Story and Photos: Spencer Fleming (skater photos credit Phoenix Fleming)
Maha Festival 2023 was a smashing success! Despite the crazy heat and a small storm, Omaha showed up for one of the best lineups in Maha history. Let's get into it!
I had the pleasure of bringing my oldest son Phoenix along for the Maha experience and together we had an amazing time. Since the Maha lineup was announced, he had the festival circled on the calendar. Phoenix has seen some good stuff this year like Joey Valance & Brae, Kidd G, Hybrid Theory & Chop Suey!, L.S. Dunes and so many more, but Maha surely takes the cake!
We arrived on Friday just as Omaha hardcore band BIB was finishing their set. We heard the pounding drums and tonsil-shredding vocals in the distance as we made our way through security, but by the time we got in they had just finished. I heard good things, hopefully we'll catch them around Omaha soon.
After picking up credentials it was time for the Omaha rapper HAKIM. We made our way to the front of the side stage to catch the bouncy flows of the self-proclaimed "Corn Coast" hip-hopper. It was a fun set, you could tell HAKIM worked hard to prepare and be ready for the large Maha audience.
After HAKIM the storm started rolling in. We were told things were shutting down for at least half an hour so we sought shelter in the nearby Godfather's pizza. With a hot meal and a dry place to wait out the rain things were looking good.
The storm quickly passed and we made it back just in time for Icky Blossoms' set. The Omaha-born electro-punk group set Maha on fire! After the rain I was hoping the temperature would've cooled down a bit, but the air was like a steamy sauna. With pulsing beats and distorted guitars Icky Blossoms embraced the sultry, sweaty air and put on a dance clinic.
From front to back the people were grooving to the sexy sounds of one of Omaha's best bands. I heard it had been ten years since Icky Blossom's last Maha performance, but they were welcomed back with open arms. After that performance every band that followed had a huge bar to clear. Icky set the tone for what would be a fantastic evening of music.
I was able to pick up Icky's debut album on vinyl from the Vinyl Cup stand on the way out and let me tell you, it's a banger. Their sophomore album "Mask" is just as good, possibly better! If Icky Blossoms isn't on your radar, check them out and pray to the gods of good vibes for another Icky show ASAP!
Following Icky Blossoms was the Canadian power-pop artist Ekkstacy. With wild red hair and a studded belt Ekkstacy got the crowd moving to some pop-filled jams. He was thankful to the crowd for showing up in the crazy heat and happy to be at the festival. "I know it's crazy hot out there and believe me we're just as hot up here, but thank you guys for showing up and making this an awesome show". The crowd packed it in on the second stage hill to rock out and seek shelter from the sun. I enjoyed Ekkstacy's set and even recognized a few of the songs towards the end. Check out Ekkstacy on all streaming platforms!
After Ekkstacy was the Canadian dream-pop group Alvvays. I started checking out Alvvays a few weeks ago and they're definitely up my alley. I was on the Beach Bunny channel and these guys came up. They certainly have that same vibe of sugary sweet love songs over jangly guitars and poppy synths. By now the crowd was super packed and rocking along. I made my way towards the front hoping to get some good shots. After shooting though a couple songs I wandered through the crowd and met up with Derek from Icky Blossoms in full-on dance bliss. I joined his dance circle for the last song and had a wonderful time. It's great to see artists supporting other artists. Alvvays' latest album Blue Rev is streaming now.
By now the sun had gone down, but the air was still thick with that Midwest wall of humidity. Rather than going into the photo pit and battling the giant stage I hung back a few yards into the crowd. I knew I was taking my chances with getting stampeded in a mosh pit, but I was on the VIP side so I figured things would be a little more tame. I met some younger dudes who had seen the headliner Turnstile a few times before. I let them know I caught Turnstile a few years ago, but they played super early so I only saw a couple songs, and I was stoked for my first full Turnstile experience. They were stoked for me too! I asked one of the guys what his favorite show has been and though it was a tough call, he went with Turnstile. The build-up for this set was mounting.
After a few more minutes the band stepped out under pink and purple lights. The intro music from their latest album Glow On played and the crunchy guitar of "Mystery" kicked in. The crowd was already moving like crazy. Everyone in the park sang along with Brendan "There's a gun to my head, are you gonna get it right?" The energy in the air was electric as the band moved around the stage with force.
