Tag Archives: Taste of Omaha

Gladys Harrison: Captain of Big Mama’s Kitchen

September 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It takes a family to fill Big Mama’s shoes. Daughter No. 4, Gladys Harrison (general manager of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering), knows this all too well. She even keeps a pair of her mother’s footwear close to remind her.

“I had planned to take a pair of my mother’s size 12 shoes to her funeral,” Harrison says. “I wanted to give a big speech about how big her shoes were figuratively, literally, and that it would be impossible for one person to fill them. Unfortunately, none of that happened.” 

That opportunity may have passed, but Harrison continues to live by the sentiment. Providing delicious, quality soul-food to hungry customers had always been her mother’s dream, and Harrison has been involved since the beginning.

“As children, my sisters and I helped my mother sell dinners out of the family home on weekends, until my father told us to get that mess out of his house,” Harrison recalls. 

After opening in 2007, Big Mama’s Kitchen received a huge boost when they were featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives less than a year later. While Harrison’s initial duties included creating fliers, setting up the website, and snagging their unique phone number (402-455-MAMA), her responsibilities grew at a fast pace until she found herself at a crossroads.

“For two years I worked 24/7, heading directly to the restaurant in the morning after working night shifts at Qwest Communications,” Harrison says. “My children were growing up without me, and I could feel the restaurant moving toward that next level. I wanted to be there 100 percent, so I said a prayer and asked God to give me a sign so I could quit my job and give my full time to Big Mama.”

She would eventually get that sign and leave Qwest Communications after a voluntary separation. Assuming the role of general manager gave Harrison a chance to showcase her abilities and spend lots of time with her mother. Their fun relationship was captured on a television pilot they shot for the Food Network back in 2013.

“They liked us because my mother and I were always arguing,” Harrison says with a smile. “She would say that I became general manager because I can’t cook, but don’t believe everything she says. I have always dreamed of being in charge! I was even elected as the state president of the Future Business Leaders of America at Marian High School.”

Harrison credits her giving nature, strong customer service background, and duties as an instructor and facilitator for quality improvement at Qwest Communications for her success.

 “I can’t tell this story without shouting out Tim Clark and Marilyn Simms,” Harrison adds. “They gave me an opportunity years ago to manage the volunteer committee for their annual jazz and blues concert at The Durham Museum. Doing that for three to four years gave me the experience I needed to manage.”

Anticipation was palpable in the air at Big Mama’s over the summer, with the team ready to move into their new location in the Accelerator Building at 30th and Parker streets. While the neighborhood may change, the inner-working of Big Mama’s Kitchen will remain a family affair, with Harrison delegating duties amongst her relatives.

Sister No. 3, Delena, makes the jams and jellies that are sold at the restaurant and local farmers markets, while sister No. 1, Donna, comes in on the weekends to talk to customers like their mother used to. Debbie is daughter No. 2 and their silent cheerleader, but Harrison’s most important asset is her oldest niece and Big Mama’s understudy, Diondria.

“Diondria is the new ‘queen of the kitchen,’” Harrison says with a devilish grin. “We call her D…well, her nickname is really something else, but don’t print that! I just love seeing her grow, and now she walks around looking and sounding just like her grandmother in that kitchen.”

While traditional favorites will remain on the menu, Harrison is excited to try out new ideas.

“We’ll be open seven days a week, and our oven-fried-chicken will still taste the same,” she says. “I wanted more dishes for our more selective eaters, and my motto is anything with soul has to have collard-greens involved. Our new Soul-Food Fried Rice was a hit at this year’s Taste of Omaha, and our Lazy May’s Vegan French Fries are new additions to the menu. I also think our classic cranberry-iced tea would be good with a shot of vodka.”

Some things, like Big Mama’s gluten/sugar-free sweet potato pies required some innovation. Unable to recreate the original recipe to their liking, Harrison and her niece made a special gluten/sugar-free pineapple upside-down cake for a diabetic customer. The impressed patron called later to thank Harrison’s niece, telling her that Big Mama must have come down from heaven and cooked it for her.

“We really try our best to make sure everyone’s experience here is a good one,” Harrison says. “My goal is to franchise her name, because almost everything I am is because of my mother. Can’t you see Big Mama’s Kitchens in stadiums and international airports?”

Note: The online version of this article has been modified to correct a typo in Harrison’s name that appeared in the print edition.


Visit bigmamaskitchen.com for more information.

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

2017 May/June

May 1, 2017 by and

Passion & Obsession: From the Collection: Through May 6 at KANEKO, 1111 Jones St. This exhibit celebrates both the passion of the artist to create and the obsession of the connoisseurs who collect. Admission: free. 402-341-3800.
thekaneko.org

Wild Spaces, Open Seasons: Hunting and Fishing in American Art: Through May 7 at Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St. See how American hunting and fishing culture has intersected with art. Tickets: $10 adults. Free for youth (17 and under), college students with ID, and Joslyn members. 402-342-3300.
joslyn.org

Nature Connects: Art with Lego Bricks: Through May 15 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Inspired by nature and built from more than 450,000 Lego pieces, this indoor exhibit features 13 displays with larger-than-life sculptures. Admission: $10 adults, $5 children (6-12), free for members and children under 6 years old. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

History of Latinos in Omaha: 1890 through Present: Through Aug. 31 at El Museo Latino, 4701 S. 25th St. Discover the history of Omaha’s Latino community, highlighted in this photography exhibit. Admission: $5 adults, $4 for college students with ID, $3.50 students (K-12) and seniors (55+), free for children under 5 with adult admission. 402-731-1137.
elmuseolatino.org

Jennifer Bockelman / Charley Friedman Exhibition: May 5-June 23 at Fred Simon Gallery, 1004 Farnam St. Bockelman (of Seward, Nebraska) produces art that includes stitched works, drawings, impotent political gestures, and performances. Friedman (of Lincoln, Nebraska) produces work ranging from installations and sculptures to photography and drawings. Admission: free. 402-595-2122.
artscouncil.nebraska.gov

Omaha Police: Answering the Call Since 1857: May 13-Sept. 24 at The Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St. The Durham’s newest community partnership tells the story of Omaha’s police force in artifacts and photos. On May 13, enjoy free museum admission and a special event, “Hanging with Heroes” (10 a.m.-1 p.m.), featuring uniformed officers, vehicles, and mounted patrol on site. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors (62+), $7 children (3-12), free for children 2 and under. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

Joslyn’s “The Portrait of Dirck van Os”

