Tag Archives: punk

With A Beard and a Smile

October 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Walking into Lookout Lounge is a different experience than entering other music venues around Omaha. Admittedly, it feels a little strange driving into a business plaza just south of 72nd and Dodge streets for a punk show. But what distinguishes Lookout (formerly The Hideout) is more than just location. It is the bearded man sitting at the entryway, checking IDs and working on his laptop, that sets this venue apart.

Raised in Copperas Cove, Texas, Kyle Fertwagner knew from a young age that his destiny lay in music. At 6 years old, he was mesmerized by blues concerts in nearby Austin. “Those experiences are ingrained in my memory. There were thousands of people out there enjoying music, sharing that common bond of whatever that music meant to them.”

By the time he moved to Omaha at age 15, he and his younger brother, Keith, were playing together in punk bands. They got their start at The Cog Factory. Like many area music fans, Kyle is eager to share fond memories of that nonprofit venue, which closed in 2002. “That was our stomping grounds,” he says. “That’s where I basically grew up as a musician, as a punk rocker, as a person.” Before their first show at The Cog Factory, Fertwagner recalls that the owners greeted the band and “it just immediately felt like home.”

Recreating that welcoming DIY vibe is what drove him to quit his job as general manager of a local restaurant and take over The Hideout in 2015. Keith had already learned how to work sound systems, and Kyle had learned how to run a business from years in the restaurant industry.

With “a little TLC” and a lot of elbow grease, the brothers made the place their own. Kyle proudly showcases a sign from the original Cog Factory over the pool table. Next to it is the hand-painted mural featuring the venue’s name and the radio tower logo that has become an Omaha icon. Endless layers of screen-printed posters paper Lookout’s walls, and concert-goers have enthusiastically decorated the bathrooms with a vibrant collection of friendly graffiti.

Kyle describes himself as “owner/operator,” but upon attending a show at his venue it is immediately apparent that he does much more than the typical owner. Besides personally welcoming patrons into shows and tending bar, he works the lights and often shadows his brother on sound. But before any of that can happen, “it starts with the band.”

When asked about his work with local promoters and artists, Kyle can’t quite hold back a grin. Lookout is known around Omaha as a starting point for bands that have never played in public before. Its owner is the main reason for this reputation. His voice softens when asked about his role in helping young local artists get their music off the ground: “I think it’s important when you’re first starting out to have a venue you can call home.” This determination to give back to the music community makes Lookout special.

Kyle’s unique philosophy on booking shows is “to not try to take everything on ourselves.” This means more cooperation between venue staff, bands, and promoters. “It’s a team effort.” The additional networking and communication is more work, but well worth it.

From his days in small punk bands growing up, he knows the obstacles and struggles of getting a band onstage. This knowledge helps him guide others through the process.“We try to use our experience to help younger bands grow,” Kyle says. “That’s good for everybody.” He is always happy to reach out to local promoters and say “we’d love to work with you.”

When Kyle works to foster those relationships to put a show together, that’s when the energy of the DIY venue is created. “It’s ‘Alright, cool, we did it, we sold the place out!’ Instead of ‘I sold the place out.’ It’s more of an ‘us’ thing.” Shows that are assembled with teamwork are more rewarding for the band, everyone behind the scenes, and the audience. Those packed concerts are a staple of Lookout’s imprint on the musical community.

After taking care of the band, Kyle’s next focus is his role as head of security. At any show, he can be seen roaming around the audience, keeping out a watchful eye for any sign of trouble. He accepts personal responsibility in creating a positive energy at Lookout, and takes the security of the audience very seriously: “People shouldn’t feel unwelcome here for any reason.”

In order to ensure that everyone feels welcome, anyone exhibiting abusive behavior of any kind will be personally warned and, if need be, escorted out by Kyle himself. He is quick to explain, “Anything that happens here I take to be a personal reflection on me.”

Visit lookoutomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Kyle Fertwagner

Dereck Higgins

September 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On stage, Dereck Higgins performs with the urgency and energy of someone a third his age. Off stage his work ethic rivals anyone in the music business. At the age of 59, the history of Omaha music rightfully places Higgins as an elder statesman. While Higgins resume spans the years, his myriad artistic and musical endeavors ensure his work remains as vital and contemporary as ever.

Born July 7, 1955, Higgins discovered the path his life would take on February 9, 1964. He was initially unaware that one of the four men seen in a fateful telecast that night shared his birthday as Ringo (born 15 years to the day before Higgins) and his mates stormed the Ed Sullivan Show stage. The iconic Beatles performance turned the music-obsessed 9-year-old into a rock and roll disciple. Higgins got a guitar and the obsession only grew.

As a member of seminal ‘80s Omaha groups RAF and Digital Sex, Higgins’ impassioned approach to the bass guitar cemented his place as a Midwestern music legend. A self-proclaimed outsider and punk rocker, Higgins was always aware his work spoke to the core of his identity: a black person from Omaha, Nebraska, playing in a genre where blacks were more that a little underrepresented.

“I never wanted fame in the typical sense,” says Higgins. “I wanted to feel recognized. Being a black person growing up here through civil rights and all the racism I have dealt with, music saved me. Music is the way people can build a bridge.”

Over the last decade alone, Higgins has released a dozen recordings. First gaining international exposure in Digital Sex, Higgins’ YouTube videos of his massive LP collection reached a worldwide base, one that soon began purchasing Higgins’ own recordings. Along with his individual work, Higgins lends his abilities to a new generation of artists as a collaborative and creative foil to the likes of musician/director Nik Fackler of InDreama.

From Nebraska to the Netherlands to New Zealand—with a Polish compilation appearance for good measure—Higgins is global.

The musician was an inaugural resident artist at the Bemis Center’s Carver Bank program in 2013. The experience allowed Higgins, a former Community Alliance mental health specialist, the artist’s dream of working on one’s craft fulltime. Complementing countless live performances, international tours, and hundreds of compositions, the Carver Bank gig highlighted Higgins’ allegiance to the North Omaha community in which he was raised and still resides. That sense of community and interpersonal connection is, Higgins says, his true legacy.

“I try to be real with everyone,” Higgins adds. “This music I make means something to me. I want it to mean something to you. I want to connect.”

Listen to the artist’s work at dereckhiggins.bandcamp.com.