Tag Archives: Texas

Christian Heineking

March 31, 2018 by
Photography by Jami Scull

As his last name implies, Christian Heineking is truly king of the horse jumping ring.

He’s won four out of five International Omaha Grand Prix jumping events, and he competed in the 2017 FEI World Cup (the world-class championship event held for the first time in Omaha).

Far from his birthplace in East Germany, Heineking says Omaha has played a unique and seemingly unlikely role in his life—both professionally and personally.

Heineking, 38, grew up around horses owned by his grandfather. As a teenager, he entered the Redefin Federal Stud of Mecklenburg as a riding school student and went on to earn a master certification at the German Riding Academy at Warendorf, completing years of course work in breeding, young horses, and operations, with extensively tested riding ability.

Graduating at the top of his class in 2008, he turned pro and headed to the United States on a two-year visa to experience American show jumping. He met Erin Davis, also an accomplished show jumper, and the two began dating.

That’s when Omaha entered their lives. Davis is friends with Karen Cudmore, an Omaha Equestrian Foundation board member, who eagerly touted the inaugural 2012 International Omaha to the pair.

They have returned each year since, with International Omaha competitions paralleling significant milestones in their lives: dating, engagement, marriage, pregnancy, and the birth of baby Ella.

Heineking’s fast-paced life includes many victories in national and international competitions, all while operating October Hill Farm and Heineking Show Stables near his family’s residence close to Fort Worth, Texas. Still, Omaha holds a special place in his heart.

“International Omaha is well managed and more compact—you have to be ready to compete,” Heineking says. “The people in Omaha are always friendly, and we really like it. It feels like home to me.”

Learn more about the 2018 International Omaha here: http://omahamagazine.com/articles/the-horses-are-back/

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

King and Queen of the Blacksmiths

May 5, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

These days, many couples find each other via dating websites or apps. John and Trena Thompson literally found each other at a meat market.

He was just a guy working in Hy-Vee’s meat department, and she was a gal in the deli who sometimes needed said guy to help take out the trash.

“When he asked me out, he took me to a Renaissance festival and spent the whole time looking at swords,” Trena says. “I can’t say it was the best date in the world.”

Three decades later, Trena and John are happily married (despite their one-of-a-kind first date) with a home filled with more swords, knives, spears, and axes than she could have ever imagined.

For the past 25 years, the two have worked as professional blacksmiths in the Renaissance festival circuit. He’s the muscle—the artisan who carefully crafts each Camelot-worthy weapon—and she’s the brains behind each sale. Together they have sold out stock at fairs from Texas to Kansas, and they annually dazzle local folks at myriad events around Omaha.

“What makes our product so unique is everything is 100 percent handcrafted by just one person,” Trena says. “John even makes his own pins to connect the handle and blade.”

It was due to a fair amount of scheming on Trena’s part that John got his first taste of blacksmithing. What she told him was a trip to visit family in Colorado was actually a secret vacation to stay in Albuquerque with an award-winning knife-maker. In Albuquerque, John learned to make his first knife from start to finish.

In a pre-Braveheart, pre-Game of Thrones, pre-internet world, John scavenged what little literature there was on knife-making to hone his craft. And in 1996, for John’s 30th birthday, Trena submitted her husband’s resignation at Hy-Vee so he could focus solely on blacksmithing.

“There were a lot of days spent in the shop messing up a lot of steel,” John says. “It’s surreal because now we’re the experts. People come up to us at festivals to ask how it’s done.”

And after 25 years of participating in festivals, it makes sense that John has become a master blacksmith. In addition to running the couple’s business, Dwarf Mountain Knives, John teaches classes at the Blacksmith Shop of Omaha.

Annually, the couple spend about 16 weekends a year at festivals, including the Nebraska Renaissance Faire (held at RiverWest Park for the first time in 2017), which is about half the number they used to attend before having two boys. Kyle, who is 25 years old, helps to polish and prep finished blades. Their youngest son, 10-year-old Zayne, is already sketching designs for Dad.

In this trade, it takes the whole family to keep the Thompson reputation sharp.

Through it all, Trena says, John has proven to be her knight in shining armor. After all, the two have slashed and conquered obstacles to their business and family like the mightiest of sword-wielding dragon slayers.

“Working Renaissance festivals is the hardest job I’ve ever had,” Trena says, “but it’s easier and way more fun knowing we have each other’s backs.”

The metro area’s longest-running medieval-themed festival, the Nebraska Renaissance Faire, relocated to RiverWest Park on April 29-30, 2017. It was previously held at the Bellevue Berry and Pumpkin Ranch, which now hosts its own Renaissance Festival of Nebraska during the subsequent two weekends in May (May 6- 7 and May 13-14). Visit blacksmithomaha.wordpress.com for more information about learning the blacksmith trade in Omaha. Visit dwarfmountainknives.com for more on the Thompsons’ company.

This article was published in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Omaha 2017 Ambassadors

March 4, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.

Everyone involved in the equestrian world shares a passion—for the sport, for the horses, and for the beauty and nobility of the presentation. Lisa Roskens, founder of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, counted on that enthusiasm to make the very first Omaha International a success. The number of local and regional volunteers who worked the event exceeded expectations back in 2012. But once the Federation Equestre Internationale awarded Omaha the 2017 FEI World CupTM Finals, Roskens knew organizers would have to overcome an obvious hurdle; one created by geography.

“This is the World Series of our sport, truly a global and national event,” says Roskens. “While most people involved in equestrian sports understand and follow the World CupTM, they don’t really understand Omaha.”

True to form, whenever confronted with a challenge, Roskens gathered her friends and colleagues in the OEF to brainstorm. How could they reach out to those who only know Omaha as a city locked in the middle of “flyover country?”

“We realized we needed a much more personalized outreach approach for those people to truly understand what they can expect (from Omaha) and to give them reasons to get excited about coming here,” she says. “So it wasn’t just mass mailers going out to generate excitement.”

Sybil Greene and Karen Ensminger, co-directors of Omaha 2017 Ambassadors

And so the Omaha 2017 Ambassadors program began. It quickly evolved into more than a platform to tout the positives of the Midlands. The scope of the effort, extending beyond neighboring states, also generated a groundswell of support for the FEI World CupTM Finals Omaha 2017 and for equestrian sports in general.

OEF board member Karen Ensminger and riding instructor Sybil Greene head the Ambassadors program. With the help of an office assistant and a few interns, they created an impressive information pipeline—one person at a time.

“Our goal was to get at least one person in all 50 states who would take information from us and then spread the word,” explains Greene. “We figured they would become a contact point for others in their area who wanted to know more about the World CupTM and Omaha in particular.”

The women started gathering Ambassadors by calling personal friends in the horse community. Having grown up in Maryland, Greene knows riders from the Chesapeake Bay area up through New Jersey.

Ensminger, a native New Yorker who has worked in Los Angeles and Boston, had no trouble making up her friends’ minds for them. “I called them up and said, ‘Look, this is what’s happening here in Omaha and I’m sure you want to get involved. So I’m going to sign you up as an Ambassador,’” she says as she laughs. The new recruits then received a packet of information from Omaha about the 2017 FEI World CupTM Finals. “I told them to put the flyers in their barns, tack stores, feed stores, their places of work, grocery stores, coffee shops, everywhere. And then, of course, I invited them to come.”

