The Music of Nebraska has included a variety of country, jazz, blues, ragtime, rock and alternative rock musicians. Several towns across the state have active musical venues, with several communities having a particularly important musical legacy.
Bands on Saddle Creek Records in Omaha, such as Bright Eyes, The Faint, and Cursive, are playing a significant role in the national rock scene. The formation of the sound occurred in the mid 1990s with Commander Venus, Frontier Trust, Weak, and Matchbook Shannon, and clubs such as the Cog Factory, and Sokol Music Hall. Many people involved in these bands and venues are currently involved with Saddle Creek.
Other related aspects of the Omaha sound include various alternative bands. The alternative music scene has produced such popular artists as 311, Beaver & the Hottage Cutch, Betsy Wells and Grasshopper Takeover, and Omaha has been a temporary home base of Midwest bands such as Tilly and the Wall, Rilo Kiley, The Urge, Pomeroy, and Blue October. Tim McMahan's Lazy-i and SLAMOmaha.com are the main media outlets promoting Saddle Creek and other Omaha bands.
In Omaha, a mainstay of the music scene is Nils Anders Erickson. The studio houses modern equipment and has recorded with artists with local connections such as 311, but what makes the studio famous is its collection of vintage equipment. On top of the studio, Nils heads local jam band Paddy O'Furniture. Other mainstays of the music scene in Omaha include folk artists such as Simon Joyner, Kyle Knapp, and his son, Saddle Creek artist Joe Knapp, Joe Watson, Mike Murphy, Kevin Quinn, and electronic artists Peter None and Chip Davis.
Omaha also has many heavier acts as well. in the mid to late 90's' the bands Secret Skin, Clever, and Twitch dominated the scene with their highly rhythmic and guitar driven sound. Since the turn of the millennium, it has been a strong spot for Metalcore bands. A good amount have gone on to be National acts, such as Analog, Paria, System Failure, and I Am Legend. Also the Power Metal band Cellador hails from Omaha. It also draws many other heavy musical acts, strongly of the Screamo genre, including Eyes of Verotika, Caught in the Fall, and Robots Don't Cry. Other notable groups include Noah's Ark was a Spaceship, Back When, and Father.
The 2000s saw the rise in popularity of Saddle Creek Records. The label went on to build a music venue called Slowdown, encouraging more bands to stop in Omaha rather than skipping to the heralded music scene of Lawrence, Kansas. The Waiting Room also opened in March 2007.
For over a decade Terry O'Halloran and the Omaha Blues Society have brought world class blues to Omaha. Within the past five years Omaha has grown to love local favorites Satchel Grande, Kris Lager Band, and Funk Trek. Their predecessors Electric Soul Method and Polydypsia helped set the stage for this music to grow in Omaha.
From the 1920s through the early 1960s North Omaha boasted a vibrant entertainment district featuring African American music. The main artery of North 24th Street was the heart of the city's African-American cultural and business community with a thriving jazz and rhythm and blues scene that attracted top-flight swing, blues and jazz bands from across the country.
The most important venue was the storied Dreamland Ballroom, which was opened in the Jewell Building in 1923 at 24th and Grant Streets in the Near North Side neighborhood. Dreamland hosted some of the greatest jazz, blues, and swing performers, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and the original Nat King Cole Trio. Whitney Young spoke there as well. Other venues included Jim Bell's Harlem, opened in 1935 on Lake Street, west of 24th; McGill's Blue Room, located at 24th and Lake, and Allen's Showcase Lounge, which was located at 24th and Lake. Due to racial segregation, musicians such as Cab Calloway stayed at Myrtle Washington's at 22nd and Willis while others stayed at Charlie Trimble's at 22nd and Seward. The intersection of 24th and Lake was the setting of the Big Joe Williams song "Omaha Blues".
|"||North Omaha used to be a hub for black jazz musicians, 'the triple-A league' where national bands would go to find a player to fill out their ensemble. - Preston Love||"|
Blues singer Wynonie Harris was born and raised in Omaha. Early North Omaha bands included Lewis' Excelsior Brass Band, Dan Desdunes Band, Simon Harrold's Melody Boys, the Sam Turner Orchestra, the Ted Adams Orchestra, the Omaha Night Owls, Red Perkins and His Original Dixie Ramblers, and the Lloyd Hunter Band who became the first Omaha band to record in 1931. A Lloyd Hunter concert poster can be seen on display at the Community Center in nearby Mineola, Iowa.