European Galleries Reopening: May 20 at Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St. The five European galleries have undergone a three-month construction period. Updates include new paint, lighting, updated labels, and interpretive materials—such as three interactive iPad stations. Admission: free. 402-342-3300.
joslyn.org

The Durham’s “License to Spy”

Top Secret License to Spy: May 20-Sept. 17 at The Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St. Families and children are encouraged to collaborate by piecing together clues throughout more than 20 displays. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors (62+), $7 children (3-12), free for children 2 and under. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

Dinosaur Safari

Dinosaur Safari Exhibit: May 27-Sept. 3 at Omaha Children’s Museum, 500 S. 20th St. Families can explore natural history through hands-on activities with authentic fossils and live reptiles, as well as life-like animatronic dinosaurs. Admission: $12 adults and children (3+), $11 seniors (60+), free for members and children age 2 and under. 402-342-6164.
ocm.org

David Brooks: Continuous Service Altered Daily: June 1-Aug. 26 at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 724 S. 12th St. Brooks presents every single part of a used 1976 John Deere 3300 combine harvester laid out in varying degrees of disassembly. Admission: free. 402-341-7130.
bemiscenter.org

Bijoux Parisiens: French Jewelry from the Petit Palais, Paris: June 4-Sept. 10 at Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St. This exhibition portrays the intersection of French fashion, art, and history while touching on social and political concerns. Nearly 70 works of jewelry and more than 100 original paintings, fashion prints, and photographs will be on display. Tickets: $10 adults. Free for children (17 and under), college students with ID, and Joslyn members. 402-342-3300.
joslyn.org

KINETIC: June 16-Oct. 14 at KANEKO, 1111 Jones St. KINETIC at KANEKO explores the art and science of movement, and the perception of motion. This collaborative exhibition season will feature stunning visual art, interactive sculpture, and experiential learning opportunities developed to strengthen the understanding of kinetics in everyday life. Admission: free. 402-341-3800.
thekaneko.org

Performing Arts

Catherland: Through May 14 at Shelterbelt Theatre, 3225 California St. A budding author and her husband head to Red Cloud, Nebraska, to begin a simpler life, but a slew of mysterious guests prove that there’s nothing simple about small-town living. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $25 general admission; $20 students, seniors (65+), and TAG members. 402-341-2757.
shelterbelt.org

Momix

MOMIX Opus Cactus: May 4 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. The internationally acclaimed dancer-illusionists troupe, directed by Moses Pendleton, presents a show for all ages. The troupe creates a visual journey into the hidden secrets of the Southwestern desert by bringing all of its creatures to life. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $20-$45. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Superior DonutsMay 5-June 4 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Taking place in the historic, diverse Uptown neighborhood of Chicago and written by Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning playwright Tracy Letts, this provocative comedy explores the challenges of embracing the past and the redemptive power of friendship. Times vary. Tickets: $36 adults, $22 students. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Omaha Symphony—The Music of Star Wars: May 6 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Music from all seven episodes of Star Wars will be featured, conducted by Ernest Richardson. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $19-$89. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

The Florentine Players’ 53rd Annual Melodrama: May 11-13 at Florence City Hall, 2864 State St. Written by Nebraska natives, this is a story of “Omaha’s only shipwreck” in 1965. 7 p.m. Tickets: $10 general admission; $8 seniors (65+), TAG members, or groups of 8 or more. 402-453-4280.
florencetheater.org

Omaha Symphony—Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein: May 13-14 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Conducted by Ted Sperling, a Broadway cast and the Omaha Symphony perform favorites from The Sound of Music, The King and I, Oklahoma!, and South Pacific. 7:30 p.m. May 13; 2 p.m. May 14. Tickets: $19-$79. 402-345-0606.
—ticketomaha.com

The Met: Live in HD: Der Rosenkavalier (R. Strauss): May 13 and 17 at Film Streams, 1340 Mike Fahey St. The Met’s final performance for this season features Renée Fleming as the Marschallin and Elīna Garanča as Octavian. 11:30 a.m. May 13; 6 p.m. May 17. Tickets: $10-$24. 402-933-0259.
filmstreams.org

All the King’s Women: May 15-21 at Bellevue Little Theatre, 203 E. Mission Ave. Obsessed women who encounter Elvis Presley in everyday situations grant theatrical insight into the man rather than the rock ’n’ roll superstar. Times vary. Tickets: $20 adults, $18 seniors (60+), $10 students. 402-291-1554.
bellevuelittletheatre.com

Something Rotten!: May 16-21 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. Set in 1595, this comedy tells the tale of two brothers desperate to write the world’s very first musical. Times vary. Tickets: $35-$95. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

The Rebellion Ends:  An Apollon Star Wars Story: May 18-27 at The Apollon, 1801 Vinton St. With the rebels wiped out once and for all, Emperor Palpatine announces details for the largest mandatory celebration in history to mark the anniversary of the rise of the Galactic Empire. 7:30 p.m. Admission: $35 adults, $25 students and TAG members. 402-884-0135.
apollonomaha.com

Joey Alexander

Joey Alexander Trio: May 19 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. One of today’s most talked-about jazz artists, this 12-year-old Indonesian piano prodigy and 2016 Grammy-nominee performs classic songs and original compositions. 8 p.m. Tickets: $20-$35. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: May 26-June 25 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. The classic tale of Belle and the Beast is back with spectacular sets and costumes. Times vary. Tickets: $42 adults, $25 students Thursday-Sunday; $32 adults, $20 students Wednesday. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Omaha Symphony–Mahler’s Ninth Symphony: June 2-3 at the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. The symphony performs this rich, emotional orchestration for the first time in more than 20 years. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $19-$70. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Peter Pan: June 2-18 at The Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St. This musical rendition features fabulous flying effects and the iconic songs “I’m Flying,” “I Won’t Grow Up,” and “Never Never Land.” Times vary. Tickets: $22-$27 general admission, $15-$20 for members. 402-345-4869.
rosetheater.org

Rent—20th Anniversary Tour: June 3-4 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-Winning musical from 1996 follows the lives of seven struggling artists trying to follow their dreams without selling out. Times vary. Tickets: $40-$105. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Girls Like Us: June 15-25 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. This show, based off the book by the same title, showcases the work of groundbreaking singer-songwriters Carole King, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell. 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $40. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Shakespeare on the Green

Shakespeare On The Green: King Lear: June 22-25 at Elmwood Park, 411-1/2 N. Elmwood Road. Pack a picnic and bring lawn chairs or blankets, as King Lear attempts to fight against impending mortality along with the inevitable loss of his kingdom and his crown. Times vary. Admission: free.
nebraskashakespeare.com

