Story and Photos: Spencer Fleming
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Now back to the story....
What a busy weekend! Between the College World Series, several city farmer's markets, and a plethora of live music, don't ever let anyone tell you "there's nothing to do in Omaha".
Saturday night (6/18) I had the opportunity to see a band I've been trying to catch for several years, America. The last time they were close to Omaha was 2019 and it was a three hour drive to Kansas. I figured I would wait until next year and we all know what happened next.
I got into America like six or seven years ago when I was studying for a financial license. I would go into the office on Saturday mornings and to make sure I wasn't distracted I would go to YouTube for an easy listening channel. One time after the initial video ended the algorithm selected America's greatest hits. After that it was my go-to playlist. I was familiar with "Horse With No Name" and "Ventura Highway" but I went down the rabbit hole discovering many other hits and a cool live video from 1979 when they played at Central Park in New York. The video is still out there if you want to take a trip back in time.
Side note: I remember singing "Horse With No Name" in sixth grade. That song came out in the 70s, so by that logic, should my kids be singing songs from the 90s? "How was music class son? Awesome Dad, we practiced "Black Hole Sun" "Glycerine", and "Better Man" ". Now that's a class musical I'd be pumped to see. In all honesty I really liked music class in school. I'm sure some of the kids felt it was a bit forced, but we got to sing a lot of classic rock like Aerosmith, Bob Segar, AC/DC, and of course, America.
Finally, after many delays America made their way to Omaha on Saturday and it was definitely worth the wait. This was my first time visiting the Holland Center. After the awesome experience I had I hope to cover many more shows there. The staff was amazing. From the moment I requested a media pass to the coordination and communication while at the show, shooting photos was a breeze.
If you've never been to the Holland Center I would highly recommend putting it on your list. The architecture is beautiful and the acoustics are top notch. Normally I have to wear ear plugs but the way the sound was set up you could hear every note without the harsh noise levels.
Before America we were treated to the soulful sounds of local singer-songwriter Matt Whipkey with Scott Gaeta on piano.
Matt and Scott did a great job getting the crowd primed and ready for America with their rustic tales from the Midwest. Matt mentioned that he had opened for America once before but it was his first time playing the Holland stage.
"I love playing O'leavers, but the Holland definitely smells better"
Stories from the Crowd writer Audrey was in attendance with her dad and she mentioned that Matt sounded like a cross between Don Henley and Rob Thomas.
One of the highlights for me was the song he described as "one of two that I've written (out of many) that my mom actually likes. She's a tough critic". Matt said he wrote the song when he was 20 (just a few years ago), this got a few good laughs from the crowd. The song was about being young, free, and seventeen. I think it's something we can all get behind.
Matt gave a shout out to Sir Paul McCartney on his 80th birthday and closed with a spirited cover of "Drive My Car" before thanking everyone for coming out.
Matt's latest album Hard is available now. You can find out more about Matt HERE.
After a brief intermission it was time for the legends in America to take the stage. The band kicked things off with their hit "Tin Man" before grooving into "You Can Do Magic". That opening jangly guitar riff is the coolest! It may be a bit cheesy lyrically, but I think it still holds up as far as pop songs go.
I think America did something really smart. I don't know how long they've been touring together, but they have two younger guys in the band, drummer Ryland Steen (who we'd later find out is from Lincoln!) and guitarist, keys, and vocalist Steve Fekete. Both of these guys absolutely tore the stage down starting with Rylan doing drums and lead vocals on the song "Don't Cross The River". Original members Gerry and Dewey lovingly referred to Rylan and Steve as "The babies" several times throughout the set.
America intended to do a tour celebrating their 50th anniversary as a band, but since Covid wrecked those plans, they're now touring in celebration of 50 years since their first self-titled album. The band played three tracks from the album including "Riverside", "I Need You", and "Here" before busting out the mega-hit "Ventura Highway". Just that opening acoustic lick had the crowd going wild. I always felt like America had a bit of a hippie feel, but seeing them live completely confirmed it. "Hit by purple rain", "Alligators, lizards in the air". I could see some psychedelic things happening with this song playing in the background.
America also payed homage to Paul McCartney with a cover of "Elanor Rigby" complete with yellow submarine visuals on the backdrop. Towards the mid-point of the set there were some deeper cuts including the song "Greenhouse", which was definitely not about weed. Cool fact though, the song was recorded in Omaha in 1995 with Chip Davis and his team.
All night there were little Omaha/Lincoln connections which was really cool. America's current photographer Eric Halverson is from Omaha. Original singer/guitarist Gerry mentioned that he lived in Omaha for a time since his parents were in the Air Force. Gerry's writing partner Dewey had also lived in Omaha but they didn't know each other then. They ended up meeting in high school when both of their families were stationed in London.
They grew up during the swinging 60s and got to see incredible bands like The Who, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and countless others. Gerry said they got into music right out of high school and got to open for Pink Floyd! "We came out and did a 30 minute acoustic performance and the crowd went mild. Pink Floyd performed a 90-piece orchestra, but they were essentially the same".
Gerry was so entertaining. He had dad jokes for days. "You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, Myspace, and Spacebook. But don't google America, that's just a sad downward spiral".
After a wicked cover of "California Dreamin" which Gerry mentioned the band has been playing for over 55 years, it was time for the hit train to begin. America brought out the big guns including "Lonely People", "Sandman", and "Sister Golden Hair".
Of course America closed with arguably their biggest hit "A Horse With No Name". Again, a hippie song if I ever heard one. By now the crowd was on their feet clapping along and dancing in the aisles for this legendary band. I've said it before and I'll say it again, we need to petition the city to have America play the next Memorial Park show. "Celebrating America with America the band!" With the energy that America brought to the Holland Center I could see them going for several more years should they choose. It was a night I won't soon forget!
Huge thanks to Bev Carlson, Trisha, and The Holland Center for their hospitality.
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