Story and Photos: Spencer Fleming
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Now back to the story....
Last night (9/9) I celebrated one of my favorite yearly traditions, a stop on the 311 tour! Shadow Ridge Music Festival welcomed our hometown heroes along with Lit, Eve 6, and Tropidelic to much fanfare. Thousands of Midwest music lovers gathered to experience the sights and sounds and usher in the changing of the seasons.
As you may have seen throughout the summer Stories from the Crowd did a lot of promotion for the Shadow Ridge Music Festival this year. Justin and his team have been amazing partners. As part of our promotion efforts they helped us print some booklets for distribution with their name and information included. In return they gave us the VIP treatment for our concert coverage making it an incredible experience.
Before I get into the show, let's jump back for a minute, to a summer morning in 1996. I was enjoying my vacation like many kids in the 90s, jacked up on cocoa puffs, bouncing on the couch watching MTV. Back when MTV truly was "Music Television" there was a show called "Buzz Clips" or "Buzz Bin" I can't remember the exact title, but it primarily focused on up and coming acts. I had never paid particular attention to anything I heard on the show, but on this day everything I knew about music was about to change.
I looked up from my couch jumping to see a floating buddha guy followed by a guy in a crazy loud green shirt. A distorted crunchy guitar kicks in and the guy in green starts rapping about "making out" and "record collections". What alternative rock magic have I stumbled upon? As I'm sure many of you already guessed the song was "Down" and the band was 311.
I was floored. I had never heard this hybrid sound of rock and rap. After the three minute clip of funky bliss was finished I ran to my parents to tell them what I had just witnessed. My dad nonchalantly says "311? Oh yea, they're from here. My band used to play shows with them all the time". What???? You're telling me these alternative rock gods are from the very city where I live? Why had my parents kept this secret? What else were they hiding? Black is white, up is down, the moon landing was fake!
Needless to say, my adolescent brain was melted. I became obsessed, looking for 311 everywhere I went. Back then, pre-internet, the only things we knew were Best Buy and Nebraska Furniture Mart (I know there were cool record stores like Homer's, but Best Buy and NFM were really close to our house and I couldn't drive). A few months later I'm walking through Best Buy and I see a CD MTV Buzz Bin: Vol. 2. I picked it up and who do I see listed on the cover? 311! Why I didn't just look for the 311 section of CDs I'll never know, but the MTV Buzz Bin albums were a great gateway into the alternative music scene. Just check out this track list, so many 90s classics:
From there I got the 311 live album, followed by Transistor, Soundsystem, and on and on until present day. 311 has been such a huge part of my life. I could go on forever but I don't want you to waste a whole weekend. Let's get to the show!
I arrived just in time to catch the opener Tropidelic. On my way to the stage I saw a guy across from the merch booths doing a little reggae-dub DJ set. Very cool vibes and a great pre-show atmosphere. Decked out in a vest and fedora this dude had the ire beats bumping. I snapped a couple shots before going straight to the photo pit.
I arrived to find my buddy Dean representing Go Venue Magazine. It's always such a pleasure seeing familiar faces in the photo pit. Tropidelic kicked things off with a funky jam session filled with reggae beats, soulful vocals, and a little ska just for good measure. Things were off to a great start with the good vibes flowing. The "Trop Crew" played a good 45 minutes getting the crowd warmed up and ready to party.
As I mentioned at the top Justin and his team rolled out the red carpet for us. I was able to bring Stories Co-Founder Virginia and our two older boys to the show. While they seemed to be enjoying the music their main concern was "what kind of food stuffs do they have?" We opted for the $100 ticket package and everyone ate like kings. We all got something different. I zeroed in on the Thai food truck. It was a risky move. Last year I went to the Thai truck and melted my face off with noodles that were supposed to be a "level 1 spicy". This year was much better. I got the crispy chicken and all kinds of fried side dishes like crab rangoons and potstickers. The chicken had a tiny kick but nothing like last year's flaming hot noodles. There was a great spread of options from Dante's Pizza to barbecue, even Chic Fil A!
After Tropidelic and grabbing some food "comedian" Steve Rannazzisi came out and attempted to entertain the crowd during Lit's stage set up. Much like Chris Kattan's set last year, Steve came off very unprepared. Rather than telling actual jokes he dropped an unnecessary amount of F bombs, poked fun about the crowd being "too white and high", and made a variety of masturbation quips. For an all ages show it was just an overall bummer. Unless they can find a legit comedian next year I would just stick to house music or maybe invite Nikki and Spicoli from Sweet 98.5 to host.
Alas, the party vibes of the show were still going strong. Even Steve's inappropriate musings couldn't bring the night down. We were next greeted by California rockers Lit. These guys came out strong, rocking the crowd with their hits from the 90s and 2000s. Lit was a bit of a sleeper act for me. Going in I clearly remembered their smash "My Own Worst Enemy", but if you dig a little deeper they have a lot more killer tunes. Even their new songs sounded great! Normally when a legacy act says "We're really proud of this new record" a lot of people get up for another drink or hit the bathroom. It always conjures up memories of the Simpson's episode where Homer sees Bachman Turner Overdrive. I found the clip. God bless the internet.
