Story and Photos: Spencer Fleming
Whew, what a crazy couple days it's been!
For over 20 years I've followed Omaha's most successful band 311. I've seen them play live dozens of times, met the band members on several occasions, and captured tons of awesome photos. After Thursday and Friday, I'm not sure if anything can top my latest 311 adventure.
On Thursday (9/28/23), 311 received a very special Omaha honor as they were revealed as the 2023 "Face on the Barroom Floor" for the Omaha Press Club. This prestigious honor highlights people who have had an impact on the Omaha community. 311 is the first recipient to be a band, rather than an individual. I had the special opportunity to attend the ceremony as part of the media to capture photos of the evening.
The ceremony consisted of a social hour, dinner, and a roast of the band by friends and family. During the first hour I got to talk with the band, lots of fans, and friends I've met through the 311 community. It was really fun catching up. Tim Mahoney was so generous with his time. We talked about guitars, La Casa Pizza, and I made a plug for a 311 deep cut on the Omaha setlist. I recently acquired a bass guitar so I picked P-Nut's brain on getting started and any good 311 songs I could learn. S.A. and I chatted about his favorite Omaha hotspots and new 311 music in the works.
Photos above: view from the press club, Nick with family, friends with Chad, friends with Tim, friends attending the ceremony.
As the roast began, Roger Humphries, Chairman of the Face on the Barroom Floor Committee, spoke about the Omaha Press Club and gave some background on 311. He introduced Curt Grubb, the emcee for the evening. Curt is a long-time friend of the band, having known Nick since kindergarten, but he's also the singer and songwriter behind the notable Omaha band Grasshopper Takeover. You may remember them for their hits "Esta Vida" and "Bonecrusher".
With a shiny sequined jacket and gold pants Curt was ready to start the party. He told hilarious stories of things that wouldn't really be appropriate for our family-friendly audience. Let's just say there were a few mentions of the legend of Nick Hexum's privates, etc. At one point Nick's dad said in his best dad voice "Curtis, stop using those words". Curt only dug in further saying "The nefarious activities happened at your house!". The crowd ate it up. At one point Curt grabbed a guitar to show "how easy it is to write a 311 song". The tables had been given some lyrics so everyone could sing along. It was a riot!
Several other folks had their turn to speak including B-Love, a long-time friend and fan of the band, Nick's dad and step-mom, Chad "Yeti" Ward, 311's guitar tech from the early days, Nick's mom, and the band's current tour manager, S.A's nephew. All of them had funny little stories I've never heard. After following 311 for so long I've known the ins and outs of the band forever, so to get those extra little nuggets was really cool.
Above, Nick reacts to the roasters.
After all the roasters had their turn, Nick got up to give his retort. Rather than going on the offensive he kept things positive and spoke to how honored he was to be included in the press club tradition and how grateful he was to still be in this band with his four brothers. I think things got a little dusty in there! Not me over here crying.
Roger and Curt revealed the barroom floor caricature and the room cheered. The drawing was done by Jeff Koterba, long-time contributor for the Omaha World Herald. It was really neat and captured many parts of 311's career, from the early days of high school at Westside and Bryan, to the Ranch Bowl, and even the RV on fire, referenced in the song "Omaha Stylee".
After snapping photos of the band and the roasters I watched Roger place the caricature board in the floor of the bar entrance under protective glass. At the next "face ceremony" the 311 board will be hung on the wall of the Press Club.
Just to be in the room and take in all the cool stories was amazing, but to get to capture it all and preserve part of Omaha history was out of this world. A huge thanks to Roger for putting me on the media list. It was an unforgettable evening.
But wait, there's more! What about the show??
