Aug. 21, 2018

The crowd watches as TV on the Radio performs at Maha Music Festival on Aug. 17, 2018. Kayla Solorzano/KZUM.

Omaha’s Maha Music Festival promises to be bigger and better with each annual iteration, and this year’s lineup of concerts in Aksarben Village proved to be one of the best yet.

The 2018 Maha Music Festival on Friday and Saturday featured a much-anticipated lineup of both local and nationally touring bands that helped draw one of the largest crowds in the event’s 10-year history. Over the two-day concert series, local acts like The Dilla Kids, Clarence Tilton and Mesonjixx shared the stage with popular national acts like Father John Misty, TV on the Radio and Weezer.

While music may be the main focus at the festival, Maha aimed to highlight organizations that also make its great community and provide its concert goers with resources they may not have been aware are available. The festival welcomed 28 organizations over the weekend in it’s Community Village. Arts for All Inc., Heartland Pride, Youth Emergency Services, Nebraska Appleseed, and Planned Parenthood just a few nonprofits to take to Stinson Park.

Maha Community Village. Kayla Solorzano/KZUM.

There were many interactive projects among the Community Village as well, such as painting your dreams with the organization Men With Dreams, collaborative quilt making took place with Joslyn Art Museum, Inclusive Communities recycled t-shirts into tote bags, and you were able to decorate wood studs that will be used when building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Lincoln based nonprofits Rabble Mill and The Bay brought their mini ramp and held an open skate on both days with skate school on Saturday.  

The Community Village provided a variety of great food, drinks, games and information to people, making Maha 2018 a superb festival in all aspects.

Here’s a recap on many of Maha’s performances:

Clarence Tilton – Friday at 6 p.m.
Photos by Joe Aguirre

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State Disco – Friday at 6:40 p.m.
Recap by Steffan Decker
Photos by Joe Aguirre

It didn’t exceed 90 degrees all weekend, but there is a lack of tree coverage in Aksarban Village, so it certainly felt very hot. Luckily for State Disco fans, the clouds offered some relief right before State Disco took to the OMNE Partners stage.

“Hey party people,” said vocalist Cody Rathman with the synths starting behind him. The sound of the first song, “Beautiful Monsters,” is reminiscent of some of the best synth-rock of the 1980s. During the whole festival, up to this point, the stage had been set with two small archways adorned with LED Light panels. Each archway also housed its own disco ball, appropriate considering the artist. As the music carried on, the lights changed; orchestrated to match the song. The use of red-green-blue combinations reinforces the retro feeling of the performance, reminding me of the televisions that were popular in the 1980s-synth era.

The set consisted of a lot of songs from their 2018 EP, Sleeping is Giving Up. However, given that the set itself featured more songs than are on the EP, there were clearly songs I wasn’t familiar with. At one point, the band threw a curveball at the audience by bringing J. Crum on stage for a guest rap close to the end of the set. Even with the unexpected guest musician, the whole performance felt like a perfectly curated playlist; keeping the flow of energy, moving through highs-and-lows and just the right time.

The show came to an end with what is probably their most popular song, “Million Miles Away.” It’s clear as to why this may be the most popular. This song is such a wonderful composition, with great use of dynamic-variety and amazing vocals. It’s the synth-pop hit that I didn’t know we were missing. I was very happy to finally see them live, and I will be seeing them again very soon.

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Hurray for the Riff Raff – Friday at 7:20 p.m.
Recap by Shannon Claire
Photos by Kayla Solorzano

“This is resistance music”, said Hurray for the Riff raff vocalist and songwriter Alynda Segarra during the group’s powerful and infectious set.

Segarra uses her voice and music to support the oppressed and encourages them to keep on fighting. In her “Young, Latin, and Proud” T-shirt Friday night, Segarra raised fists with her words as Hurray for the Riff Raff took Maha’s stage at dusk, with a powerful and infectious set.

“This is for all my Midwestern queers!” Segarra yelled as the band went into “Hungry Ghost” from 2017s The Navigator. We also heard “Rican Beach,” a song inspired by Segarra’s Puerto Rican heritage and “Livin’ in the City,” which was highlighted by excellent guitar and keyboard solos. The group also performed new work, including a dreamy indie folk song, “Just The Way You Are.”.

“We mean every word.” Segarra states about the swoonfull shoegaze-y track, “There’s only five, but we mean them.”

Before getting into another new song, Segarra mentioned her love for poet Langston Hughes, and how his work inspired the next song, “Kids Who Die.”

“This is to the youth, and everybody we’ve lost”, Segarra said.

The song speaks of and for today’s adolescents, with lyrics like “they’ll die undocumented, they’ll die tied to a tree, they’ll die in their grandmas backyard.” I personally couldn’t help but be reminded of Ani DiFranco’s earlier work when hearing this track, and the urgency behind the lyrics and performance. The band had the crowd’s utmost and full attention and really seemed to have people listening to the messages.