North Omaha's musical culture also birthed several nationally and internationally reputable African American musicians. Preston Love and drummer Buddy Miles were friends while growing up. They collaborated throughout their lives, and while they were playing with the greatest names in rock and roll, Jjazz, R&B, and funk. Big Joe Williams and funk band leader Lester Abrams are also from North Omaha. Omaha-born Wynonie Harris, one of the founders of rock and roll, got his start at the North Omaha clubs and for a time lived in the now demolished Logan Fontennelle projects at 2213 Charles Street.
One of Omaha's most famous exports is the influential surf band The Chevrons, who were voted Omaha's most popular band in 1966. Other 1960s bands include The Echos, 7 Legends, Velvet Haze, Little Denny Wonder, Freedom Road and The Beautiful People.
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The earliest rock and roll band from Fremont, Nebraska was The Nomads, followed by The Sneakers, The Fugitives, The Invaders , The Brakmen and The Coachmen. The long-running popular Haywood-Wakefield Band is maybe the region's most influential. Doug Campbell from Lincoln, Little Joe & the Ramrods, The Smoke Ring, Don Sohl & the Roadrunners and Ron Thompson & the Broughams were also influential.
Being a university town, Lincoln has had a thriving music scene since the 1950s. Lincoln's Zager and Evans hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks with their song In the Year 2525 from 1969. Zager and Evans met at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Starting in the late 1970s, with the coming of the punk movement there has been and remains an explosion in rock bands on the Lincoln scene. In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, many notable bands like 13 Nightmares, Leafy Green Things, The New Brass Guns, For Against, The Millions, Charlie Burton, Sideshow, 2 Below, Matthew Sweet and Mercy Rule came from Lincoln. Current notable artists The Brigandines, The JV All*Stars, An Hobbes  Stonebelly, BlackDoubt, Ideal Cleaners, Straight Outta Junior High, Nick Hardt, Brimstone Howl, The Awkwords, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal, and Eagle*Seagull. Indie record labels that originated in Lincoln include Wild Records, Caulfield Records and -ismist Recordings. The brothers A.J. Mogis and Mike Mogis also own Presto! Recording Studios which is located in Lincoln.
Zoo Bar (Lincoln, Nebraska)
The Zoo Bar is a blues music venue and nightclub located in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska on 136 North 14th Street. Styled around the Chicago blues clubs, it is a long, narrow venue in a building built in 1921.
Around 1971, Jim Ludwig, Bill Kennedy and Don Chamberlin purchased the bar. Larry Boehmer, a Master of Fine Arts student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln at the time, promoted the bar to his fellow artists. He booked the first band in 1973 and was sole owner by 1977.
Boehmer met Chicago musician and promoter Bob Riedy and formed a connection that brought many revered Chicago artists to the Lincoln club. Because of this connection, the Zoo Bar was the first white club that Magic Slim ever played. In 1975, he'd never ventured outside the clubs in Chicago's African-American neighborhoods.
In 1977, Boehmer was the sole owner and the Zoo was established as an important stop for bands on the touring circuit.
The first band Boehmer booked to play in the club was The Cotton Blues Band in the summer of 1973.
The first national act to play at the bar was Luther Allison in September 1974.
Musical acts have included: Bernard Allison, Luther Allison, Dave Alvin, Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs, Tab Benoit, Tommy Castro, Albert Collins, Robert Cray, Deke Dickerson, Bo Diddley, Chris Duarte, Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, Tinsley Ellis, Rick Estrin, Anson Funderburgh, Buddy Guy, the Hacienda Brothers, John Hammond, The Belairs, James Harman, Mark Hummel, Candye Kane, Jay McShann, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Charlie Musselwhite, Rod Piazza, Ana Popovic, Otis Rush, Doug Sahm, Curtis Salgado, Gina Sicilia, Magic Slim, Watermelon Slim, Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, Kim Wilson, and Link Wray. Eddie Clearwater, Mighty Joe Young, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Carey Bell
Numerous live albums have been recorded in the club.
Magic Slim and his band were regular performers at the bar, playing week-long stints. In the 90s, Magic Slim moved his family from Chicago to Lincoln.
In 1993, the Zoo Bar won the Blues Foundation's Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Club of the Year.
James Harman wrote a song for the club. "Everybody's Rockin' (At The Zoo Bar)" can be found on Harman's 1995 Black And White CD.
In 2000, Larry Boehmer retired and passed the bar on to his sons, Jeff and Tim Boehmer, and Pete Watters. Jeff Boehmer and Pete Watters are partners in the club now.
In July 2008, the bar celebrated its 35th anniversary.