In addition to the invitation, Ambassadors received a navy blue ball cap emblazoned with the event’s colorful horse logo and “Omaha 2017 Ambassador” stitched in white underneath, an FEI World CupTM Finals pin, vouchers for a non-sold-out event, and discounted tickets.

To reach the massive number of riders they don’t know, Greene harnessed the power of social media. She created an Ambassadors Facebook page, where people could sign up electronically. She joined Facebook groups that had anything to do with horses—farms, stables, barns, riding clubs, horse dealers—and asked for people to volunteer as Ambassadors. She re-posted articles about the FEI World CupTM Finals Omaha 2017 and sent out media blasts, paying special attention to the ones listing things to do in Omaha.

“It’s been an extremely low financial output on our part,” says Ensminger.

Though striving for a modest goal of one contact per state, the committee managed to sign up multiple Ambassadors in several states, including 25 to 30 in horse-heavy states like Texas, California, and Montana. Many Ambassadors have taken up the invitation to attend the FEI World CupTM Finals. Some are even volunteering their services in whatever capacity needed during the events.

“The baseball people know about Omaha because of the College World Series, the swimming people because of the Olympic Swim Trials,” says Greene. “And now the horse world knows about us. We’re building on our reputation as a place for elite sports.”

Will the Ambassadors program, created especially for the Midwest’s first-ever international equestrian showdown, continue? “If participants see it as a valuable and fun experience, then we will consider expanding upon it,” says Roskens.

Judging from the number of selfies taken with Omaha ’17 merchandise and posted on social media, keeping the program might just be a plan.

Cheryl Johnson, Sue Morrison, and Karen Ensminger prepare mailings for the Ambassadors program.

Calendar of Events

January 5, 2017 by

The following online calendar of events appears as it does in the print edition of Omaha Magazine.
To be considered for publication, please send your event three months in advance to editor@omahamagazine.com

Art & Museum Exhibits

Passion & Obsession at KANEKO

Passion & Obsession at KANEKO

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/passion

Dirt Meridian: Photographs by Andrew Moore
Through Jan. 8 at Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St.
During the past decade, artist Andrew Moore made more than a dozen trips to photograph along the 100th meridian, from North Dakota to the Texas panhandle. This is a ticketed event: $10 adults, free for ages 17 and younger, college students with ID, and Joslyn members. 402-342-3300.
joslyn.org

Hayv Kahraman
Through Jan. 8 at Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge St.
Hayv Kahraman draws on sources including Renaissance painting, Japanese woodblock prints, and Persian miniatures to create work that considers the repercussions of being displaced from one’s home. Admission: Free. 402-342-3300
joslyn.org

The King is Dead! The Regicide of Charles I
Through Jan. 8 at The Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St.
This exhibit shows the rise and fall of England’s King Charles I and his kingdom. Running in conjunction with this exhibit is “War, Wealth, and Stable Repairs.” Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors, $7 children ages 3-12, free to ages 2 and under. 402-444-5071
durhammuseum.org

War, Wealth, and Stable Repairs
Through Jan. 8 at The Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St.
This exhibit shows the old monarchs of Europe did not always yield absolute power that changed the course of history. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors, $7 children ages 3-12, free to ages 2 and under. 402-444-5071
durhammuseum.org

YMCA of Greater Omaha: 150 Years of Providing Firsts
Through Jan. 8 at Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St.
On April 2, 1866, the YMCA first began to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all citizens of Omaha. Today, they continue to strengthen the community through programs focused on youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors age 62 and older, $7 children ages 3-12, and free to ages 2 and under. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

exhibits01-01americanspirits

American Spirits at The Durham.

American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
Through Jan. 29 at Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St.
Step back in time to an era of flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance workers, and legends like Al Capone and Carry Nation. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors age 62 and older, $7 children ages 3-12, and free to age 2 and under. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

Homebrew: A Spirited History of Omaha
Through Jan. 29 at Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St.
Krug. Storz. Metz. These were some of Omaha’s founding brewers. Local brews fueled the workers who helped the city expand so rapidly and gave power to the mob bosses of the Prohibition era. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors age 62 and older, $7 children ages 3-12, free to age 2 and under. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

exhibits01-04operationivy

Operation “Omaha Ivy” at Lauritzen Gardens

Operation: “Omaha Ivy” by E. Taylor Shoop
Jan. 4-Feb. 20 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St.
Shoop has focused his lens on ivy to create his unique, kaleidoscopic compositions. This show focuses on the city’s collection of ivy. Included with garden admission: $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12, free for members and children younger than 6. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Imagination: Celebrating 40 Years of Play Exhibit
Through April 16 at Omaha Children’s Museum, 500 S. 20th St.
The museum is bringing back fan favorites from the past 40 years. Admission: $12 adults and kids, $11 seniors, free for children (under 2) and members. 402-342-6164.
ocm.org

First Friday Old Market
Jan. 6 and Feb. 3 at various Old Market locations (Harney to Jackson streets and 10th to 13th streets).
Stroll distinctive brick streets to live music, ride Ollie the Trolley for free between venues, and ignite your imagination with art. 6 to 9 p.m. Free.
firstfridayoldmarket.com

exhibits01-14legos

Nature Connects at Lauritzen Gardens

Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks
Jan. 14 through May 15 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St.
Sean Kenney’s third indoor exhibit features 13 displays with larger-than-life sculptures. Included with garden admission, which is: $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for members and children younger than 6. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Searching for the Seventies: The DOCUMERICA Photography Project
Feb. 18 through April 30 at Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St.
Drawing inspiration from the Great Depression-era Farm Security Administration photography project, the photographers of the Environmental Protection Agency’s DOCUMERICA project created a portrait of America in the early and mid-’70s. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors age 62 and older, $7 children ages 3-12, free to age 2 and under. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

Art Exhibit: Omaha Artists Co-op
Feb. 23 through April 3 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St.
Local artists will exhibit their works in the gardens. Included with garden admission: $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for members and children younger than 6. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Performing Arts

The Met: Live in HD 2016-2017 Season—Nabucco (Verdi)
Saturday, Jan. 7, and Wednesday, Jan. 11 at Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater, 1340 Mike Fahey St.
The legendary Plácido Domingo brings another new baritone role to the Met under the baton of his longtime collaborator James Levine. Tickets: $10-$24. 402-933-0259.
filmstreams.org

Thumbelina
Jan. 14 through Feb. 5 at the Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St.
Thumbelina is a flower-sized girl determined to discover the true meaning of friendship. This world premiere production uses inventive puppetry and innovative design. Saturdays and Sundays at 9:30 and 11 a.m.; select Tuesdays at 10 a.m. Tickets: $12. 402-345-4849.
rosetheater.org

Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company’s The Legacy Project: A Dance of Hope
Jan. 19 at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.
Told through the lens of the Holocaust and its devastation, hope inspires the journey to a land that promises new beginnings. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15-$36. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Around the World in 80 Days at Omaha Community Playhouse

Around the World in 80 Days at Omaha Community Playhouse

Around The World In 80 Days
Jan. 20 through Feb. 12 at Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St.
Two men journey around the world to win a simple wager, but they leave an incredible story about loyalty and friendship in their wake. Wednesdays: $28 adults, $18 students; Thursdays-Sundays: $36 adults, $22 students. 402-553-0800.
omahaplayhouse.com