Hurray for the Riff Raff closed with what I would call their anthem track from The Navigator, “Palente.”  Spanish for “move forward,” “Palente” is a song for the “worldwide community” Segarra said, and “for those who believe in peace and justice.”

Dedicating it to “all the Latinos”, the song rang out through Stinson Park, and wrapped up Hurray for the Riff Raff’s powerful, inclusive set. “Black Power, Latin Power, queer Power, trans Power, people Power!” Segarra shouted and exited the stage with peace signs firmly in the air.

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Benjamin Booker – Friday at 8:15 p.m.
Photos by Stephanie Paul

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ZZ Ward – Friday at 9:10 p.m.
Recap by
Photos by Stephanie Paul

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TV On The Radio – Friday at 10:30 p.m.
Recap by Steffan Decker
Photos by Kayla Solorzano

The band entered to the cheering of the crowd stating, “we’re excited to be playing well on to the night.” The music builds with an ethereal sound, the fog machine adds to the mystical presence; all of it to eventually become the opening song, “Young Liars.” As expected, the entire band has a certain charisma as well as a slight air of mystery to them. This mystery is embodied in a set of chimes hanging on the end of one of the guitars.

It’s wasn’t long before vocalist Tunde Adebimpe made the stage his own. He moved around the stage, bending his body like a rubber band; snapping back and forth, yet still fluid. By the third song, “Golden Age,” the two women next to us were really on board with the performance — clearly happy to have been there for their favorite song. “Golden Age,” featured a trombone, which is always nice to hear live during a rock concert.

By the time “Trouble” started, the sky was hazy with a mix of smoke and fog machine-fog. The heat of the Summer had faded, and everything felt still. As the lyrics repeated, “everything’s gonna be okay,” I certainly started to believe it.

As one would expect for a headliner, TV On The Radio received an encore, but not before acknowledging that they were “pretending to leave” — my new favorite concert trope. When they returned, they talked about how sometimes it feels like the sky is falling. They went on to say that it felt a little bit like the sky fell, recently, with the passing of Aretha Franklin. To honor her, they played a cover of “Think” as the first part of their encore.

Then it was time for the final song. Like the start of the performance, there was an ethereal blend of strings and synths, making it impossible to know what song was coming next. Somewhere in that blend of sound, I heard two little notes – a clue as to what the last song might be, and I was right. The show ended with “Staring at the Sun.” The song I never thought I’d hear performed by the band I never thought I’d see live. I couldn’t think of a better way to end night one of Maha.

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The Dilla Kids – Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
Photos by Joe Aguirre

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David Nance Band – Saturday at 1:15 p.m.
Photos by Joe Aguirre

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U.S. Girls – Saturday at 2 p.m.
Recap by Will Roper
Photos by Kayla Solorzano

As the third act of Saturday’s long list of stellar performances, U.S. Girls certainly didn’t disappoint with their eclectic pop rock sound. The experimental sound brought by singer Meghan Remy fit the Maha mainstage perfectly as the crowd began to gather for the last day, with Remy’s voice and a diverse range of instruments carrying far across Stinson Park. Overall, U.S. Girls were an incredible start to the biggest day of Maha 2018, and their performance certainly garnered them many new fans in Omaha and Nebraska.

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Mesonjixx – Saturday at 3 p.m.
Recap by Will Roper
Photos by Joe Aguirre

Lincoln band Mesonjixx took the stage following U.S. Girls and put on an exceptional performance for the still-swelling crowd at Maha. Led by singer Mary Lawson, the group dove straight into their soulful collection of songs for their 45-minute set. Lawson’s unique voice and impeccable lyricism gelled flawlessly with guitarist Myles Jasnowski and the rest of the group, and eloquent verses were complemented wonderfully with thoughtful guitar solos. Every song was a big hit with the crowd, especially those coming from the group’s recent 2017 EP In the Middle. Those who showed up to Maha early in the afternoon were definitely treated to a great performance by a great group of Nebraskan musicians, and the outdoor Maha stage was an impressive venue to see them live.

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Omaha Girls Rock – Saturday at 3 p.m.
Photos by Joe Aguirre

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Hop Along – Saturday at 4:15 p.m.
Recap by Steffan Decker
Photos by Kayla Solorzano

There is a lot to be said about the Hop Along performance at Maha. From the first second, the band set themselves apart from other performers by having an unusual arrangement on the stage. The lead singer was standing off to the right, the lead guitarist opposite her on the left, while the bassist was standing right in the middle. But I only had the one second to take it in; they didn’t waste any time before starting their set with the first song.