Shakespeare On The Green: The Merry Wives of Windsor: June 29-July 1 at Elmwood Park, 411-1/2 N. Elmwood Road. Windsor is at a crossroads. All the elements that constitute the town—social strata, tradition, morality, religion, characters, the English language itself—are turned upside down. Don’t forget a picnic basket and seats. Times vary. Admission: free.
nebraskashakespeare.com

Comedy

James Johann: May 4-7 at the Funny Bone, Village Pointe, Suite 201, 17305 Davenport St. Incorporating his high-energy style and self-deprecating sense of humor, this blue-collar comedian hits on the universal theme of failure, presenting a reflection of life as he sees it. Times vary. Tickets: $10-$12. 402-493-8036.
omaha.funnybone.com

Jerry Seinfeld: May 11 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. Praised for his ability to joke about the little things in life that relate to audiences everywhere, Seinfeld will perform his stand-up comedy for one night only. 7 p.m. Tickets: $50-$150. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

J.R. Brow: May 11-14 at Funny Bone, 17305 Davenport St., Suite 201. Brow draws from his wide-ranging collection of jokes, impressions, music, and characters to cover relationships, politics, religion, current events, and pop culture. Times vary. Tickets: $12 Thursday and Sunday; $15 Friday and Saturday. 402-493-8036.
omaha.funnybone.com

Tim Hawkins

Tim Hawkins: May 12 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. With more than 300 million video views online and over 100 sold-out concerts yearly, Hawkins hits on the dangers of marriage, homeschooling, and growing up in the Midwest. 7 p.m. Tickets: $19-$85. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Music

Charly Bliss / See Through Dresses: May 1 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Brooklyn bubble-grunge four-piece Charly Bliss performs with Omaha’s See Through Dresses. 9 p.m. Tickets: $10. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Bastille

Bastille: May 2 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. The Grammy-nominated, British indie-pop band is bringing their “Wild, Wild World Tour 2017” to Omaha in support of their new album, Wild World. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $35-$55. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Say Anything / Bayside: May 4 at The Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St. Say Anything has been making unclassifiable indie rock music since the members were around 14 years old. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance, $24 day of show. 402-345-7569.
theslowdown.com

Chris Mann

Chris Mann: May 5 at the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Known from his 2012 debut on The Voice, Mann sings music from the golden age of Broadway, The Great American Songbook, and more. 8 p.m. Tickets: $35. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

The Return of Hairball: May 5 at Ralston Arena, 7300 Q St. High energy and big hair come back to Ralston Arena for this “Bombastic Celebration of Arena Rock.” 8 p.m. Tickets: $23 advance or $33 day of show for general admission; $30 advance or $40 day of show for club seats. 402-934-9966.
ralstonarena.com

Acid Mothers Temple / Babylon: May 5 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. A freak-out group for the 21st century, Acid Mothers Temple is a Japanese psychedelic rock band founded in 1995 and led by guitarist Kawabata Makoto. 9 p.m. Tickets: $12. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Lazerwolfe: May 6 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. This cover band pays tribute to such artists as Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Phish, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, The Band, Led Zeppelin, and more. 9 p.m. Tickets: $5. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Sam Outlaw with Michaela Anne: May 6 at The Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St. An acclaimed, modern country musician from Los Angeles, singer-songwriter Outlaw refers to his style as “SoCal country.” 8 p.m. Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show. 402-345-7569.
theslowdown.com

McCarthy Trenching: May 6 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. An Omaha folk fixture and a staple of the city’s music community, Dan McCarthy has crafted five albums of easy acoustic melodies and lyrical craft. Teamed with bassist James Maakestad, the acoustic duo has made up McCarthy Trenching since 2010. 8 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

The Brothers Comatose: May 7 at The Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St. Brothers Ben and Alex Morrison front this string band that promises a high-energy show. The brothers, on guitar and banjo, respectively, are joined by Gio Benedetti on bass, Philip Brezina on fiddle, and Ryan Avellone on mandolin. 8 p.m. Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show. 402-345-7569.
theslowdown.com

Chance the Rapper: May 10 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St. Chance’s latest release, Coloring Book, was issued exclusively through Apple Music and was streamed 57.3 million times in its first week. He recently won three Grammys, including “Best New Artist” and “Best Rap Album.” 8 p.m. Tickets: $37.50-$77.50. 402-341-1500.
ticketmaster.com

Kansas: May 12 at Ralston Arena, 7300 Q St. This staple of classic rock from Topeka, Kansas, has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. The band released their 15th album in 2016: The Prelude Implicit. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $29-$89. 402-934-9966.
ralstonarena.com

Tim Kasher with Allison Weiss: May 12 at The Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St. Omaha’s own Kasher has pushed musical boundaries with his bands Cursive and The Good Life, as well as through his solo work. He has produced 17 albums and EPs over the course of 20 years. His third solo album, No Resolution, released March 3. 9 p.m. Tickets: $12. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Elevate with DJs Ben Jones & Lowercase Trés: May 12 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Bringing underground house music to Omaha by DJs who know how to rave, for real. 9 p.m. No cover. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Flogging Molly: May 14 at Sokol Auditorium, 2234 S 13th St. Los Angeles-based Celtic punk band Flogging Molly comes to Omaha for one night only to promote their first record release in six years, Life is Good. 8 p.m. Tickets $33. 402-346-9802.
sokolunderground.com

Oddisee: May 17 at The Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St. Oddisee is influenced by soul and rap. His “Beneath the Surface” Tour 2017 will also feature Good Company and Olivier St. Louis. 8 p.m. Tickets: $15 advance, $17 day of show. 402-345-7569.
theslowdown.com

Hope Country / Will and Jane: May 19 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. This folk singer/songwriter features heartfelt songs about life. 9 p.m. Tickets: $8 advance, $10 day of show. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

The Shins: May 20 at Stir Concert Cove, 1 Harrah’s Boulevard in Council Bluffs. This indie-rock band comes to Council Bluffs to promote their new album Heartworms. Their 2007 album Wincing the Night Away peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and earned the group a Grammy nomination. 8 p.m. Tickets: $37-$98. 800-745-3000.
ticketmaster.com

The Dear Hunter: May 20 at The Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St. The Dear Hunter will be showcasing their most recent album Act V: Hymns With the Devil in Confessional. 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance, $23 day of show. 402-345-7569.
theslowdown.com

Benson Soul Society: May 20 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Once a month, Andrew Monson, Eric “EZ” Ziegler, and Roger Lewis bring their all-vinyl soul dance party to Reverb. 9 p.m. No cover. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