The Met: Live in HD 2016-2017 Season—Roméo et Juliette (Gounod)
Jan. 21 and 25 at Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater, 1340 Mike Fahey St.
Giana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo perform as opera’s classic lovers in Charles Gounod’s lush Shakespeare adaptation. Gianandrea Noseda conducts the sumptuous score. Admission: $20 for Film Streams and Opera Omaha Members, $24 adults, $10 students. 402-933-0259.
filmstreams.org

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
Jan. 27 through Feb. 12 at the Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St.
Join intrepid go-getter journalist Lillian McGill live in the ready-for-reality-TV courtroom for the trial of the century to determine if the wolf we all know as Big Bad is truly guilty of the crimes of which he has been accused.  7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 5 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m Sundays. Tickets: $20. 402-345-4849.
rosetheater.org

The Sound of Music
Jan. 24-29 at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.
The hills are alive in this brand-new production of The Sound of Music, directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien. Tickets: $35-$110. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

ætherplough
Jan. 27-28 at the KANEKO, 1111 Jones St.
This group will perform genesis 2.0, a variety of dance styles that aim to provide tools and infrastructure to encourage risk taking and innovation. Dance forms explored include butoh, aerial silk, burlesque, and modern dance. Back-to-back performances Friday and Saturday with one performance at 6 p.m., and the next beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-341-3800.
aetherplough.com

HIR at the Bluebarn Theatre

HIR at the Bluebarn Theatre.

Hir
Feb. 2-26 at Bluebarn Theatre, 1106 S. 10th St.
Somewhere in the suburbs, Isaac has returned from the wars to help take care of his ailing father, only to discover a household in revolt. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 6 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 12 and 19,  and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb 26. Tickets: $25-$30. 402-345-1576.
bluebarn.org

Where the Wild Things Live with photographer Vincent J. Musi
Feb. 7 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St.
For a story on “Exotic Pets” that appeared in the April 2014 National Geographic, Vincent J. Musi explored the deep connections some people have with creatures you can’t get at the pet store. Tickets: $10-$25. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Elvis Lives! at the Orpheum.

Elvis Lives! at the Orpheum.

Elvis Lives!
Feb. 14 at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.
Elvis Lives! features hand-picked finalists from Elvis Presley Enterprises’ worldwide Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $35-$65. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Huck Finn
Feb. 24 -March 12 at the Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St.
The great American novel comes to life in a thrilling and deeply funny adaptation. Huck Finn flees the claws of “civilization” for the freedom of the mighty Mississippi. Along the way, he comes across Jim, an escaped slave. The journey downriver is a real education for Huck. 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 5 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $20. 402-345-4849.
rosetheater.org

Concerts

Casey Donahew
Jan. 6 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
In just over 10 years, Casey Donahew has risen from being a favorite on the local Texas music scene to a nationally popular touring act who sells out venues across the country. 9 p.m. Tickets: $25. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

concerts1-07mckeeAndy McKee
Jan. 7 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Andy McKee is among the world’s finest acoustic guitarists. He entertains both the eye and the ear as he magically transforms the steel string guitar into a full orchestra. 8 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance/$25 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

No Getter with Mom Jeans, Sports, and Graduating Life
Jan. 8 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave.
Four Omaha dudes with similar and different influences. Emo/punk songs came together with ease—their EP, Fitting, was released last year. 8 p.m. Tickets: $7. 402-884-5707.
-reverblounge.com

Cold Cave with Drab Majesty
Jan. 15 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
This band has become a name synonymous with the contemporary resurgence of darkwave and synth pop sub-genres. 9 p.m. Tickets: $12 advance/$15 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

concerts01-17lumineers

The Lumineers at CenturyLink Center Omaha

The Lumineers: The Cleopatra World Tour
Jan. 17 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St.
Two-time Grammy-nominated artist The Lumineers will be embarking on their first-ever North American arena tour. 7 p.m. Tickets: $30-$60. 1-800-745-3000.
ticketmaster.com

Jamison Ross
Jan. 20 at the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St.
Drummer and vocalist Jamison Ross delivers his hard-hitting, rhythmic jazz in Omaha for the first time. 8 p.m. Tickets: $30. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

No Shelter with Badmotorfinger
Jan. 21 at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.
No Shelter is a Rage Against The Machine tribute band, and Badmotorfinger offers the ultimate Soundgarden tribute experience. All ages. 9 p.m. Tickets: $8 advance/$10 day of show. 402-345-7569.
slowdown.com

Bazile Mills EP Release
Jan. 21 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave.
Bazile Mills is based around songwriter David Mainelli and features lead guitarist Tim Rozmajzl, singer Laura Streeter, rhythm guitarist/vocalist Sam Vetter, bassist/lap steel guitarist Dan Stein, and drummer Robb Clemens. 9 p.m. Tickets: $8. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Josh Abbott Band
Jan. 25 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Josh Abbott Band has become one of the leading country acts in Texas music, winning four trophies in the inaugural Texas Regional Radio Awards. 9 p.m. Tickets: $20. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Turnpike Troubadours with Dalton Domino
Jan. 26 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Turnpike Troubadours are a hard band to define. Take some steel-guitar country music, throw in some punk rock, and add that fiddler from the honky-tonk. 9 p.m. Tickets: $30. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Cherry Glazerr with Slow Hollows
Feb. 1 at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.
The off-kilter noise pop sound of L.A. quartet Cherry Glazerr was born in 2012 when high school student and singer-songwriter Clementine Creevy began recording songs in her bedroom. All ages. 8 p.m. Tickets: $12 advanced/$14 day of show. 402-345-7569.
slowdown.com

Twenty One Pilots at CenturyLink Center.

Twenty One Pilots at CenturyLink Center.

Twenty One Pilots
Feb. 1 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St.
Twenty One Pilots currently consists of lead vocalist and keyboardist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun. The duo rose to fame in the mid-2010s, after several years of touring and independent releases. 7 p.m. Tickets: $39-$49. 1-800-745-3000.
ticketmaster.com

Excision—The Paradox Tour
Feb. 2 at Sokol Auditorium, 2234 S. 13th St.
Excision DJ shows are like no other—a virtual apocalypse of twisting and morphing sounds turn massive crowds into a frenzy. Also performing: Cookie Monsta, Barely Alive, and Dion Timmer. All ages. 8 p.m. Tickets: $33.50 advance/$36 day of show. 402-346-9802.
sokolauditorium.com

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy
Feb. 3 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St.
This international concert phenomenon features Nobuo Uematsu’s stirring music from one of the most popular video games of all time. 8 p.m. Tickets: $30-$100. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Kevin Garrett
Feb. 4 at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.
Garrett is known for poignant out-of-love songs that combine a reverence for classic soul with modern electronics and traditional instrumentation. All ages. 8 p.m. Tickets: $12 advance/$14 day of show. 402-345-7569.
slowdown.com

Lemuria with Cayetana, Mikey Erg
Feb. 5 at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.
Lemuria, from Buffalo, New York, creates what sounds like sugary indie-pop, but is actually discordant notes, odd time signatures, and brutal riffs creating menacing yet catchy music. All ages. 8 p.m. Tickets: $13 advance/$15 day of show. 402-345-7569.
slowdown.com

An Evening with Dawes
Feb. 7 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Dawes is an American folk-rock band from Los Angeles and is composed of brothers Taylor (guitars and vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), along with Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). 9 p.m. Tickets: $23 advance/$25 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Ariana Grande at CenturyLink Center.

