By MarQ Manner
The sixth annual Maha Music Festival took place this past Saturday at Stinson Park in front of a record crowd of 7,000 people. The predicted rain never came, but a brutal sun beat down upon us through the clear sky. I was working backstage at the event, hustling bands and making sure the artists’ needs were met. This year ran like clockwork.
The show opened with Lincoln’s Domestica and the former Mercy Rule members played hard on the Weitz Main Stage, which set the tone for the rest of the day. Matt Whipkey opened up the Omaha Gives stage playing music from his acclaimed Penny Park album and debuting some new tracks from his forthcoming project. Twinsmith were up next on the Weitz stage and were introduced by Mayor Jean Stothert as “nice guys.” Before the band played, Omaha Girls Rock band, Snot, played a fun and catchy song about, well, snot. Twinsmith’s fun songs and energy onstage were perfect for the mid-afternoon slot.
Omaha hip-hop group M34N STR33T was a highlight of the festival. They set up their stage with street signs and handed out protest signs to the crowd with positive messages that would be seen throughout the day at Maha. The band impressed with their energy, flow and beats and put on one of the strongest performances of the day. They included their new single “Nite Owl,” a doo-wop influenced track, even though they stated they didn’t like to play it ‘during the daylight.’ Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree took the Weitz Stage next, and while the group has played Omaha before, this was the first time many had seen them. This was also the first national hip-hop group to play the Maha festival. The group brought everything they had for their 2 p.m. set and many people told me that they were the highlight of the day for them, and most of those people had never heard the group. There were some hardcore fans down front that I watched from backstage that knew the words to every one of their songs. That was fun to watch.
Radkey, a trio of brothers from Missouri, took the Omaha Gives Stage with a 1-2-3 count off reminiscent of The Ramones and plowed through an aggressive and fun 45-minute set unlike anything else on the Maha lineup. The Both (featuring Aimee Mann and Ted Leo) had the 4:30 p.m. slot on the Weitz Stage, a spot that legends such as J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and Bob Mould have played. Like their predecessors, they played a solid set of material for “the older crowd” off their new album, including stand out track “Milwaukee.” The set ended with the group doing “Voices Carry” from Mann’s early band Til’ Tuesday to the delight of many of us and to blank stares of the younger people pressed up against the stage barrier waiting for Local Natives.
Maha really kicked into gear during the dinner hour with regional group Envy Corp leaving everything they have on the Omaha Gives stage. I have seen the group many times and this was the best performance I have seen from the band. Local Natives followed with the best set of the festival. The band’s sound has really grown as has their fan base. They played a gorgeous set and the band were tight and energetic and one could see a huge change that years of touring have brought them. Icky Blossoms returned to Maha and closed out the Omaha Gives stage with style. The band, with the men in dresses, brought Icky Blossoms favorites back to the stage they won people over on two years prior and also debuted four new songs off their upcoming album. Perfect pick to close out that stage.
Maha went into headliner mode with The Head and the Heart taking the stage as the sun started to go down giving many of us relief. The band was coming off a sold out show at Red Rocks in Colorado and referred to Maha as a really cool block party type festival. Working with the band backstage, I can say they really enjoyed the vibe of Maha. They put on a 60-minute set that had the fans wanting for more. They are fantastic musicians with a cache of songs they barely dipped into, but they gave the fans the best of the best. Deathcab For Cutie closed out the set and it was predicted that this would be too mellow to close out a festival. They came out strong as if to disprove this and really only slowed down once for a Ben Gibbard solo slot. This was also one of the final performances from guitarist Chris Walla who is leaving the band. Death Cab For Cutie was engaging, intense and excelled musically. It turned out the organizers were right to book the band to close out their sixth and most successful festival.