311: The Homecoming
I had the pleasure of attending the show in La Vista last night (9/29) with my good friend Mark. We decided to grab dinner before the show and all that talk of La Casa with Tim Mahoney made our pick pretty easy. After some classic hamburger and onion we made our way to the brand-new Astro amphitheater in the heart of "City Centre" in La Vista. A post on the Astro's facebook page said show at 7:30 but as we drove by the venue on our way to the parking garage I could see a band on stage. Not a great start. Unfortunately I can't tell you anything about the opening band Blame My Youth since I only caught about 30 seconds of their set. I hate missing any part of the show. You never know who's going to be your next favorite band! Had I known the show actually started at 6:45 I would've adjusted my schedule.
With the change in timeline I had to ask a favor and cut in the merch line to secure a copy of 311's 30th anniversary edition of their first album Music. I asked a nice couple (sorry guys I always forget to write names down), if I could sneak in a purchase. At first they were a little sketched out but I let them know I had to shoot photos and it was all cool. We got to chat for a minute and I said how I was hoping to attend Dropkick Murphys at the Astro on October 5. They said they were from Boston and the guy got his tooth knocked out at a Dropkicks show! How cool is that? I mean it sucks getting a tooth knocked out, but he got it fixed and has a cool story now.
I made it up to the front just in time for the opener Awolnation. These guys put on a great show. Nearly every song in their set was a big hit. From what I understand Awolnation is the project of lead singer Aaron Bruno, who does most of the writing and recording, akin to Trent Reznor. Aaron and his live band had the crowd on their feet with their synth heavy pop-rock. I'd definitely see this band again if they do a headlining tour.
Between 311 and Awolnation I caught up with the 311 "RAILiens". These friends from all different states follow 311 and rock the rail! I saw them at the press event the night before. For the show they were all rocking custom 311 baseball jerseys, very cool!
I also talked to a guy who was trying to sneak his way into the pit. He said he was a long-time fan and even had a 311 tattoo with his kids's names in the logo. Spoiler alert, later on during 311 he covertly made his way into the pit, awww yeah.
As the sun went down the 311 faithful packed it in and got ready to rock. The band came on stage and ripped into "Beautiful Disaster" from the fan favorite album Transistor. While I started my 311 fandom with the self-titled or "Blue Album", this song definitely cemented by love for the band. When I got a copy of Transistor I listened to "Beautiful Disaster" on repeat. Funny side note, in the original Transistor CD booklet there's an address for the 311 fan club, which I think was P-Nut's mom's house maybe? But there's also a (402) phone number. Being like 12 at the time I thought you could call it and talk to the band. My friend and I ended up leaving a voicemail like "Hey 311, you guys rule!" or something. No idea where that voicemail ever went, ha!
After shooting the next two songs "Do You Right" and "Come Original" from the photo pit I made way into the crowd about three rows back. There I found my "true people" and proceeded to rock out. There were so many awesome songs played, mostly from the blue album, Transistor, and Soundsystem. So many deep cuts! During P-Nut's famous bass solo he donned a husker jersey and the crowd went wild, as they should, GBR!
Of course it wouldn't be a 311 show without the crazy all-band drumline during "Applied Science". Chad and the boys melted our faces off with their tribal drum-off. At one point when they threw the sticks S.A.'s flew into the crowd, oops! Someone got a very cool souvenir.
This was one of the best 311 sets I've ever seen. Rather than sticking to radio hits, they really gave it up for the 311 faithful. After "Creatures", the band came back for a three song encore starting off with "Omaha Stylee" (with the CD intro), followed by "Beyond The Grey Sky", and of course "Down" for all the old-school 311 fans.
I was telling Mark on the way home that when I first heard Nick say in 2007 or 2008, "For all the old-school fans" before playing "Down" some of the crowd jeered a bit. Clearly 311's catalog goes deeper than the Blue Album, but now like 15 years later, there's no denying that "Down" truly is an old-school song. Heck, this year marks 311's 33rd year as a band!
I follow a lot of artists, but to get to be part of a band's history, even if it's a small piece via capturing photos is something truly special. This will no doubt be in my top-ten shows of the year.
A huge thanks to Roger Humphries and the Omaha Press Club, Mammoth Productions, 1% Productions, 311 management, and 311 family for making this all possible.
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Check out all these cool 311 photos!