Ariana Grande at CenturyLink Center.

Ariana Grande
Feb. 7 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St.
The international pop sensation brings her signature cat and bunny ears to Omaha as part of her “Dangerous Woman Tour.” 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $30-$200. 1-800-745-3000.
ticketmaster.com

Susto
Feb. 8 at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.
Susto is a Spanish word that frontman Justin Osborne learned as an anthropology student. The word refers to a folk illness and means “when your soul is separated from your body.” It also roughly translates to a panic attack. All ages. 8 p.m. Tickets: $8 advance/$10 day of show. 402-345-7569.
slowdown.com

The Five Irish Tenors
Thursday, Feb. 9 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St.
The Five Irish Tenors fuse Irish wit and boisterous charm, with lyricism, dramatic flair, and operatic style to bring you a unique Irish tenor concert experience. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15-$35. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Keller Willams
Feb. 10 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Williams’ music combines elements of bluegrass, folk, alternative rock, reggae, electronica/dance, jazz, funk, and other assorted genres. 9 p.m. Tickets: $23 advanced/$25 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Tribal Seeds with Raging Fyah and Nattali Rize
Feb. 11 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Tribal Seeds is a reggae band based in San Diego, California. They have shared the stage with Slightly Stoopid, Matisyahu, The Wailers, and others. 9 p.m. Tickets: $17 advance/$20 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Mike Doughty with Wheatus
Feb. 15 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Doughty is touring his largest band ever: a cello/bass player, drums, another guitar player, an organ player, and a backing vocalist. Using hand gestures, Doughty acts as an improv conductor for the band. 8 p.m. Tickets: $17. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Hippo Campus with Magic City Hippies
Feb. 16 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Hippo Campus is an indie rock band that has performed at South by Southwest, Lollapalooza, Red Rocks, Conan, and Reading and Leeds. 9 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Hot Club of Cowtown
Feb. 17 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St.
Hot Club of Cowtown has ascended from its unlikely beginnings in NYC’s East Village a decade ago to become the premier ambassador of hot jazz. 8 p.m. Tickets: $35. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

P.O.S. with DJ Fundo and Ceschi Ramos
Feb. 18 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Stefon Alexander, aka P.O.S., makes tight, declamatory music that builds on DJ Fundo’s penchant for grinding beats and radical lyrics. 9 p.m. Tickets: $15 advance/$18 day of show. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Nebraska Wind Symphony: “Past, Present, and Future”
Feb. 19 at Omaha Conservatory of Music, 7023 Cass St.
Music selections help reflect on our past, present, and future. 3 p.m. Admission at door: $10 adults/$5 students/seniors; free to children under age 12. 402-216-0325.
nebraskawindsymphony.com

Florida Georgia Line at CenturyLink Center.

Florida Georgia Line at CenturyLink Center.

Florida-Georgia Line
Feb. 24 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St.
This popular country-music duo’s latest album, Dig Your Roots, includes songs with guests Ziggy Marley and the Backstreet Boys. Tickets: $28-$75. 1-800-745-3000.
ticketmaster.com

Valerie June: The Order of Time Tour
Feb. 24 at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St.
Valerie June encompasses a mixture of folk, blues, gospel, soul, country, and bluegrass. 9 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5353.
waitingroomlounge.com

Sean Jones Quartet
Feb. 24 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St.
Sean Jones, the former lead trumpet for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, stands out with his bright, muscular tone and impeccable sense of swing. 8 p.m. Tickets: $35. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Lettuce
Feb. 26 at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.
For more than two decades, Lettuce has brought a new vitality to classic funk, matching their smooth and soulful grooves with a hip-hop-inspired urgency and mastery of beat. All ages. 8 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance/$25 day of show. 402-345-7569.
slowdown.com

Miscellaneous

Shane Mauss at The Slowdown

Shane Mauss at The Backline

A Good Trip with Shane Mauss
Jan. 6 at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.
Sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), comedian Shane Mauss has appeared on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel, Showtime, and has specials on both Comedy Central and Netflix. 8 p.m. Tickets: $10-15. 402-345-7569.
slowdown.com

Improv on Fridays
Jan. 6, 13, 20, 27, at the Backline Comedy Theatre, 1618 Harney St.
This weekly comedy show features local improvisers and special guests. If you are familiar with the Upright Citizens Brigade, The Backline is the closest in style in the entire Midwest. Tickets: $5. 9 p.m. 402-720-7670.
backlinecomedy.com

Cocktails & Coloring
Jan. 25 and Feb. 22 at the Apollon, 1801 Vinton St.
Come with your friends! Bring your own materials or stop into Oracle Art Supply to pick up coloring books and colored pencils. Cash bar. 6 to 9 p.m. Free. 402-884-0135.
apollonomaha.com

Kevin McDonald
Jan. 21 at the Backline Comedy Theatre, 1618 Harney St.
Known for the TV sketch show The Kids in the Hall and as the alien Pleakely from Lilo & Stitch, McDonald will be in Omaha as part of a weekend workshop. 9 p.m. Tickets: $12. 402-720-7670.
backlinecomedy.com

Joke & Dagger Standup
Saturday, Jan. 7 at the Backline Improv Theatre, 1618 Harney St.
Hosted by Winslow Dumaine, this improv show is unique, morbid, and enjoyable. Tickets: $5. 402-720-7670.
backlinecomedy.com

2017 Nebraska Chinese Lunar New Year’s Celebration
Feb. 4 at Westside Middle School, 8601 Arbor St.
This event showcases Chinese culture and heritage with kids’ activities, Chinese cuisine, and traditional cultural performances, such as lion dance, martial arts demonstrations, folk dances, and more. Admission: $15 members, $20 non-members. 402-515-4491.
omahachinese.net

Embellishing the Truth

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Distinctive elements of a residence in the Aksarben neighborhood attracted architects Eric and Trina Westman when they were house hunting.

Since purchasing the home in 2006, the Westmans have been both fascinated and puzzled by the architectural embellishments of their 742-square-foot brick house. Those features—including brown sandstone trim around the front door and decorative plaster crown moldings in the foyer, living room, and dining room—seemed out of place for a small dwelling.

Maag2While the couple sat in their living room, they would look up at the plaster cornices and contemplate.

“I sat here staring at the walls a lot,” says Eric, a project architect at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture. Trina adds, “We literally stared at it for 10 years, thinking, ‘Why? Where? Who?’” Visiting friends and colleagues were equally mystified. Why would a house of this size, in this neighborhood, have such grand features?

After the Westmans agreed to include their home on Restoration Exchange Omaha’s Fall Neighborhood Tour, they started piecing together the answers.

Maag1Restoration Exchange Omaha (REO) rewards those who open up their homes with a portfolio containing information and newspaper clips about the home’s architecture, history, and occupants. Last fall, University of Nebraska at Omaha honors students conducted research on the homes in the Aksarben neighborhood as part of a service-learning project for REO. UNO junior Justin Korth prepared the research for the Westman home.

Korth’s research detailed the history of the original residents who lived at 1310 S. 63rd St. Edwin and Regina James built the home in 1939 and lived there for 25 years. Edwin was an assistant dean at Omaha University. His father, W. Gilbert James, was twice the acting president of the university and its first dean of the School of Fine Arts.

Regina James was a librarian at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine. Her parents were Freida Maag and her husband, master craftsman Jacob Maag.