SoMo: May 24 at Sokol Auditorium, 2234 S. 13th St. SoMo, made famous for his wildly popular YouTube covers gaining him instant success, is touring the U.S. for a second time. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets: $22-$60. 402-346-9802.
sokolunderground.com

Robby Wicks Band / Time Giant: May 26 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Hailing from the Rocky Mountains, the Robby Wicks Band brings an array of talent, skill, and originality. 9 p.m. Tickets: $7. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Memorial Day Massive Block Party After Party: May 27 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. After the outdoor concert concludes, Reverb will feature a dope local lineup of artists and the EZ B stage design. 11 p.m. No cover. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Centerpiece EP Release / Lonely Estates / Wingman: June 3 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Indie-rock band with Will Conner, Paul Knapp, Jay Nesmith, Dave McInnis, and Jon Ochsnder. 9 p.m. Tickets: $7. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Norah Jones: June 5 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. The nine-time Grammy-winner who has sold over 45 million albums worldwide will be supporting her newest album Not Too Late, on her “Day Breaks World Tour.” 8 p.m. Tickets: $57-$73. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Daniel O’Donnell

Daniel O’Donnell: June 7 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. O’Donnell’s music has been described as a mix between country and Irish folk. He made history this year by charting at least one new album every year since 1988. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $49.25-$69.25. 402-345-0606.
ticketmaster.com

Brantley Gilbert: June 9 at Stir Concert Cove, One Harrah’s Boulevard in Council Bluffs. Country music star Brantley Gilbert’s latest tour, “The Devil Don’t Sleep,” comes to Council Bluffs. Gilbert, winner of CMA’s 2013 Triple Play Award, has reached No. 1 on the U.S. country charts for the album of the same name. 8 p.m. Tickets: TBD. 800-745-3000.
ticketmaster.com

New Kids on the Block with Boys II Men and Paula Abdul: June 11 at CenturyLinkCenter, 455 N. 10th St. On the road for the first time since 2013—this “Total Package Tour” is the biggest lineup yet from these ’80s and ’90s hit-makers. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $29.95-$199.95. 800-745-3000.
ticketmaster.com

Brandy Clark and Charlie Worsham: June 18 at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St. Brandy Clark has received six Grammy nominations over the past four years for co-writing hits for Miranda Lambert and Kasey Musgraves. 8 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance, $25 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Electric Six: June 21 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Rock music infused with elements of garage, disco, punk, new wave, and metal. 9 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Blue October: June 24 at The Waiting Room (outdoors), 6212 Maple St. Topping multiple charts and shattering many records is something Blue October is used to. With their eighth studio album Home now out, they plan to do it all over again. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $35. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Family & More

Farmers Markets
Gardening season is open in Omaha, and those desiring to eat fresh produce without digging in the dirt themselves will find plenty of options around the area. Along with produce, shoppers will find artisan cheeses, farm-raised meats, freshly baked breads, assorted treats, and even craft items.

  • Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays starting May 7.
  • Benson (4343 N. 52nd St.): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs): 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Thursdays starting May 4.
  • Gifford Park (33rd and California streets): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Fridays starting June 3.
  • Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.): 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays starting June 4.
  • Old Market (11th and Jackson streets): 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Papillion (Washington St. and Lincoln Road): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays starting May 31.
  • Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets): 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder’s Weekend: May 5-7 at CenturyLinkCenter, 455 N. 10th St. Shareholders in the company created by Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett can learn about their year’s earnings at this annual meeting, which brings thousands of people to Omaha from around the world. The weekend events include the “Invest in Yourself” 5K run on May 7, a bridge tournament, shopping at various stores associated with Berkshire Hathaway, and much more.
berkshirehathaway.com

Cinco de Mayo parade: May 6 along 24th St. from D to L streets. This dazzling parade—one of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the Midwest—features floats, marching bands, and more. Rain or shine. 9 a.m. Admission: free. info@cincodemayoomaha.com.
cincodemayoomaha.com

Renaissance Festival of Nebraska

Renaissance Festival of Nebraska: May 6-7, 13-14 at Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Ranch, 11001 S. 48th St. Step back in time to the days of knights in shining armor with full contact sword play and equestrian jousting, six unique performance locations, 100+ costumed characters, and free make-and-take crafts for kids. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission: $13 adults, $8 children (12 and under). 402-331-5500.
renfestnebraska.com

SECOND Annual Food Truck Rodeo Spring Edition: May 20 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. The second annual Omaha Food Truck Rodeo will be held all day Saturday, giving attendees the entire day to sample the fine foods from local food trucks. There will be 15-20 food trucks, along with a DJ, beer garden, multiple outdoor bars, and outdoor seating on Military Avenue in Benson. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Free. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Celebrate CB: May 12-20 in Council Bluffs (various locations). Hop across the river for a full week of festivities. Opening night includes a free concert by Taxi Driver. The last day includes a parade followed by a day of music, kids’ activities, and a carnival. Friday’s big event, Barbecue in the Bluffs, has been chosen as one of 50 events for the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s Great American Cookout, which will inform and entertain people who enjoy learning more about barbecuing and grilling on all levels. 712-396-2494.
celebratecb.com

Vintage Market Days of Omaha: May 12-14 at Chance Ridge Event Center, 506 Skyline Road. This upscale, vintage-inspired market hosts more than 100 vendors with original art, antiques, handmade treasures, jewelry, and clothing. The event also includes live music and food trucks. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday/Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $10 Friday (early buying event); $5 Saturday/Sunday; free for children 12 and under. Tickets good for re-entry all weekend. 918-955-6215.
omaha.vintagemarketdays.com

Florence Days: May 13-14 in downtown Florence, 30th St. between State St. and I-680 N. This area, once its own town, was annexed by Omaha 100 years ago but still retains its own small-town feeling. Events held in conjunction with this festival include a parade, art displays, talks at the historic Florence Mill, a melodrama, and more. 402-451-4737.
historicflorence.org

An Evening with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson: May 15 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. During his lecture, the award-winning astrophysicist will answer questions from the audience and talk about topics in his new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which will also be given to each audience member. 7 p.m. Tickets: $65-$225. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Helicopter Day at SAC.

