Tag Archives: Sean McCarthy

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.

The Last Breakfast

September 3, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s the weekend before the Fourth of July, and The Diner is doing its final breakfast service at the corner of 12th and Harney streets. 

Business is brisk, but not frenzied. There’s still a seat or two at the bar, but if you want a booth, there’s no line. Contrast that to the week before, when the College World Series was happening: the line was out the door, and patrons hoping to get a final taste of The Diner’s 50s-style ambiance were told to expect an hour wait. 

One reason for The Diner’s relatively unassuming final weekend was because it was only closed for about three days (the typical duration for your standard resurrection). You see, The Diner is already up and running in its new location at Billy Frogg’s. Owners Ken Schroeder and Rick Daly planned to serve breakfast there on July 4. 

“Oddly enough, the Fourth of July is a huge breakfast day,” Schroeder says. 

Even though The Diner lives on, Schroeder, Daly, and its patrons lamented on the loss of the institution that has been around since 1983. A few diners on its last weekend didn’t even know The Diner was going away. Other longtime regulars followed Daly and Schroeder’s saga closely. 

Connie MacNabb brought her grandchildren for one final breakfast. As her grandkids teased one another and bounced on the booth, MacNabb looked over the menu. Connie and her late husband, James, began going to The Diner in 1980s. The place reminded her of Lake Okoboji. 

“It’s terrible we always get rid of all of our landmarks,” MacNabb says. 

Roy House has been a daily Diner eater for years. His go-to is the No. 4: two eggs, hash browns, toast, and a choice of meat (his being the oven-cooked bacon). For House, it’s the best bacon he’s ever tasted. And while he’s happy to see The Diner live on, he’d rather have it at the (now) old location. 

“I think it sucks. This is really the only old-style diner we have around here,” House says. 

There are still traditional diners around Omaha, among them Lisa’s Radial Cafe, Harold’s Koffee House, and Leo’s Diner. But the loss of The Diner was especially bitter to some because of how its closing played out. 

Schroeder and Daly were shocked when they first heard they were going to lose their restaurant this past February. Daly received a text from a KETV reporter, asking about The Diner’s fate. Daly says he didn’t know what the reporter was talking about. He then learned about how Michael Henery, who owned the plot of land where The Diner sat, sold it for $1.5 million (he bought it in 2006 for $650,000). Daly was then told of a planning meeting about a Marriott that was going to be constructed. Daly’s first thoughts were panic-inducing. 

“We’re going to be jobless and homeless,” Daly says, recalling his initial fears. 

Schroeder says he harbors no bitterness toward Henery. Though their business relationship was sometimes contentious, Schroeder says they eventually became friends. 

“[Henery] got a reputation of being crusty and harsh, and he lived up to that,” Schroeder says. “You can be mad at him for a lot of reasons, but you can’t be mad at him for selling the diner. He’s in his 80s. He wants to liquidate his assets.” 

For the first few weeks after hearing the news, Schroeder says The Diner’s fate changed almost daily. At first, he was told they had to be out by April 15. Then, July 1. Eventually, they were allowed to stay through the College World Series. 

Throughout the spring, Schroeder and Daly weighed their options. Physically moving the building to a new location wasn’t an option. Nor was setting up The Diner inside the new Marriott (Schroeder says the company wanted their own eating establishment). They considered moving The Diner into the old Dixie Quicks location in Council Bluffs, but the building’s owners were looking for a “white tablecloth-style restaurant,” Schroeder says. 

Finally, John Feddin, owner of Billy Frogg’s, reached out to Schroeder and Daly. 

“I heard they were leaving, and I felt so bad,” Feddin says. 

Feddin proposed that Daly and Schroeder could expand Billy Frogg’s menu. In addition, they could also take over the old Tea Smith location (which is next to Billy Frogg’s). Daly purchased an espresso machine, and christened the new coffee shop “The Diner Guy’s…Java Daddies.” 

Schroeder says one reason they chose to continue at Billy Frogg’s was to keep The Diner family intact. He didn’t want any employment gap for their existing employees. For Schroeder, The Diner is literally a family affair. It’s where he proposed to Daly. 

In August 2016, Schroeder closed The Diner early, and set Daly off to run some errands. While Daly was gone, Schroeder turned The Diner into what looked like the set of ABC’s The Bachelor—complete with candles and roses. Daly says about 250 people came to their wedding; half were regulars of the Diner. 