Following Lit was the 90s alternative group Eve 6. Much like Lit, Eve 6 had a few more hits beyond their smash "Inside Out", but the first thing I noticed was the band's appearance. When I was first introduced to Eve 6 in junior high they had a "school band nerd" look. Now, many years later lead singer Max Collins has a neck tattoo, full sleeves, and a buzz cut. He looked pretty tough in his cool guy sunglasses and was even sporting jack boots! The rock and roll lifestyle has grizzled him some. No matter, Eve 6 did a great job rocking the crowd and cranking out the power pop hits.
The band was really humble and appreciative for the festival invite. Max said "We've played with 311 many times over the years in all kinds of places, from stadiums to small clubs. But to be invited to this festival and play in front of their home town, this is really special". It was a nice moment and the crowd shared in the sentiment giving Eve 6 a warm reception. Of course the band closed with "Inside Out" and everywhere I looked folks were losing their minds. With beers in hand they jumped and screamed recapturing a bit of their youth if only for a moment.
By now my kids were getting really impatient. "How long until 311? Why can't we sit in those chairs? I'm tired". I told them they had no idea the many hours I've put in over the years waiting on a 311 set. Man, for some of the early 311 Day festivals we literally hung out all day with other 311 fans and waited for the show. No smartphones, no DJs or house music, just walking around talking to fans all day. And we had to hold our merch through the whole show without poster tubes. You kids don't know how good you have it, haha!
Alright, my old man yammering is done. Here's where things went from great to absolutely magical. I entered the photo pit one last time ready to capture 311 in all their glory. I stopped over by the side of the stage and talked to the "concert cop" who works security at all the shows. After chatting for a few minutes about my love for 311 and my 30+ show career he was flagged down by someone in the crowd. I looked over and saw Nick Hexum's parents side-stage. I approached them and made small talk about the time they shipped something at a FedEx where I worked in college. I saw their name Hexum on the package and immediately gushed about my 311 fandom. They were the absolute nicest people then and last night was no different.
Nick's parents are so charming. His dad told the band's origin story as if I was hearing it for the first time. His mom mentioned that they still live in the same house near Countryside Village where the band would practice. "The other day the neighbor kids asked to see the "pool table basement". I quipped in with "The bud was low key and the records were Jamaican!", haha. You could tell they have so much pride for the band and all they've accomplished.
As the set time inched closer I stuck close to the Hexums and kept an eye on the path leading up to the stage. The stage crew flashed their lights and I could see the band approaching. Playing it cool I stepped over and got a fist bump from Chad, Nick, and P-Nut. I held my breathe as one of my favorite dudes, Tim Mahoney, approached. He had the biggest smile while giving an enthusiastic fist bump and like the Fonz saying "ayyye!" I gave Tim a pat on the back and wished him a good set to which he replied "Awe, thanks man!" Making sure to not overstay my welcome I made my back to the photo pit, but I was floating on air. They say never meet your heroes, but 311 never lets me down, especially miT!
311 came out guns blazing, starting thigs off with the 90s classic "Beautiful Disaster". The twin guitar leads from Tim and Nick washed over the crowd and lifted us into the stratosphere. Looking effortlessly cool, Nick stepped to the microphone with a red flying V guitar and a black leather jacket. As soon as the song finished he addressed the crowd "What's up Omaha?? It's good to be home". The crowd offered wild cheers and smiles of gratitude as the band kicked into the "happy slam dance song", "Do You Right". I looked behind to see the first few rows bouncing in jubilation and counted myself lucky to be a 311 superfan.
Towards the end of "Do You Right" just when you think the song is finished there's a 15 second breakdown and Tim shreds this little outro. I think some of the photographers thought this was the third song. All of a sudden it was just myself and one or two others. I knew there was one more song in our shoot so I stuck around up front for "Freeze Time". As the band played I could hear the crowd behind me loudly shouting to the dunna nunna nunna nunna nah "Hey!" Being front and center with my ear next to the sound monitors I was in 311 heaven.
After the shoot I returned to my family. I was hoping to find our kids rocking out having a blast but I could tell they were worn down and ready to go. Virginia took the kids to the car and I stayed behind for the rest of the set. 311 tore through fan favorites like "Love Song", "Come Original", and "Amber" before closing things out with the hometown throwdown "Omaha Stylee". But it wouldn't be a 311 show without the customary "Dedicated to all the old school 311 fans" shout out before playing the song that started it all (for me anyway) "Down".
With 311 celebrating their 32nd year as a band it's hard to tell how many more years of touring they have left. I wish it could go on forever but I know that's not a reality. For now I'll just hang up my new S.A. Martinez tree poster, throw on my La Casa long sleeve and enjoy the memories.
Thanks again to Shadow Ridge for the photo access and VIP treatment. I look forward to the 5th Annual Shadow Ridge Festival in 2023!
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