Helicopter Day: May 27 at Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, 28210 West Park Highway. Visitors can watch while helicopters fly over the horizon and land right in front of them. Inside the museum, visitors can participate in a drone workshop and family-friendly activities. 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Admission: $12 adults; $11 senior citizens, active/retired/veteran military; $6 children (4-12); free for children (3 and under). 402-944-3100.
sacmuseum.org

Memorial Day Weekend: May 27-29 at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. The zoo will offer special entertainment, including bounce houses, airbrush tattoos, and animal presentations. The first 800 people to walk through the gates will receive a free patriotic gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $19.95 adults (ages 12 and older), $13.95 children (ages 3-11), free for members and children 2 and under. $1 discount for seniors (age 65 and older) or active military members and their children. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Taste of Omaha

Taste of Omaha: June 2-4 at the Omaha riverfront. Omaha’s annual outdoor summer food event showcases outstanding restaurants, live entertainment, and family fun. Activities will take place daily at the Heartland of America Park, Lewis & Clark Landing, and River’s Edge Park. Times vary. Admission: free, but tickets must be purchased for food and carnival rides. 402-346-5412.
showofficeonline.com

Countryside Village Art Fair: June 3-4 at Countryside Village Shopping Center, 8722 Countryside Plaza. This fair showcases a mix of styles, perspectives, and media. The artwork selection inspires casual visitors to start art collections, and connoisseurs to add to existing collections. Established in 1969, the Countryside Village Art Fair is a cornerstone of the art world in Omaha. Admission: free. 402-391-2200.
countryside-village.com

Annual Veterans Appreciation Rally: June 4 at the North Omaha Airport, 11919 N. 72nd St. This family-friendly event features classic cars, motorcycles, and airplanes on display to honor veterans. Activities include raffles and skydiving shows. Airplanes begin flying at noon, weather permitting. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free, but a $5 donation is requested. 402-714-4269.
facebook.com/heroesoftheheartlandfoundation

Omaha’s Ninth Annual Largest Pizza Review: June 6 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Pizza will be available from around 15 different restaurants for pizza lovers to sample and vote for their favorites. Judging will be conducted by Food & Spirits Magazine’s panel of judges, also featuring live music. A portion of proceeds go to scholarships for culinary students at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metro Community College. 6:30 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

St. Lucia Italian Festival: June 8-11 at Lewis & Clark Landing, 515 N. Riverfront Drive. Omaha’s Italian community celebrates Italian culture with this annual festival. Events include a bocce ball tournament, cannoli-eating contest, entertainment by the Santa Lucia festival band and others, and plenty of food. Admission: free, but tickets required for food and carnival rides. 5 p.m.-11 p.m. June 8, 5 p.m.-midnight June 9, noon-midnight June 10, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 11. 402-342-6632
santaluciafestival.com

Omaha Beer Fest: June 9-10 at Horsemen’s Park, 6303 Q St. Hundreds of American craft beers, 80 breweries, live music, a homebrewer expo, VIP lounge, food vendors, contests, and more. Rain or shine. 5 p.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 2 p.m.-7 p.m. June 10. Admission: general admission $35 in advance, $45 at the door; VIP $55 in advance, $65 at the door. Designated drivers pay $10 at the door. 402-731-2900.
omahabeerfest.com

Junkstock: June 9-11 at Sycamore Farms, 1150 River Road Dr. This three-day festival features vintage finds, unique antiques, and artisan food and goods. Help celebrate the fifth year of Junkstock, featuring more than 150 vendors and 15 food trucks, along with a variety of bands playing on the Junkstock Stage throughout the weekend. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $8 online, $10 at the gate, $20 for weekend pass, free for children (12 and under). 402-765-8651.
junkstock.com

Omaha Summer Arts Festival: June 9-11 along Farnam St. from 10th to 15th streets. The festival features 135 of the nation’s finest visual artists, a stage with continuous musical performances, a hands-on children’s fair, and a wide variety of food vendors. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 10, and 11a.m.-5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-345-5401.
summerarts.org

Sand in the City

Sand in the City: June 9-11 at Baxter Arena, 2425 S. 67th St. On Friday, 12 corporate teams will compete to build extravagant sand sculptures. On Saturday and Sunday, visitors can vote for their favorite sculpture, build their own sandcastle, play in the kids’ zone, and hear live entertainment. All proceeds benefit the Nebraska Children’s Home Society. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 9, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. June 10, and 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-451-0787.
sandinthecityomaha.com

College World Series Opening Day: June 16 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. Before the series starts, come to the park for a day full of events, including team autograph sessions, practices, Olympic-style opening ceremonies, a concert, and fireworks. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

College World Series: June 17-27/28 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. One of Omaha’s biggest traditions returns for the 67th time. Baseball fans of all ages can enjoy Fan Fest, a NCAA-sanctioned festival that includes giveaways, interactive games, and special appearances. Times and ticket prices vary. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

Bank of the West Celebrates America 2017: June 30 at Memorial Park, 6605 Underwood Ave. Bring blankets or chairs and relax in the park while celebrating with thousands of others at the 27th annual pre-Fourth of July tradition—featuring a concert and fireworks show. This year’s headlining act is Kool and the Gang. Admission: free. 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
celebratesamerica.com


This calendar is published as shown in the print edition

We welcome you to submit events to our print calendar. Please email event details and a 300 ppi photograph three months in advance to: editintern@omahamagazine.com


*Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

2017 May/June Family & More

Farmers Markets
Gardening season is open in Omaha, and those desiring to eat fresh produce without digging in the dirt themselves will find plenty of options around the area. Along with produce, shoppers will find artisan cheeses, farm-raised meats, freshly baked breads, assorted treats, and even craft items.

  • Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays starting May 7.
  • Benson (4343 N. 52nd St.): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs): 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Thursdays starting May 4.
  • Gifford Park (33rd and California streets): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Fridays starting June 3.
  • Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.): 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays starting June 4.
  • Old Market (11th and Jackson streets): 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Papillion (Washington St. and Lincoln Road): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays starting May 31.
  • Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets): 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder’s Weekend: May 5-7 at CenturyLinkCenter, 455 N. 10th St. Shareholders in the company created by Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett can learn about their year’s earnings at this annual meeting, which brings thousands of people to Omaha from around the world. The weekend events include the “Invest in Yourself” 5K run on May 7, a bridge tournament, shopping at various stores associated with Berkshire Hathaway, and much more.
berkshirehathaway.com

Cinco de Mayo parade: May 6 along 24th St. from D to L streets. This dazzling parade—one of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the Midwest—features floats, marching bands, and more. Rain or shine. 9 a.m. Admission: free. info@cincodemayoomaha.com.
cincodemayoomaha.com

Renaissance Festival of Nebraska: May 6-7, 13-14 at Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Ranch, 11001 S. 48th St. Step back in time to the days of knights in shining armor with full contact sword play and equestrian jousting, six unique performance locations, 100+ costumed characters, and free make-and-take crafts for kids. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission: $13 adults, $8 children (12 and under). 402-331-5500.
renfestnebraska.com