On its last weekend, even the radio seemed to be playing on people’s emotions. Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree” played over the PA, summing up the feeling of resignation for many: 

“There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy. There’s only you and me, and we just disagree.” 

In the kitchen, Florencio Salgado was finishing an omelet and tending to another batch of hash browns. Salgado has worked at The Diner for almost 30 years. Salgado says he spends more time at The Diner than he does at home. He says the new digs are going to be a tighter fit than his old workstation. Still, he says he is looking forward to The Diner’s next chapter. 

“What we have is really beautiful,” Salgado says. 


Visit @omahacoffeetruck on Facebook for the latest manifestation of The Diner, aka “The Diner Guy’s…Java Daddies.” 

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

Nadia Shinkunas

August 15, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The shapes and forms in many of Nadia Shinkunas’ works have a geometric rigidity about them. To achieve their three-dimensional feel, the angles are sharp and defined. Her career path, on the other hand, is anything but a straight line. 

Born in San Bernardino, California, Shinkunas’ family moved to Iowa when she was 5 years old. She returned to California to study at Riverside City College in 2002. In 2005, she moved to Omaha and took photography classes at Metro Community College. She later studied at the Omaha School of Massage Therapy, and moved to Tulsa in 2008. A year later, she returned to Omaha and considered studying architecture, but instead opted to pursue a field in sculpture. In 2014, she received a Bachelor of Studio Arts at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Her education isn’t done yet, though. This year, she is pursuing a tattooist apprenticeship at Artists Unbound. 

“I love everything about tattooing,” Shinkunas says from her studio in Council Bluffs. “I always thought it would be a really cool thing for me to do, but I never focused on drawing.” 

On top of the 30 to 40 hours she puts in a week at her apprenticeship, Shinkunas also runs Random Arts (formerly Random Arts Omaha). The group stages pop-up art exhibits each month with several artists participating in each exhibit. 

“The theme is always really loose,” Shinkunas says. “But even if the theme is love, you can still make a piece about anger or hate, because it all connects.” 

One of Random Arts’ exhibits last year, Portrait of a President, was nominated for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for Best Presentation in a Non-Traditional Format.

Shinkunas’ experience with running exhibits began in 2012 when she submitted a piece of work for Benson First Friday. Alex Jochim, director of Benson First Friday, saw her work at one of the events. Soon after, Shinkunas was asked to handle the First Friday events at Jerry’s Bar. 

“I love working with Nadia,” Jochim says. “She’s all about helping artists in the community.” 

Laura Vranes and John McIntyre, two notable art collectors in Omaha, saw one of Shinkunas’ earliest First Friday forays at Jerry’s Bar. Impressed with Shinkunas’ energy and creativity, the couple began working with her on the Random Arts exhibits. McIntyre focused on promotions while Vranes contacted other artists to submit their work.

 “The common thread was to help Omaha artists have a voice—to be seen by more people,” McIntyre says. 

Like many artists, Shinkunas has worked “non-art” jobs to pay the rent. But last year, one of those jobs briefly sidelined her artistic work. While working in the bakery at Costco, Shinkunas began to experience pain in her arm. She went to the doctor, and had two MRIs. She went back to work, and the pain got worse. 

“I was at work, and my left arm just went dead,” Shinkunas says. “It felt like all my bones were being crushed by a huge vice.” 

More doctor visits followed. She was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. Then more tests showed she didn’t have an auto-immune disease. She left Costco and went on disability, and the pain started lessening. 

“Now, I have no pain at all,” Shinkunas says. 

This July, Shinkunas’ work will be featured as part of an exhibit in the Michael Phipps Gallery, located on the first floor of the W. Dale Clark Main Library. She’ll share the exhibit with two other artists, Joe Addison and Jamie Hardy. In August, her work will be displayed at Petshop in Benson. Between the apprenticeship and the upcoming exhibits, Shinkunas said she had to put Random Arts on hiatus. 

“With everything else going on, I don’t have time,” Shinkunas says, but not before adding with a laugh, “unless someone wants to pay me.”  

Shinkunas does not take a commission for Random Arts. She says she took on the role because she wanted to see how different artists interpret a theme. 

“Solo shows are great, and I love them, but seeing 50 artists together, and their ideas of love or hate is really, really cool,” Shinkunas says.


Visit nadiashinkunas.com to learn more about the artist. 

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