Trina read the report, which included an extensive obituary of Jacob, and began a quest to find out more about him. “I started reading a little more and went down to the library that same week. They had a file on him, a couple of articles and some pictures of him carving,” she says. She also ran across a document called “Mallet and Chisel: A Fifty Year Saga of Architectural Sculpture by Jacob Maag.” Primarily a transcript of a 1962 interview with Maag by members of the Greater Omaha Historical Society (now the Douglas County Historical Society), the document includes an in-depth interview with Maag and listings of his stone carving and ornamental plaster work.

Maag4“I think now we have an answer, and it makes sense,” says Trina, who works for the City of Omaha Planning Department. “His daughter, her first home— she was building it in 1938 and that’s when he was doing this kind of work. ‘Sure, your little 742-square-foot house, I’ll put up some fancy plaster work and stone trim,’” she imagines Maag saying.

Maag held impressive credentials. His training included a four-year apprenticeship in Baden, Switzerland, where he earned top marks in his class. Maag then attended the Art Academy in Milan, Italy, and worked for sculptor Angelo Magnioni. He returned to Switzerland and then came to Omaha at the urging of his uncle, John B. Kuony, one of Omaha’s earliest pioneers.

Maag left his mark on some of Nebraska’s most impressive and enduring buildings. He created stone carvings for St. Cecilia Cathedral, Central High School, the University of Nebraska Stadium, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, and dozens of others. He created ornamental plaster moldings for Union Station (now Durham Museum), the State Capitol, and Burlington Station, among many others. He could carve wood and inscribe metal. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a material Maag could not manipulate into some artistic statement. A true Renaissance man, he even wrote poetry.

Maag moved to Albion, Michigan, in 1961 to live with his younger daughter, Jacqueline. He continued to fashion works, mostly in alabaster and marble, in his retirement. He died at age 98 in 1980.

To date, no documentation of the archway or plaster cornices at the Westman home has been found. There is mention in “Mallet and Chisel” of a cast cement fireplace in the home, one of many Maag fashioned. The fireplace is no longer there, though the Westmans see evidence of where it once stood on the north wall of their living room. They speculate that Edwin and Regina James took it with them when they moved to Texas in 1965.

The Westmans plan to build an addition in the next few years and may include a stone fireplace on the far wall.

Maag railed against modern architecture and its “straight up and down” look. He called the new buildings of the day “crackerboxes with holes.” He told the Omaha World-Herald in 1961, “I believe a person should remember the arch over the door he enters.”

Thanks to Jacob Maag, the Westmans can remember the arch over their door and other impressions he left behind. 

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Restoration Exchange Omaha’s 2016 Fall Tour: The Aksarben Neighborhood

Date: Sunday, Oct. 2
Time: Noon-5 p.m.

Eric and Trina Westman’s home is one of 11 sites on the tour, which features a variety of residences in the Aksarben neighborhood (between Leavenworth and Center streets, running from 50th to 72nd streets). Styles include Tudor revival, bungalow, Spanish colonial, and foursquare. The starting point, Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, is also featured.

Tour sites:

  • 5525 Leavenworth St., Mount Calvary Lutheran Church
  • 5501 Leavenworth St., owned by Jennifer Bauer
  • 1301 S. 52nd St., owned by Sarah Cavanagh
  • 5848 Hickory St., owned by Scott Swanson
  • 5844 Pine St., owned by Royce Cannerley
  • 1310 S. 63rd St., owned by Eric and Trina Westman
  • 6239 Poppleton Ave., owned by Kim Riege
  • 6024 Poppleton Ave., owned by Katie Blesener and John Royster
  • 5611 Leavenworth St., owned by Rebecca Anderson
  • 5522 Marcy St., owned by Steven and Amy Thompson
  • 5542 Marcy St., owned by Russell Hollendieck

Tickets are $15 apiece or two for $25, with a discount available for Restoration Exchange Omaha members. Tickets can be purchased the day of the tour at Mount Calvary. They include a tour booklet with the histories of the tour sites and a history of the neighborhood. The route is 2.6 miles and accessible by walking, bicycling, or driving. A free shuttle to the locations will also be provided.

Visit restorationexchange.org for more information. OmahaHome

High Kicks, High Goals

April 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Think carefully before picking a fight with Katie Smith—she’s a black belt in taekwondo. Oh, yeah, she’s also 12 years old.

Last summer, Smith earned a gold medal with Amateur Athletic Union Taekwando at a national championship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida—garnering a spot on their national team to participate in the German Open in April.

She won another gold medal last summer at the USA Taekwando national championships in Austin, Texas, earning a spot with USAT on the cadet national team. That enabled her to compete at the World Cadet Taekwondo Championships in Muju, South Korea, in August 2015.

Her mother, Carmen, was in the crowd of more than 400 competitors and even more audience members to watch her daughter vie for the gold—the only girl in her weight division. Katie made it to the quarter finals.

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She’ll kick your you-know-what, but as far as punching you:

“People always get confused between taekwondo and karate,” Smith explains. “In taekwondo, we don’t punch to the face. There’s more punching in karate, and taekwondo is more kicking.”

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art distinguished by its emphasis on different types of kicking; karate is a Japanese martial art focused on striking and punching, while kung fu is a collection of Chinese fighting styles that combines both external and internal exercises. Smith also clarifies that taekwondo competitions judge by electronic chest protectors to show the force of kicks and strikes, which is how a competitor gains points against her opponent. Competitions are segmented by weight divisions based on rank, age, weight, and gender.

Smith started taekwondo lessons when she was four as an activity to do with her father, Todd, owner of Todd Smith Fitness. She also has experience in judo, a Japanese form of martial arts. Her 7-year-old brother, J.T., competes as a yellow belt in taekwondo competitions.

Aside from honors classes and life as a sixth-grade student at St. Robert Bellarmine school, Katie juggles piano lessons, singing lessons, track practices, soccer practices, weekend workouts with her dad—and a social life, of course. She still fits in six taekwondo lessons a week.

“My friends think it’s cool,” Smith says when asked what her peers think. “Taekwondo isn’t really a popular sport like football, though, so they don’t really know what it is.”

I told her I look forward to seeing her on my television screen at the Olympics in a few years. A wide grin spreads across Smith’s face.

“That’s the plan.”

Keeping the Faith

February 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I received the news around 6 a.m. the morning of February 10. “John Feit Arrested,” the email from a fellow journalist in Phoenix read. He included a link to a story on the NBC News website: “Ex-Priest, 83, Arrested Over Beauty Queen’s 1960 Murder,” the headline read.

“I’m sure your work had something to do with it,” he wrote.

Thank you, my friend, for offering words you knew I’d relish. But let’s be real. My sprawling story on Feit a decade ago most likely did what I feel the vast majority my stories have done—absolutely no good for anyone.

Oh, but even the most cynical of us still dream. We all dream of slaying the dragon. Maybe I helped out just a little bit? Just a little?

I was eating breakfast in a hotel restaurant when I got the news of Feit’s arrest. I immediately rose from my table, walked briskly out into the back parking lot and performed a peculiar little boogie/jig in the icy darkness. “We finally got you, you filthy motherf…,” I muttered to nobody. “You’re finally going to pay.”

As I stood in the cold, another friend sent a link to a CNN story:

“John Feit, a former Catholic priest, has been arrested in a 56-year-old murder case.

