By Orenda Fink
I have lived in Omaha for almost thirteen years now, and have always been impressed and inspired by the surprisingly rich and diverse music scene. Coming from Athens, GA, a music town that I adore, that is saying a lot. It’s one of the things that keeps me from fleeing forever during the sub-zero midwestern winter months. Omaha is probably best known musically for spawning Saddle Creek Records, my label and home to my immediate music community, but there are actually thriving scenes in almost any genre of music here, and it’s fun to see those begin to intersect as the city grows culturally. For now, though, I’m just going to list a few places that I typically haunt…
O’Leaver’s Pub is part club, part dive bar, part tiki bar, and part sand volleyball court owned by the three of the true dudes in Omaha’s own Cursive. It has become one of my favorite places to play in Omaha, whether you are testing out new material for twenty people or playing sold out shows on New Year’s Eve. It’s super laid back and owned and operated mostly by musicians. When you go to pick up your equipment the afternoon after playing a gig, you are likely to see the same people sitting at the bar drinking as when you left the night before — From Dusk till Dawn-style — and I think this is a sign of a good bar.
The Pageturners Lounge is another musician-owned bar on my list, Pageturners was opened by Conor Oberst and Phil Schaffart in 2014 and it’s one of my favorite places in town. They have the best free shows here, ranging from amazing local talent to Conor’s buds passing through town treating those in the know to intimate performances that most people would die to see. It is truly special.
Almost Music and Solid Jackson Books opened in 2013 and filled a very serious hole in Omaha’s music store scene. It’s small, well curated and well priced, and owned by a cool dude. This is the record store that every music city needs.
Milk Run is a new all ages, DIY music venue and art gallery that puts music in the forefront of its mission. It’s already contributing to the Omaha music scene by fostering experimentalism, smaller shows, and out-of-town bands that may not fit into the larger, more established music venues. It’s also been known to host some off-the-charts spontaneous dance parties.
Film Streams is a non-profit cinema in downtown Omaha who’s mission is the presentation and discussion of film as an art form. Film and music go hand in hand, and Film Streams recognizes this and is extremely supportive of the Omaha music community in many ways. Some of my favorite events at Film Streams have been live scores of films, ranging from Hitchcock classics to Nosferatu (that’s the one I did!).
Slowdown is the club that Saddle Creek built. It’s a larger, full service venue that supports big shows, but there is also a small room that feels good, too. It’s housed in the same complex as Film Streams, Saddle Creek Records’ offices and the Saddle Creek Record shop, so there’s a lot of music action going on there on any given day. I find myself there at least once a week, sometimes more.
Interested in hearing more about the sounds of cities from the artists who love them? Catch up on the full COMPASS series here.
Orenda Fink grew up in Birmingham, Alabama but is now based in Omaha. She is a singer and songwriter and her projects include Azure Ray, Harouki Zombi, O+S, and Art in Manila. Throughout her time with Azure Ray and over the course of her solo career, Orenda Fink has never shied from exploring the darker edges of spirituality and the human condition.