation and Columbus, Neb., native Lucas Cruikshank recorded dialog as Fred Figglehorn for Nickelodeon’s Fred: The Movie.

“When I first started I did spec work, where you just pick a client and write a jingle [without] having it sold. I just kept going and started networking with ad agencies.” – Johnny Ray Gomez IV, owner

If Gomez seems rather casual about these brushes with fame, it’s because he’s met and worked with lots of well-known names in the music industry over the years, from Marvin Hamlisch and Bo Diddley to Peter Noone and Reba McEntire. A third-generation musician and master of multiple instruments, Gomez actually cut his teeth on the other side of the business. His father was a prolific regional performer who first brought his namesake onstage at age 3 as part of a family revue and later, to sometimes collaborate with nationally known singers and musicians.

“Back in the ’70s, my dad and brother and I had publicity shots with the ruffles and tuxes,” Gomez says, grinning at the memory. “We also had one where we kind of had the Elvis look…the jumpsuits.”

Gomez left home after high school at 17 and traveled the world for four years as the music director and pianist for The Platters, one of the most successful vocal groups of the ’60s.

“I got tired of being on the road. I literally lived out of a suitcase for five years. I knew I wanted to be in music, but I didn’t want to travel,” he says, explaining his impetus for starting a recording studio in his hometown and getting into the jingle business.

“When I first started I did spec work, where you just pick a client and write a jingle [without] having it sold,” he recalls. He sold his very first jingle to Camelot Cleaners and landed his second for Idelman Telemarketing. One of his early works, for Garden Café, ran for 12 years. “I just kept going and started networking with ad agencies.”

OnTrack is a one-man show, but Gomez says the connections and partnerships he’s developed over the years make it possible to offer a wide spectrum of services to his clients. “Even with the workflow I have, I’ve been able to do everything by using all of the resources I have.”

What lessons has Gomez learned in his decades in the biz? “Have a good quality product and do what you do well. And surround myself with people who also do what they do well.”