“Irene Garza was last seen alive the night before Easter 1960 when Feit heard her confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas. Five days later, searchers found the lifeless body of the 25-year-old former Miss South Texas face down in a canal.”

More emails and texts followed with story links…”Feit has long been the main suspect in the case,” ABC News explained in a link sent from a Texas friend.

In 2005, I spent three months investigating the Garza murder, digging through more than two thousand pages of documents, interviewing two dozen people, even going undercover in Phoenix to befriend Feit to learn more about him from his own mouth. The evidence—including interviews with two men to whom he confessed his crimes—was overwhelming. Things even got personal: Feit screamed at me and shoved me out the door of his apartment when I revealed that I was a journalist investigating the murder.

Anyway, long, long story. Too much for this space. 

The short of it: I thought my digging and my findings and my story would somehow lead to justice for Irene Garza. 

Silly little crusader. Nothing changed. A decade passed. Surely the case was long dead.

You get used to that feeling of helplessness. Some of us get jaded. I did. I slowly steered away from the full-contact stories. Why bother? 

Well, easy answer: Because I’m flat-out wrong. Journalism still can make a difference when it’s done well for the right reasons. The proof is all around us for those not yet cynical enough to look.

In the end: I’m quite sure my story in 2005 had very little if anything to do with the February arrest of John Feit. It was persistence by the family of Irene Garza, a few hard-charging cops and Texas Rangers and a new district attorney in Hidalgo County, Texas, who did the work.

And, too, in the end, our cover story by Doug Meigs on human trafficking in Omaha probably will have little impact on the growing scourge. 

But you never know, I know again. You’ve got to keep the faith. Maybe you just plant a seed. Newspapers and magazines in this difficult publishing landscape have to keep digging and planting and nurturing stories that matter.

Because even 11 years later, even 56 years later, right can still win over wrong with a little help. I have proof: a monster named John Feit finally spent time behind bars. 

(Nelson’s original piece for Village Voice Media on the Irene Garza case can be read at http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/altar-ego-6430571).

Nelson,-Robert

Long Grain Furniture

October 23, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A crack appears in the top of the table Todd McCollister is showing me; actually, a couple of thin, ragged splits show through, exposing tiny strips of light. Laid into each is a cross—a kind of smooth wood stitch that echoes a sequence of crosses along the table’s center seam.

“They were inspired by a series of handmade, sculpted stuffed animals an artist I knew was making,” McCollister says. “They were mended together, and that idea of mending was kind of what I felt like I was doing, that allusion to handwork.”

McCollister is no stranger to handwork—or, on a broader scale, to stitching things together. The Omaha native returned home last year.

He attended art school in Texas and then a earned a graduate degree in sculpture on Long Island in New York, where he stayed for six more years, making and exhibiting sculptures. He gradually turned from sculptures to tables for trade shows and cabinetry for galleries. These days, about half of McCollister’s work is commissioned, the other half he builds on spec.

Really, the transition to making furniture was artful.

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“I believe that I use my sculpture training for a lot of the formal decisions I make—figuring out proportions, knowing how big something should be, what colors should go together,” McCollister says. “I also try, when I can, to bring some conceptual content into furniture pieces. I’m not afraid to tweak things in a direction that seems wrong.”

He shows me his 5-Degree Coffee Table, all the angles of which are five degrees off from perfect perpendicularity.

We are at Long Grain Furniture, a workshop McCollister set up himself in an emptied-out building in Omaha’s Quartermaster Depot Historic District. The army-space-turned-auto-shop-turned-workshop-space has been open about three months; McCollister spent six months before its opening building storage, buying machines, installing compression air lines, and otherwise readying the shop for business based on the last one where he worked in New York.

He hopes more woodworkers will join him. He wants to rent space in Long Grain for six months or longer to as many as six woodworkers who can use the space and the machines in it.

The kinds of woodwork created in the community McCollister wants to build need not be identical to his. Creativity is less segregated in Omaha than in a larger city like New York, McCollister says.

“In New York, an art gallery doesn’t need to show furniture or functional ceramics or glass,” he says. “One has to define oneself pretty narrowly. Here…it’s much more accessible—the art world and a community of architects and designers.”

One woodworker is using space at Long Grain to make laminate countertops and cabinets.

“We both have learned a lot from each other,” McCollister says, “sharing ideas, sharing experiences, sharing lunch.”

It’s a kind of stitching together that really does feel like what McCollister is doing.

“Here, the boundary between functional things and artworks is much more nebulous,” McCollister says. “I always thought of them as different before I came back to Omaha.”

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Nebraska’s Most Controversial Woman

June 6, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in July/August 2015 Omaha Magazine.

The founder of Bold Nebraska— Jane Fleming Kleeb—travels to Omaha once a week. Although the Nebraska transplant lives in Hastings, she has grown accustomed to the five-hour round-trip drive on I-80. “I call it my windshield time. It’s quiet,” says the liberal firebrand who has gained national notoriety fighting construction of the Keystone XL, a 1,179-mile pipeline slated to transport daily 830,000 barrels of diluted crude bitumen from Canadian tar sands across central Nebraska to gulf coast processing facilities.

“The Lakota call the proposed Keystone XL the Black Snake Pipeline,” says Greg Grey Cloud, a pipeline opponent who describes himself as an indigenous defender. For the Lakota, the black snake represents nothing less than a reset button on the creation clock. “For over a thousand years, our spiritual leaders have prophesied that a great black snake will one day wind through the land, bringing doom by robbing us of our natural resources as Grandmother Earth remakes herself and introduces a new coming.”

For years, TransCanada has been planning to build the Keystone XL across Nebraska’s fragile Sandhills ecosystem and the deep-underground Ogallala Aquifer. Eminent domain lawsuits have plagued the pipeline’s route across much of the United States, and courts have ruled against taxpaying landowners in favor of the foreign corporation. Thanks to Kleeb’s activism with Bold Nebraska, the Keystone XL has stalled outside of the Cornhusker State.

Kleeb is a pipeline-fighting road warrior. She has visited the stripped boreal forests of Alberta where the tar sand oil originates. She has seen TransCanada seize lands in Texas and South Dakota. Her regular trips across rural Nebraska to meet with landowners and frequent cross-country speaking engagements make her Omaha commute time seem insignificant.

The Keystone XL has consumed Bold Nebraska’s attention since its inception five years ago. Kleeb says her agenda is all about progressive and populist politics. According to the Bold Nebraska website, the organization’s mission is to “mobilize new energy to restore political balance” in a state “dominated by one political voice” and “dominated by far-right ideas and policies.” Focus will shift once courts confirm the pipeline’s fate. Bold Nebraska is already preparing, surveying supporters on the next social and legislative battles to prioritize.

JaneKleeb3

Omaha’s liberal (by Nebraska standards) political atmosphere has fostered an important support base for Bold Nebraska. Out of approximately 25,500 Facebook fans and 40,000 email subscribers, 25 percent hail from the metro area, says Mark Hefflinger, Bold Nebraska’s communications director.

A local Omaha brewpub was the logical place for Kleeb to launch Bold’s latest initiative: a statewide network map of local businesses branded “In the Neb.” She arrives early in the afternoon. Bumper stickers on the back of her minivan—a beige Honda Odyssey—reveal her double-life. The 42-year-old activist is also a soccer mom with three daughters. A flaming soccer ball decal represents her eldest (age 14) daughter’s team alongside a slew of anti-pipeline and environmental slogans.

