Capturing a sound that defines Nebraska music is tough. It's not only delicate, dusty country songs. It's not only bluesy, soulful folk. It's not only a mix of garage rock and new wave.
But Kill County, Big Harp and Digital Leather are three Nebraska bands that play just such music, and the three groups were chosen to showcase the vibrant and entertaining music scene that emanates from our state.
Hear Nebraska, a nonprofit organization that seeks to cultivate and promote the state's music, teamed up with Omaha Performing Arts and NET for a concert Friday night at the Holland Performing Arts Center that featured the three groups.
Among the approximately 175 in attendance were many people involved in Nebraska music including record label employees, musicians (many influential nationally), poster artists, journalists, radio hosts, music festival organizers and, of course, quite a few music fans.
The evening concert, which lasted about three hours, began with slow, quiet acoustic music and slowly ramped up to loud, fast punk rock.
Kill County provided a dusty, rural country music about '38 Fords, rain, rail lines and cheap wine. They were songs meant for farms, grasslands and ghost towns, not city streets.
Like a Nebraska version of indie band Fleet Foxes, Kill County brought their voices, quiet melodies and slide guitar together for songs so delicate they were one more whiskey drink away from an emotional breakdown. “Hard Times,” for example, was full of banjo, vocal harmonies and a chorus that sounded like a toast: “Here's to the hard times/the long winter nights/another year of getting by.”
Attendees sat in reverent silence around tables in the Holland Center's Scott Recital Hall, a room that felt like an intimate cocktail bar.
An interesting element of the night was the fact that filming the concert for future broadcast meant lots of cameras (one floating above the crowd on a boom) and the need for the audience to re-record applause after each band was finished with its set.
After Kill County, Big Harp's husband-wife duo of Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney eased into their set with a quiet country-folk song, but the group ended up playing music more akin to blues-rock. It got even better with the addition of Dan McCarthy on keyboards and Daniel Ocanto on drums to fill out the group's sound.
Big Harp played songs such as “Everybody Pays” from its first album, “White Hat,” as well as brand-new songs such as “At Your Door,” which the band recorded for the coming film, “Stuck in Love.”
Finishing out the night was the loudest band of the three and probably the noisiest group to ever play at the Holland Performing Arts Center.
Digital Leather is a fast, fuzzed-out punk group full of new wave synthesizer tones. Some attendees left the show during the band's noisy set.
Frontman Shawn Foree, with his curly hair down in his eyes, led the band through songs such as “Modern Castles” and “So Warm.”
Todd Fink of The Faint, a recent addition to the band, gives the group a more well-rounded sound with synth tones and backing vocals that offset the band's more punk tendencies.
Though there was a flow to the night, it wasn't difficult to see the wild difference between the groups onstage, but it's that kind of diversity that we have in music that comes from Nebraska.
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