With bands like Hop Along, and their unique vocals, you never know how it will sound live. For the uninitiated, Lead singer Frances Quinlan will often employ a Joplin-esque scream in the music. I had concerns about how that translate live, but Quinlan executed it to perfection each and every time. She was able to flawlessly switch throughout the entire show. That alone made Hop Along one of the most impressive performance of the entire festival.

As I was watching, I commented how it kind of felt like Hop Along was part of your group of friends; the ones that played music, and they wanted to test their new tracks on the rest of the friend-group to see what could stick. Just moments later, Hop Along mentioned that they had kinship to Omaha because of their work with Saddle Creek Records. Quinlan said that they decided to sign with Saddle Creek because it was the label that encapsulated “friends just playing music together.” That’s what the whole performance felt like: just a bunch of friends enjoying some music.

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Ravyn Lenae – Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Recap by Shannon Claire
Photos by Kayla Solorzano

If you’ve ever wanted to hear a songbird sing, then may I suggest taking in a performance from Chicago’s R&B artist, Ravyn Lenae. There really aren’t the right words to describe her sound, and do it justice. Awe inspiring, effortless, striking, oscillating, exquisite, soulful, captivating; there, you have some.

Lenae performed to a relatively smaller crowd on Saturday, compared to Hop Along and Tune-Yards that sandwiched her performance. However, she had us all at her fingertips. Showcasing her octave range, providing at times a sweet pitter pat of vocal flutter, her performance left one mesmerized. There was also a groove connection, where concert goers hearts were one with the three piece backing band’s infectious soulful beats. The crowd head bobbed and danced from side to side throughout the show’s entirety.  

Lenae performed most of her recent work that comes from her third and most recent EP, Crush. All of the songs are centered around love, all kinds of love.

“I have a personal question real quick. Who’s ever fallen in love on the internet?,” Lenae asked at the beginning of her set.

From long distance love like with “Computer Love,” to getting caught up in the friend zone kind of love with “Four Leaf Clover,” Lenae kept the relationship conversation flowing between songs.

“Can I get in your business one more time?” she said smiling from ear to ear.

The crowd happily obliged. Here we were, with another artist who used the stage and mic to create conversation. Lenae also performed “The Night Song,” which focuses on and was lyrically inspired by how we as a society are raised to feel ashamed about feeling sad.

“We gotta have rain to have a rainbow.” said Lenae.

Ravyn Lenae went back and brought a fun house track, “Free Room,” that got the already hyped crowd even more so, it was truly an impressive cut and a surprising mix to the set. Lenae closed her set with her current single, and what I hope is her soon-to-be hit, “Sticky”.

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Tune-Yards – Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
Recap by Shannon Claire
Photos by Kayla Solorzano

One of the most anticipated, talk-around-town performances took place Saturday evening with Tune-Yards. With the sun beginning to dip below the horizon, the trio opened with “Look at Your Hands,” a playful dance track off of their 2018 album, I Can Feel You Creeping In To My Private Life.

However, if you take note of the lyrics, it’s anything but playful. As I was yet to see Tune-Yards live, I was curious to the environment at their shows. Would people be paying attention to the messages at hand, or just dance about to the infectious instrumentation produced by the band while lyrics blare of cultural appropriation, racism, and privilege, and if we’re going to do anything about it.

Tune-Yards is no stranger to speaking up about social injustices in their music and providing a detailed picture of our current political climate. However, with this recent album, Merrill Garbus turns the camera on herself, and white privilege, as she being a white woman who entertains with African Caribbean infused and inspired electronic music.

Garbis indeed belted those messages through danceable tracks off their recent album, with “ABC 123,” and “Hammer.” Tune-Yards also performed classics like “Gangsta” off of their 2011 Who Kill album, and “Water Fountain” off of the 2014 full length, Nikki Nack.

Garbus is known not only for her powerful and wide-ranged voice, but also her exceptional looping skills. From her voice to drum pad and ukulele, it’s a sight to be seen and sounds to be heard live, especially when it comes to her voice. She loops and layers her vocals into harmonies that then become part of the bands rhythm section. Her looping abilities come off almost effortless and are truly impressive which were highlighted perfectly when they performed ‘Honesty’, also off the latest album.

“Thank you for being apart of this with us” said Garbus as as the group closed out their set with “Heart Attack” and all smiles as if pleasantly satisfied with there Maha experience, and it seemed the crowd felt the same.

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The Kills – Saturday at 7:45 p.m.
Recap by Will Roper
Photos by Kayla Solorzano

English guitarist Jamie Hince and American singer Alison Mosshart took the stage as the lead faces of The Kills and provided a true rock star atmosphere to the Maha Music Festival. Performing just ahead of Father John Misty and Weezer, The Kills certainly set the stage on fire with their classic mix of indie and blues rock. With nearly two decades of performing together, Hince and Mosshart’s chemistry was one-of-a-kind, and the duo brought some of the best energy to the weekend’s stage. Both Mosshart and Hince are bona fide rockstars, and it definitely showed in both their performance style and their music. Pushing in and out of classic and modern rock sounds, The Kills seemingly drew from a wide range of rock influences that could be heard in songs from any of their five major studio albums. Overall, Hince, Mosshart and The Kills were an impressive start to the headlining bands of Saturday evening at Maha, and created a vibrant energy in the crowd that carried over to the last two acts.

