Tre Brashear casually walks through backstage of the Maha Music Festival in Omaha's Stinson Park. He's the president of the non-profit festival. Last weekend was the one-day indie music festival's third year.
Brashear and friends started the event because they saw other Midwest cities putting on similar festivals and thought Nebraska's bustling indie music scene deserved its own showcase. Sitting by a line of idling tour buses Brashear lays out his future plans for the festival including expanding it into multiple days.
Building a festival
"We have to be conservative in terms of not spending too much, not booking the hottest artists, and the pricing is high," Brashear said. "We just want to be successful and financially prudent and take extra money and roll it toward next year - and that's how we grow the event."
Two stages are set up that alternate between 11 local and touring acts. While the lineup isn't the biggest names in indie and alternative music, the bands are unique. The more than 4,000 attendees came to see groups like Omaha natives Cursive reunited with its original drummer, a solo performance from J Masics, the front man for Dinosaur Jr., a band that influenced the early 1990s alternative rock movement and reunited underground music icons Guided by Voices Many Maha attendees are responsive to the idea of turning Maha into a multiple day festival, but they don't think it could make it without expanding the roster.
"The past three years there haven't been enough big names or bands that can carry it," said Ben Dolan.
"I think they did a good job on bringing in more genres this year," said Melissa Coe. "But I think they could expand it even more."
A three-day festival with bigger names sounds similar to the Red Sky Music Festival in Omaha. It featured acts like Journey, Kid Rock and country singer Jason Aldean. It was co-sponsored by concert promoter giant Live Nation and had 80,000 guests. This was its first year in Omaha. Maha was originally booked the same weekend as Red Sky. So, Brashear had to move his festival to not conflict. He says they were a little nervous about flooding the market at first.
"There's no way that having more activity is ever bad, but we did not know what kinds of bands and how much they would draw from it and the economy's down," Brashear said. "It was a concern, realistically we didn't lose any fans to (Red Sky) because our events are different, our fans are unique indie and alternative music."
While some Nebraskans in the eastern part of the state had their pick of music festivals, the once booming Comstock music festival, near the central Nebraska town of Broken Bow, was quiet this year.
Comstock or bust
Henry Nuxoll got the idea to start the Comstock music festivals while sitting on his porch looking into the canyon where the festivals would ultimately be held. Throughout the last decade, Comstock has brought in artists for separate rock, country and Christian music festivals.
"Who would ever think you'd get Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Def Leopard and ZZ Top to sing in a pasture located 3 miles from a town with 100 people?" Nuxoll said.
But this year, there won't be a single show. Nuxoll has lost one million dollars on the festivals. He said it was caused by an accumulation of things.
"We've been overcharged by entertainment by a half million dollars, agents take from us, the stage collapsed one year, that cost us $200,000, when we purchased the land across the road our investor fell through and cost us a couple hundred thousand dollars," he said. "We overpaid 100,000 dollars in sales tax, we had to build a DEQ pit otherwise the operation would have cost."
Bill Kann is the new owner of Comstock. He's working out an agreement to buy the festival property. He said he hasn't yet secured financing, and is waiting on a loan that can sustain the festival for five years, even if it doesn't turn a profit. Kann's a little concerned about what ticket sales were like before this year's festival was cancelled.
"Tickets were very light; I was quite surprised they were as light as they were; we sold maybe 400/500 tickets," he said. "We need to sell between 8,000 and 10,000 tickets."
Kann said people who bought tickets can get a full refund by visiting the festival's website.
As for Maha, it brought in about the same number of attendees as last year. While festival president Tre Brashear said that's good, it's not enough yet to plan a multiple-day event for next year.