She steps onto Farnam Street in midtown wearing a white dress, suit jacket, and custom red leather cowboy boots (the boots are covered with grey leather crane silhouettes, a nod to the Sandhills where her husbands’ ancestors had homesteaded). Her hair is a short, no-fuss style symbolic of her life’s always-on-the-go pace. Hoops of turquoise beadwork, made by members of the Omaha Tribe, hang from her ears, matching the turquoise rings on her fingers, gifts from husband Scott Kleeb.

She walks into Archetype Coffee with a burst of friendly energy and an armful of promotional material. She has one hour before introducing her “In the Neb.” concept at Farnam House Brewing Company a few blocks away.

“In the Neb.” consists of an interactive online map and mobile app promoting small and local businesses: family farms, breweries, boutiques, clean energy vendors, farmers markets, etc. Omaha and Lincoln residents are the primary target users—“because in small towns, you know who sells eggs,” Kleeb says—but rural communities could also use the effort to source urban Nebraska-made products.

“In order to get on the map, you have to agree on some values, things like we want to see 25 percent of our energy coming from renewables by 2025, and that the Ogallala aquifer should be a protected water source,” Kleeb says. The network of businesses would also provide a pool of supporters for Bold Nebraska when pushing bills of interest to small farms or clean energy interests in the state legislature.

The local bar meet-up for debuting the project might also become a regular thing. Kleeb hopes it will be the first in a series of political talks called “Politics and Pints.”

The business map and barroom talks are indicative of Kleeb’s innovative approach to activism. “Creative actions are super important to us; we draw a lot of inspiration from the Omaha creative community,” says Kleeb, noting that Omaha native Justin Kemerling is Bold Nebraska’s main designer.

Kleeb’s lifestyle bridges Nebraska’s urban-rural disconnect. She and Scott are renovating a farm in Ayr and hope to move in by next year. The property is located en route to Red Cloud, Willa Cather’s hometown south of Hastings. They named their youngest “Willa,” (age 4) after the iconic Nebraska author.

To manage their chaotic schedules, the couple sit together once a month to block off their shared Google calendar. Her husband, once an aspiring Nebraska politician, is now the president and CEO of Omaha-based Pioneer Energy Solutions and its 50 employees. He makes the long Hastings-to-Omaha commute even more frequently than his wife. “I keep trying to twist his arm to get a loft apartment in Omaha or Lincoln,” she says.

“When we started Bold, one of the things we wanted to do was to connect our rural communities—often rooted in agriculture, small family farms, and ranches—to the creative class in Omaha,” she says.

“There is a lot that we can learn from each other, and, from my perspective, there isn’t this ridiculous divide that everyone tries to say there is when you start visiting with people (rural vs. urban Nebraskans).”

Bold Nebraska organized a Neil Young and Willie Nelson concert last September. “Harvest the Hope” was situated in a cornfield near Neligh on the pipeline route. The event drew roughly 1,700 Omahans out of 8,500 spectators. A winter season passed, and Kleeb just completed a new creative action on the same cornfield where concertgoers had parked their vehicles.

Bold created a 15-acre crop art message for the White House, a replica of the presidential seal that reads “Climate Legacy #NOKXL.” “My body is still sore,” she says, recalling the previous week’s work of placing flags for the image’s tractor and laying landscape mulch fabric. “It was our way to tell the White House that the president’s climate legacy, which we know he cares deeply about, is directly tied to the rejection of the Keystone XL.”

Whenever Kleeb talks about Bold Nebraska’s progressive and populist mission for the state, she uses the first-person plural possessive: “our state.” Though not originally from Nebraska, she made it her permanent home in early 2007.

She grew up in south Florida. Both parents were staunch Republicans. Her stay-at-home mother led Broward County Right to Life. As a child, Kleeb often made posters, sat in the back of community meetings, or simply watched mom lead rallies. That was the beginning of her political awareness. Her father owned several Burger King franchises. The whole family would help during the weekends to slice pickles (they didn’t used to come pre-cut) and other chores. “I thought all families did that,” she says with a laugh.

She went to school in northern Florida then headed to Philadelphia and D.C. for the next decade. Despite voting for Bill Clinton and running an AmeriCorps program, she claims to have remained a registered Republican up until taking a job with Young Democrats of America. She became executive director in 2003 and worked with “Rock the Vote.”

A chance encounter at the 2005 Democratic Convention in Phoenix would eventually tie her fate to Nebraska. That’s where she met Scott. The handsome Yale graduate, a bull-riding grandson of a Western Nebraska rancher, was considering a bid for the state’s third congressional district.

“I thought he couldn’t get out of the Republican primary so he ran as a Democrat,” she says with a laugh, recalling her first impression of the man who would become her husband. Her admitted “very stereotypical view of Nebraska” changed after she became involved with Scott’s campaign. Her life changed when she first visited the Sandhills.

“I had this really fundamental shift when I came to visit Scott on the ranch,” she says. “Just talking with young and old ranchers, they have this beautiful view of family and the land—they know every blade of grass on their property, and they know the weather cycles, and they can name every cow that’s on their property.”

She fell in love with the aspiring politician and his state. Four months after the campaign ended in narrow defeat, they married in March 2007. Her immersion in Nebraska politics was just beginning.

The newlywed Kleeb took a political correspondent job with MTV during the 2008 presidential election. She also helped run her husband’s 2008 Senate campaign, which ended in a general election loss to Mike Johanns. Then, after Obama took the White House, the Service Employees International Union sponsored “Change that Works” to petition support for health care reform; Kleeb was named the organization’s Nebraska director. She mobilized community support across small towns and cities. She aggressively lobbied then-Senator Ben Nelson, and she found success. Nelson would eventually provide a crucial swing vote for Obamacare in exchange for the notorious “Cornhusker Kickback.”

“I knew (Change that Works) would end as soon as the bill got passed in Congress,” she says. “I looked around, and I didn’t see a statewide organization that was using creativity, that was aggressive online, and wasn’t afraid of throwing a punch to politicians who weren’t being accountable on issues we cared about. So, I thought that’s something that we needed to start.”

The concept for Bold Nebraska was born. She met with Omaha philanthropist Dick Holland, a powerful contributor to progressive Democratic causes and candidates. Kleeb pitched her idea. Inspired, Holland offered start-up funds, and she transitioned from health care reform to her ultimate, bold ambition for Nebraska: “to change the political landscape of our state.” But she still had no idea her life was about to plunge into a pipeline-induced rabbit hole.

“About three months after we started, I got a phone call about the pipeline. It was from a friend who works at an environmental group, and he said, ‘Have you heard about this? It’s going to cut across the Sandhills,’” Kleeb says of her first introduction to the Keystone XL.

“I’d never worked on an environmental issue. I didn’t know anything about eminent domain or what the tar sands were. But I was intrigued because it was going to cross the Sandhills—and it still will—and that’s where my husband’s family all homesteaded, where I fell in love with Nebraska. So I was like, okay, I’ll go to the meeting.”

She traveled to York for a State Department meeting in May 2010. She listened to Nebraska farmers and ranchers voice concerns about threats to livestock, crops, and water supplies. She saw a clear example of “right and wrong,” and Bold Nebraska found its first big cause.