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Father John Misty – Saturday at 9 p.m.
Recap by Shannon Claire
Photos by James Dean

Father John Misty, an alter ego yes, but not one that should be considered secondary.  In most major cities, he would have been the closing act of a festival of this capacity. However, J. Tillman and band were snuggled in after The Kills and right before Weezer. Not sure if that was a good thing, but not sure where else they could have fit, either. But I guess there’s one a way to look at it, too: Father John Misty isn’t supposed to fit in.

They kept their set concise and fast-paced, scattered with fan favorites spanning the bands four-album deep catalog. If you were to go to Spotify and hit ‘play,’ they performed all the top listened-to tracks and more. Opening with “Nancy From Now On” into “Chateau Lobby #4  (in C for Two Virgins)” and later in the setm “Mr. Tillman”: followed by “Hangout at the Gallows.” It was a solid set, with Tillman’s trademark slick moves backed by the band that is tight and flawless.

“Please Don’t Die” was a personal favorite to hear. I will say, being a Los Angeles native, it felt like Tillman brought a piece of the “who’s who” city to Omaha. Their sound takes you to being in the deserts of Joshua Tree, or the like, with only the moonlight for electricity.

Tilman closed his set with “Pure Comedy,” which was ironically appropriate. By this time the crowd had packed in tight like sardines, for the following act Weezer. At this point the “W’s” had infiltrated, leaving some of the Father John Misty fans a bit annoyed at the lack of thought and attention being given to Tillman and his bandmates. He noticed as well, dedicating the last song to the Weezer fans in the front row.

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Weezer – Saturday at 10:30 p.m.
Recap by Aaron Vlasnik
Photos by James Dean

The Los Angeles quartet came out to their “Happy Days”-themed music video of ‘Buddy Holly’ (“Kenosha, Wisconsin’s own…Weezer!”), busted right into the 1994 smash hit and we were off and running on Saturday night.

For the next 90 minutes, we were given a very festival-friendly setlist, full of all their hit singles and the occasional cover. And that literally was it, but the greatest hits setlist disappointed no one in the crowd. Lead singer Rivers Cuomo worked the crowd into a frenzy every chance he could. He brought an energy and prowess that the fans ate up with every song they played. Songs like “Sweater Song,” “Hash Pipe”, “El Scorcho” and the fitting-for-Nebraska song “The Good Life” all got the crowd going. There was very little talking between songs and it was all business as they played at least one song from nine of their 11 studio albums.

Within the 18-song setlist, there were a few covers, including a medley of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” and Green Day’s “Longview.”

A memorable moment in the show came when Cuomo ran off stage and over to the Omne Partners Stage, where he performed an acoustic version of ‘Island In The Sun’ as well as another cover. This time it was A-ha’s “Take On Me,” and impressively nailing that high note at the end.

Following a quick exit after playing their recent critically reviewed cover of the band Toto’s infamous song, “Africa,” Weezer came out for one encore which included their songs “Troublemaker” and “Say It Ain’t So” before closing their performance with a verse and chorus from Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.”  That sent fans into another frenzy. It was a great way to close out the show and last night of the two day festival.

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This year’s Maha proved to be one of the best in recent memory, with both local and national acts giving top-tier performances at an incredible outdoor venue. Top headlining acts TV on the Radio, Father John Misty and Weezer were some of the largest names in the festival’s history, and they gave world-class shows to a jam-packed audience – an audience that is certainly up there for the largest in the festival’s 10 years. Along with the performances, the Community Village, with its great offerings of food, drinks, games and information, was wonderful to visit in between musical acts. The festival was truly perfect for people of all ages, and this year’s iteration should certainly have people excited to see what Omaha has in store for them next year.

Photos by Kayla Solorzano. View all photos on KZUM's Flickr

Intro and outro text by Will Roper and Shannon Claire.

Joe Aguirre, Stephanie Paul, Will Roper and Kayla Solorzano are multimedia interns with KZUM.

Aaron Vlasnik hosts Alt Night Long Tuesdays, 9-11 p.m. on KZUM.

Shannon Claire is KZUM’s development director and host of X-Rated: Women in Music, airing Thursdays, 1:30-3 p.m. on KZUM.

Steffan Decker is KZUM’s multimedia specialist and co-host of The ISM Machine, airing Mondays, 6-8 a.m. 

James Dean is a freelance photography contributor to KZUM.