SECOND Annual Food Truck Rodeo Spring Edition: May 20 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. The second annual Omaha Food Truck Rodeo will be held all day Saturday, giving attendees the entire day to sample the fine foods from local food trucks. There will be 15-20 food trucks, along with a DJ, beer garden, multiple outdoor bars, and outdoor seating on Military Avenue in Benson. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Free. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Celebrate CB: May 12-20 in Council Bluffs (various locations). Hop across the river for a full week of festivities. Opening night includes a free concert by Taxi Driver. The last day includes a parade followed by a day of music, kids’ activities, and a carnival. Friday’s big event, Barbecue in the Bluffs, has been chosen as one of 50 events for the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s Great American Cookout, which will inform and entertain people who enjoy learning more about barbecuing and grilling on all levels. 712-396-2494.
celebratecb.com

Vintage Market Days of Omaha: May 12-14 at Chance Ridge Event Center, 506 Skyline Road. This upscale, vintage-inspired market hosts more than 100 vendors with original art, antiques, handmade treasures, jewelry, and clothing. The event also includes live music and food trucks. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday/Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $10 Friday (early buying event); $5 Saturday/Sunday; free for children 12 and under. Tickets good for re-entry all weekend. 918-955-6215.
omaha.vintagemarketdays.com

Florence Days: May 13-14 in downtown Florence, 30th St. between State St. and I-680 N. This area, once its own town, was annexed by Omaha 100 years ago but still retains its own small-town feeling. Events held in conjunction with this festival include a parade, art displays, talks at the historic Florence Mill, a melodrama, and more. 402-451-4737.
historicflorence.org

An Evening with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson: May 15 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. During his lecture, the award-winning astrophysicist will answer questions from the audience and talk about topics in his new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which will also be given to each audience member. 7 p.m. Tickets: $65-$225. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Helicopter Day: May 27 at Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, 28210 West Park Highway. Visitors can watch while helicopters fly over the horizon and land right in front of them. Inside the museum, visitors can participate in a drone workshop and family-friendly activities. 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Admission: $12 adults; $11 senior citizens, active/retired/veteran military; $6 children (4-12); free for children (3 and under). 402-944-3100.
sacmuseum.org

Memorial Day Weekend: May 27-29 at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. The zoo will offer special entertainment, including bounce houses, airbrush tattoos, and animal presentations. The first 800 people to walk through the gates will receive a free patriotic gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $19.95 adults (ages 12 and older), $13.95 children (ages 3-11), free for members and children 2 and under. $1 discount for seniors (age 65 and older) or active military members and their children. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Taste of Omaha: June 2-4 at the Omaha riverfront. Omaha’s annual outdoor summer food event showcases outstanding restaurants, live entertainment, and family fun. Activities will take place daily at the Heartland of America Park, Lewis & Clark Landing, and River’s Edge Park. Times vary. Admission: free, but tickets must be purchased for food and carnival rides. 402-346-5412.
showofficeonline.com

Countryside Village Art Fair: June 3-4 at Countryside Village Shopping Center, 8722 Countryside Plaza. This fair showcases a mix of styles, perspectives, and media. The artwork selection inspires casual visitors to start art collections, and connoisseurs to add to existing collections. Established in 1969, the Countryside Village Art Fair is a cornerstone of the art world in Omaha. Admission: free. 402-391-2200.
countryside-village.com

Annual Veterans Appreciation Rally: June 4 at the North Omaha Airport, 11919 N. 72nd St. This family-friendly event features classic cars, motorcycles, and airplanes on display to honor veterans. Activities include raffles and skydiving shows. Airplanes begin flying at noon, weather permitting. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free, but a $5 donation is requested. 402-714-4269.
facebook.com/heroesoftheheartlandfoundation

Omaha’s Ninth Annual Largest Pizza Review: June 6 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Pizza will be available from around 15 different restaurants for pizza lovers to sample and vote for their favorites. Judging will be conducted by Food & Spirits Magazine’s panel of judges, also featuring live music. A portion of proceeds go to scholarships for culinary students at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metro Community College. 6:30 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

St. Lucia Italian Festival: June 8-11 at Lewis & Clark Landing, 515 N. Riverfront Drive. Omaha’s Italian community celebrates Italian culture with this annual festival. Events include a bocce ball tournament, cannoli-eating contest, entertainment by the Santa Lucia festival band and others, and plenty of food. Admission: free, but tickets required for food and carnival rides. 5 p.m.-11 p.m. June 8, 5 p.m.-midnight June 9, noon-midnight June 10, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 11. 402-342-6632
santaluciafestival.com

Omaha Beer Fest: June 9-10 at Horsemen’s Park, 6303 Q St. Hundreds of American craft beers, 80 breweries, live music, a homebrewer expo, VIP lounge, food vendors, contests, and more. Rain or shine. 5 p.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 2 p.m.-7 p.m. June 10. Admission: general admission $35 in advance, $45 at the door; VIP $55 in advance, $65 at the door. Designated drivers pay $10 at the door. 402-731-2900.
omahabeerfest.com

Junkstock: June 9-11 at Sycamore Farms, 1150 River Road Dr. This three-day festival features vintage finds, unique antiques, and artisan food and goods. Help celebrate the fifth year of Junkstock, featuring more than 150 vendors and 15 food trucks, along with a variety of bands playing on the Junkstock Stage throughout the weekend. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $8 online, $10 at the gate, $20 for weekend pass, free for children (12 and under). 402-765-8651.
junkstock.com

Omaha Summer Arts Festival: June 9-11 along Farnam St. from 10th to 15th streets. The festival features 135 of the nation’s finest visual artists, a stage with continuous musical performances, a hands-on children’s fair, and a wide variety of food vendors. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 10, and 11a.m.-5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-345-5401.
summerarts.org

Sand in the City: June 9-11 at Baxter Arena, 2425 S. 67th St. On Friday, 12 corporate teams will compete to build extravagant sand sculptures. On Saturday and Sunday, visitors can vote for their favorite sculpture, build their own sandcastle, play in the kids’ zone, and hear live entertainment. All proceeds benefit the Nebraska Children’s Home Society. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 9, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. June 10, and 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-451-0787.
sandinthecityomaha.com

College World Series Opening Day: June 16 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. Before the series starts, come to the park for a day full of events, including team autograph sessions, practices, Olympic-style opening ceremonies, a concert, and fireworks. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

College World Series: June 17-27/28 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. One of Omaha’s biggest traditions returns for the 67th time. Baseball fans of all ages can enjoy Fan Fest, a NCAA-sanctioned festival that includes giveaways, interactive games, and special appearances. Times and ticket prices vary. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

Bank of the West Celebrates America 2017: June 30 at Memorial Park, 6605 Underwood Ave. Bring blankets or chairs and relax in the park while celebrating with thousands of others at the 27th annual pre-Fourth of July tradition—featuring a concert and fireworks show. This year’s headlining act is Kool and the Gang. Admission: free. 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
celebratesamerica.com


This calendar is published as shown in the print edition

We welcome you to submit events to our print calendar. Please email event details and a 300 ppi photograph three months in advance to: editintern@omahamagazine.com


*Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

Omaha’s Summer Festivals

May 5, 2016 by
Photography by contributed

Nothing brings back fond memories like festival season, with the incessant summer heat carrying vivid recollections of outdoor parties. No need to reminisce when we can take you back ourselves. Here are some of our favorite festivals that have prevailed over the years.