Turnstile really knows how to put on a show! Within one song Brendan had his shirt off and was punching the air like super Mario! The guys tore through the Glow On album and a few more hits before blasting the crowd with confetti. I'm so glad I finally got to catch a full Turnstile set and I hope it will be the first of many. Shout out to Maha for getting a heavier band on the bill. Maybe next year we can get Knocked Loose! Here's hoping anyway.
Maha Day Two!
Day two started off a little spicy but not nearly as hot as Friday. The only good thing about Friday is that if Maha 2024 is 100 degrees I know I can survive based on this year's experience!
I was helping my wife with her face paint booth (Wonderland Omaha Face Painting) at Benson Days on Saturday so I was a little late to the party. Phoenix and I caught up with Black Belt Eagle Scout but only for the last couple songs. I was pretty bummed because this was a set I was really looking forward to, but you can't win them all. What we did catch was really awesome though. The intricate guitars and soaring vocals were beautiful. I really hope Black Belt does another show around here soon!
Over on the main stage the hip-hop/pop performer Terry Presume was rocking the Maha crowd and having a great time. Terry told the crowd "It's like giving a presentation in school, no one wants to be the first one up, but I'm here so let's just have fun". Well the crowd responded with dancing, singing, and lots of beach balls flying through the air. It was a great way to kick off day two.
After Terry Presume we headed to the drink area for a refresher and caught some skating by Rabble Mill and The Bay high school. My old friend Django now works at Rabble Mill and he helped Phoenix get set up to take some cool shots. They turned out great!
Once we were done channeling our inner Atiba we made our way back to the music where The Beths were closing down the side stage. The Beths were coming to Maha all the way from New Zealand! They had an upbeat indie-pop sound that got the crowd moving. They were super fun and friendly too. I had to laugh when their guitarist said "Thanks for having us Maha, I'm kinda sad they took away our ball though. Maybe if we play a real good set they'll give it back yea?" If you get the chance to catch The Beths live you should definitely do so. It was a hoot!
The sun was starting to set but there were two big acts left, starting with Peach Pit from Vancouver. So much Canada at Maha 2023! Peach Pit had some rocking guitars but they kept things light and funky. They almost reminded of a modern-day America or Seals and Crofts? Someone in line at the Ferris wheel said they were a folk band? Well whatever they were, they had the crowd packed in. A lot of people came out to dance the night away with Peach Pit. I saw that earlier in the day the band was signing records at the Vinyl Cup stand and the line was a mile long! Peach Pit definitely had some good energy for the Maha crowd. Their lead singer mentioned that they played Omaha back in 2018 to a much smaller audience and he was stoked to see so many people coming out to support. Check out Peach Pit's latest album From 2 to 3 on all streaming platforms!
As the day was coming to a close I was dead tired. Two days of extreme heat, indie-rock, hardcore, hip-hop, and folk-pop had me beat. But there was one more act to go and I was going to capture it. I made my way to the photo pit to battle the giant stage one last time. I wasn't sure to expect when I saw Big Thief take the stage. They had a couple acoustic guitars and a giant upright bass. I figured they would be a bit on the indie-rock side, but the first three songs were almost old school country. Unlike Turnstile who blew the doors off the park, Big Thief had a slow and subtle approach, lulling the crowd with their folksy melodies.
Listening to Big Thief's newest release Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, it sounds much different from the live show I experienced. I almost wish Turnstile would've been the Saturday closer since they went out with such a bang on Friday. I understand there's tour routing and a million other things outside of Maha's control when it comes to booking, but Saturday felt a bit underwhelming. I totally get that I'm not the intended target for a lot of Big Thief's tunes, but I was just hoping for a bit more energy to cap off the evening.
Even if Big Thief wasn't in my lane, the festival itself was amazing. An awesome mix of local, regional, and national talent all brought together by a massive team of volunteers. Also, once again Maha sought out to be 100% zero-waste! This festival just keeps getting better and I can't wait for next year. I've heard rumors of three stages and three days at the riverfront. Let's just hope it's not 100 degrees. Even if it is, I'll be there and I hope you will too!
Huge thanks to Maha Festival for all the hard work and photo access!
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