Pipeline advocates have alleged that Keystone XL opposition is linked to backing from Omaha’s Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway. Some believe that oil transport by rail rather than pipeline would benefit Berkshire-owned BNSF Railway. Bold’s early key donor—Dick Holland—is a major Berkshire shareholder and made a fortune investing in Warren Buffet. But Kleeb says the critique is misleading; Buffet has expressed support for the Keystone XL.

“That’s a conspiracy theory,” she says. “I wish I had Warren Buffet money. I’ve asked. Life is not that filled with conspiracy. But the conspiracy theory about the FBI secretly taping us, that turned out to be true [and was reported by The Guardian and The New York Times].” The FBI and TransCanada had been advising law enforcement how anti-terrorism laws and tactics could be used against pipeline activists. After completing her latest crop art project, Kleeb filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out what the FBI has on file for her.

Weighing the danger of rail versus pipeline, both are risky. “But they are different risks,” she says. “There are more accidents on rail, but they spill less oil. Pipelines have fewer accidents each year, but when they spill, they spill more oil into the ground and water. So it’s not either/or for me. Both need to be made safer.”

As Kleeb’s pipeline fight drags on, Omaha continues to play an important staging ground. The locally headquartered Domina Law Group is representing landowners and Bold Nebraska. In January, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the proposed Keystone XL route could remain in place; however, attorneys with Domina are ready to file lawsuits contesting TransCanada’s eminent domain. Final say on the permit must be determined at the federal level. At the time of publication, the State Department’s analysis of the pipeline remained underway, and Kleeb anticipated that President Obama would reject the pipeline permit. “We think that we will prevail. Because it’s a very clear constitutional question,” she says.

Several Omaha musicians were featured on a Stopping the Pipeline Rocks album recorded last spring in a solar barn on the Keystone XL route. Over the summer, Kleeb and Bold Nebraska’s team organized a solidarity event at the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge as climate marchers passed into Iowa on their walk from California to Washington D.C.

During the fall election season, Kleeb and the Cowboy Indian Alliance canvased Omaha neighborhoods door-to-door on horseback. They pushed hard to prevent reelection of Republican Congressman Lee Terry, a vocal advocate of the Keystone XL. His replacement, Democrat Brad Ashford, is, much to Kleeb’s dismay, also a pipeline proponent of the Keystone XL.

“Brad Ashford says he is concerned about climate change. But you can’t be concerned about climate change and then want to expand the tar sands, which is one of the dirtiest forms of oil,” she says.

Keystone XL has fractured political alliances along fascinating lines. While labor unions and corporate interests generally endorse the pipeline, many libertarians oppose it on the grounds of government taking private land while environmentalists oppose it for ecological reasons. “It is definitely an unlikely alliance,” Kleeb says, noting that some of Bold’s regular donors are conservative Republicans.

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National polls by CBS News, the Pew Research Center, USA Today and the Princeton Survey Research Associates International found that between 56 and 60 percent of the American public supported the Keystone XL. Kleeb says that Bold Nebraska’s polls for Omaha specifically have found support/opposition split closer to 50-50.

In spite of her affiliation with the Democratic Party, Kleeb would like to see Bold Nebraska straddle bipartisan politics. Growing numbers of registered independent Nebraskan voters gives her hope. “My mom and dad raised me as a Republican,” says Kleeb. “That’s why when I see the majority of Republicans in our state, including Omaha, it never deters me that someone in our state with populist and progressive ideas cannot get elected.”

During the course of the one-hour interview with Omaha Magazine, Kleeb never once checks the time. She has been speaking confidently and eloquently about her life, her politics, and the Keystone XL until minutes before the start of “Politics and Pints” and the launching of “In the Neb.” The interview concludes, and Kleeb has to leave. She heads to her minivan. She picks up another pile of signs and flyers. She walks down to the Farnam House Brewing Company.

The bar is packed. Petitions, surveys, and tickets for complimentary beers float freely. Kleeb stands amid the chattering crowd and calls for attention. Silence. Her stage presence exudes the same sense of friendly, genuine sincerity that she has practiced as a pundit on Fox News and in one-on-one conversations across Nebraska.

Kleeb introduces the current status of the pipeline. Other speakers from labor unions and environmental groups take the floor: opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership, lamenting out-of-state fracking waste disposal proposals in western Nebraska, introducing Bold Nebraska’s “In the Neb.” project.

Enthusiastic clapping follows each call for change. Especially boisterous applause comes from 64-year-old Deirdre Evans of the Joslyn Castle neighborhood. A regular at Bold Nebraska events, Evans even went to Washington D.C. in 2011 to be arrested for the first time while protesting the Keystone XL outside the White House. “Jane is my hero,” says Evans after the speakers conclude.

As Kleeb chats with glowing admirers, her ascendance in regional progressive politics becomes apparent. But her compatibility with the general electorate has yet to be tested.

In 2010, she was elected as a school board member in Hastings on a platform of healthy lunches, “which prompted the GOP in Nebraska to run robocalls telling voters I wanted to make their kids vegetarians,” she says, noting that she loved serving on the school board.

An important question remains. What are Kleeb’s future political ambitions? Does she see herself elected someday to represent Nebraskan constituents in the state or national capitol? She responded to the follow-up question by e-mail without delay:

“If I run for office, it will be focused on a platform of ending eminent domain for private gain and working towards energy projects that protect our land and water. I still also deeply care and worry about the lack of residential treatment facilities in our state for eating disorders and other mental illnesses that need that type of care for folks to recover.

“So, yes, I am considering running. When, where, and for what office—that I am not sure about. Right now, I keep listening to folks to see where we can make the most impact to keep showing the rest of the country what Nebraskans are made of—grit, creativity, and the resolve to get things done.”

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Mom on the Rocks

Blowin’ up stuff. Yeehaw!

I’m from Texas, so the Fourth of July means we’re free to blow whatever we want up to smithereens.

So you can imagine my surprise when we moved here to the “Good Life.” I thought I had rid myself of the blow-stuff-up mentality. I thought wrong. Again.

I also thought upon leaving Texas behind, I’d be leaving all that football crazy in the rear view mirror. But, Texas doesn’t hold a candle to the sport of being a football fan or blowing up stuff quite like Nebraska.

At that time, he only legal explosions around our new home were controlled explosions in the mall parking lot.

We moved here when the kids were two years old. I’d get them tucked in and quietly tiptoe out of their rooms. Right after we’d get them to bed, KABLAMMO!!! Incessant M-80’s start, and then the mall fireworks that apparently aren’t just for the mall, started going off all around us. All I can think of is a war zone. Red Dawn was happening right then.

The kids started wailing, waking each other up. I wanted to just run outside and yell, “What the heck, y’all!?” But the word y’all would throw these usually docile Midwesterners off.

The muffled explosions were like some kind of Hunger Games filmed in Beirut in the 80’s.

Eventually, we gave in and just let the kids stay up to watch fireworks. Instead of a mall, we just set up lawn chairs up and looked down hill. We also relied on neighbors who blow up a month’s budget. It didn’t take long until Chris crossed over to the pro blow-stuff-up party. He insisted it was some rite of passage to teach kids how to light fireworks. You know, play with fire.

Eventually we succumbed to the pressures of the Good Life in warfare celebrating our independence. We found ourselves at friends’ parties celebrating America. In the end, it was not a mall, but we ended up driving to a location, letting others handle it.

I’ll never quite understand it.  But if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s liberating. Which is what we’re celebrating anyway, right?

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