Arbor-Day1

Arbor Day

April 29-May 1, Nebraska City, Nebraska

Not every celebration can boast an entire holiday dedicated to the preservation of trees. In 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska, marking the first Arbor Day in American history. But you don’t have to be a tree hugger to enjoy the 260-acre expanse of orchards on the Arbor Day Farm. Though many of the original orchards and estate structures still stand, Arbor Day Farm offers contemporary attractions such as interactive exhibits, hiking trails, and a 50-foot treehouse.

Cinco De Mayo festivities along S. 24th St.

Cinco De Mayo festivities along S. 24th St.

Cinco De Mayo

May 5-8, 24th and L streets

A lively tradition full of community spirit, South Omaha’s Cinco De Mayo celebration dates back to the 1970s. Whether it’s the thrill of the bull races or the harmonious melodies of the Mariachi, memories of Cinco De Mayo are strong recollections that seem to stand the test of time. Sample some delectable food and honor the city’s rich, Mexican heritage, all whilst having fiesta flashbacks.

Food Trucks abound at the RIverfront during Taste.

Food Trucks abound at the RIverfront during Taste.

Taste of Omaha

June 3-5, Heartland of America Park and Lewis and Clark Landing

Omaha was just beginning to be known for food other than steaks in 1997, when Taste of Omaha began. These days, attendees can discover some of the finest restaurants in the area. They can taste the specialty dishes of local eateries, meet local chefs and enjoy live music performances across the festival’s multiple stages.

People admire art from all over the nation at OSAF.

People admire art from all over the nation at OSAF.

Omaha Summer Arts Festival

June 10-12, Farnam Street from 10th to 15th streets

This festival started in 1975 with visual arts lining the streets outside the courthouse. Today, Farnam Street is decorated with national performers and giddy children with painted faces, as well as the 135 juried artists that have gathered from around the globe. An ever-changing landscape that manages to uphold a memorable Omaha tradition, the Summer Arts Festival is not to be missed.

Bocce, anyone?

Bocce, anyone?

Santa Lucia

June 9-12, Lewis and Clark Landing

Most of us weren’t born in noble, Roman families…but we can certainly pretend. With Italian music at our fingertips and a queen coronation to look forward to, Omaha’s Santa Lucia festival has given us a celebration to enjoy time and time again. Whether it’s the annual feast or the image of the Santa Lucia statue that prevails in your mind, this festival is one full of tradition and poignant memories.

ShakespeareWide2

Shakespeare on the Green

June 23-30, Elmwood Park

Marking the fourth centennial of Shakespeare’s death, Shakespeare on the Green’s 30th anniversary continues to engage, educate, and entertain. Though the idea for an outdoor Shakespeare festival in Omaha wasn’t conceived until the early ‘80s, many of us have immersed ourselves in the talented performances and natural beauty of Elmwood Park over the years. Don’t miss this year’s literary workshops or the annual sonnet contest.

   

Light Up Your Summer

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Mid-America Expositions

Nebraska may not be stereotypical wine country (Hello, California), nor does it play host to the world’s largest hot air balloon festival (that’s reserved for Albuquerque, N.M.). However, that hasn’t stopped Mike and Joe Mancuso from hosting a unique summer’s end event that combines the two in a family-friendly way. On the fringes of Omaha, wine is poured and balloons soar at the Nebraska Balloon & Wine Festival.

Attracting thousands of people each year, this is the event’s seventh anniversary. Happening August 9 and 10 at the Coventry Campus, just south of 204th and Q streets, this year promises an expanded event, with more wines to taste and enjoy and more family fun. The festival begins at 5 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday. General admission adult tickets can be purchased at the entrance for $7 and children 12 and under tickets are $5.

“Part of the success that we’ve seen with the Taste of Omaha event is the high interest in doing an event in the western part of the city,” says Mike Mancuso, president of Mid-America Expositions, the producer of both the balloon festival and foodie event. “We thought the best atmosphere would be with hot air balloons, which turned out to be a positive and enjoyable part of the event.”DSC_1341_web

Half the festival’s namesake focuses on wine and the ever-growing popularity of wine tastings. Wine connoisseurs, wine lovers, and those interested in trying something new interact with chefs while sampling the various Cornhusker state wines throughout the duration of the festival. A special wine and food presentation will be given at 6 p.m. each night. Tickets can be purchased prior for $12, and includes five wines to taste and a souvenir wine glass, or they can be purchased at the festival for $15.

“This is the one time we can put all the Nebraska wineries together at one place. Nebraska is known for having great soil and producing great crops. Why not grapes and making great wine?” Mancuso says.

Mac’s Creek Winery & Vineyards, out of Lexington, Neb., has been participating in the festival since day one, seven years ago. Joining as a way to reach the Omaha wine market, the high attendance and exceptional running of the event kept the vineyard coming back, says Seth McFarland, owner and vineyard manager.

“We have vastly different wines [from California]. We have different grapes, which gives us a different starting point in terms of behavior growth,” says McFarland. “We’re also Nebraskans, so we’re not afraid of hard work. That, combined with the unpredictable weather, promotes exceptional flavors.”

“This is the one time we can put all the Nebraska wineries together at one place.” – Mike Mancuso

With more than six million spectators attending hot air balloon festivals each year nationwide, Nebraska is throwing its hat into the ring as a premier hot air balloon destination. At the festival, guests can take a hot air balloon ride, as well as see the balloons dance to the musical beat of live performances and witness a balloon light show. The balloons launch at 7 p.m., with the “Balloon Glow” light show beginning at 9 p.m.

Veteran balloonist Mark Enholm will conduct these balloon rides and light shows. Returning this year to serve as balloonmeister, Enholm has been with the festival since its inception. “My job is to coordinate the different balloonists and balloon events,” he says. “All of them are commercial pilots, meaning they’re licensed to carry two or three guests per flight. The first year, we had five balloons participate. This year, we’ll have nine or 10; most are local, though we’ve added one from Des Moines and another from Missouri.”

Enholm credits Mother Nature for contributing to the festival’s growth over the years. “We’ve been very lucky with the weather,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to get—rain, tornadoes, hail…In six years, we’ve been very successful in both our flights and the glows.”IMG_8070_web

He says the professionalism of the balloonists is also a factor. “The pilots go out of their way to make the rides fun and enjoyable. We don’t want riders white-knuckling it. The safety of our passengers is paramount.”

New to this year’s event is the Vintners’ Lunch. This special lunch, from noon until 2 p.m. on Saturday, focuses on supporting local businesses. Fresh, local foods will be paired with Nebraska wines by Omaha’s best chefs to provide a homegrown food experience for luncheon guests.

“Our VIP food and wine tastings have been so popular…we wanted to add another opportunity to add the wine to the food,” Mancuso says. “We thought since the vintners were staying with us overnight, it would be great for them to do a lunch before the last day of the event.”

That’s something Omahans can raise their glasses to.

For more information regarding the Vintners’ Lunch and the event itself, visit showofficeonline.com/nebraskawineballoonfestival.html.

The Mancusos

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a Monday afternoon in early March, Mike Mancuso steps out of the home office at CenturyLink Center Omaha and walks into the Great Hall of the arena. An exhibitor getting ready for the upcoming Triumph of Agriculture Expo sees Mike, one of the show’s managers, and immediately comes over to ask for help. Apparently, the space he has been given for his farm equipment display isn’t big enough. Could Mike come over and take a look? Mike puts an armful of papers and a can of pop on the floor, then disappears for a few minutes. When he returns, he picks up his papers and pop and continues to his original destination. Problem solved.

This is the life Mike and his two older brothers, Bob, Jr., and Joe, have willingly chosen. It is the life their father, Bob Mancuso, Sr., carved out for himself and the family he cherishes back in 1964, when his three sons were babies. The Mancuso family is the force behind Mid-America Expositions, Inc., producer of trade shows, expos, fairs, and festivals in the metro. For nearly 50 years, Mid-America has kept products rolling and people strolling through Omaha’s numerous indoor and outdoor venues with events like the Farm and Ag Expo, Omaha Home & Garden Expo, Taste of Omaha, and the Omaha Products Show for Business and Industry—events that have become long-standing traditions, drawing families from all over the Midwest.

Despite a diverse slate of productions, Mid-America adheres to a simple driving philosophy: “We bring business and people together,” states Bob, Jr. “The Ag Expo helps farm businesses, the Taste of Omaha helps restaurants…Our aim is to make businesses successful.”

From left: Bob, Jr., Bob, Sr., Mike, Dona, and Joe Mancuso.

From left: Bob, Jr., Bob, Sr., Mike, Dona, and Joe Mancuso.

It’s no coincidence that the ascent of Omaha on the national stage parallels the transformation of Bob, Sr., from an athlete and teacher to a business-savvy entrepreneur whose deep devotion, keen vision, and strong faith in the city he loves changed the way marketing is done around here.

“Our family is rooted in Omaha,” says Bob, Sr., proudly. “My father and mother were both born and raised here. The Mancusos seldom got out of Omaha to go to school.” Except for him.

A standout wrestler at Omaha Central, Bob, Sr., scored a full ride to Kansas State and majored in phys. ed. and biological science. His teaching and coaching career began in 1956 at the old Bellevue High School. Coach Mancuso’s impact was immediate and startling. He molded a group of teenagers from a small, Class B school into state wrestling champions his very first year—Bellevue’s first championship ever, in any sport. The wins kept piling up.

Bellevue also produced the love of his life. A pretty young waitress who worked in her parents’ café across the street from the high school caught Bob, Sr.’s eye early on. In 1958, Dona Marie Hansen and Robert Mancuso were united in marriage.

Meanwhile, the coach’s impressive record at Bellevue caught the attention of a lot of eyes in Lincoln. In 1961, Bob, Sr., became head wrestling coach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where his squads did well but were dwarfed by the large shadow cast by the football program.

“I was making $4,000 a year. My family didn’t need much to live on. But I kept thinking about my future and wondering, ‘Am I going to sit on a stool the rest of my life?’”

The answer came from Bob, Sr.’s older brother, the late Charles Mancuso, who at the time ran Omaha’s Civic Auditorium, Rosenblatt Stadium, and the Orpheum Theater. “Charlie told me I should quit the coaching business. He wanted more activities at the Civic, and he wanted me to help him.”

 “We bring business and people together…Our aim is to make businesses successful.” – Bob Mancuso, Jr.

After talking it over with his wife, Bob, Sr., joined with former AkSarBen General Manager Jake Isaacson and talent agency head Don Romeo to form Mid-America Expositions. The Mancuso magic struck again. “Our first event was Queen For A Day, with host Jack Bailey,” Bob, Sr., remembers as if it were yesterday. “The show broadcast live from Omaha for a week. Women stood in line around the auditorium to get in.”

Over 50,000 women swarmed the Civic during that week in late September of 1964, not only to see one of early TV’s iconic shows with its classic “applause meter” that determined the winner, but to also visit the Food Festival and Housewives Fair that accompanied it. Omaha had never seen a production on this scale before. “[Changing careers] was a good move for me,” says the elder Mancuso, who will turn 80 in September. “The future was wide open for aggressive people in the events market.”

Today, Mid-America Expositions produces between 12 and 15 shows a year, many at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, and they are a family affair. Each son joined their father one by one after pursuing their own corporate careers. Mike came aboard in 1988, followed by Bob, Jr., in 2005, and Joe in 2007. The love and respect each son carries for their father is evident in everything they say and do. They get emotional when trying to put into words what his legacy means to them.

“Dad has been a great example to me,” says Joe. “I have pretty much modeled everything I’ve ever wanted to do off of him—the way he has handled his life and lived his life.”

All three sons are fine athletes like their father and have been instrumental in adding the Outland Trophy Award Dinner, the Health, Wellness, and Fitness Expo, and the Corporate Cycling Challenge to the roster of events.

Next on the agenda: the 16th Annual Taste of Omaha May 31-June 2 at the riverfront, followed by the Nebraska Balloon & Wine Festival August 9-10.

As for the future, “We want to continue making our events stronger and greater,” says Mike. “We want to keep them good for the city of Omaha and the people of Omaha.”