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‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’ Author Leo Adam Biga Gearing Up for Fall Book Talks-Signings as Release of ‘Nebraska’ Nears

October 26, 2013 3 comments

‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’ Author Leo Adam Biga Gearing Up for Fall Book Talks-Signings as Release of ‘Nebraska’ Nears
I’m starting a new round of events promoting my book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” as the national release of the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s new picture “Nebraska” nears.  The book makes a great gift for the holidays.  You can purchase it right off my blog site, leoadambiga.wordpress.com or at alexanderpaynethebook,com.  It’s also available via Amazon and barnesandnoble.com and for Kindle and other e-reader devices.  Additionally, it’s carried by The Bookworm and Our Bookstore in Omaha.
Look for future posts about my upcoming book talks and signings around the metro.  I hope to see you.
And look for coming cover stories about “Nebraska” in The Reader and in the New Horizons.
Below, Sandy Sahlstein Lemke posted this pic of me signing copies of my Payne book at a wonderful Oct. 24 event hosted by Todd and Betiana Simon at their fabulous, art-infused home in Regency.  Sandy generously tagged me in the photo by writing:
“One of Omaha Magazine‘s most prolific and most insightful writers Leo Adam Biga had another book signing on Thursday night for “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012.” He gave an exciting talk about Payne’s film “Nebraska” which will premiere at Film Streams November 22. It was at Todd and Betiana Simon’s überfab home.— with Leo Adam Biga.”
Thanks, Sandy, you’re a gem.  And thanks, Todd and Betiana, for your warm hospitality.
Photo: One of Omaha Magazine's most prolific and most insightful writers Leo Adam Biga had another book signing on Thursday night for "Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012." He gave an exciting talk about Payne's film "Nebraska" which will premiere at Film Streams November 22. It was at Todd and Betiana Simon's überfab home.

 

 

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Culinary-Horticulture Marriage at Metropolitan Community College

October 22, 2013 3 comments

Food, wonderful food.  A food movement and subculture is well under way in America that finds urban dwellers growing their own organic produce, even tending chickens for fresh eggs and raising rabbits for fresh meat, in order to create healthy, sustainable, self-reliant food production and distribution models that bypass dependence on corporate, profit-driven systems with their higly processed, pre-packaged products and that provide relief for the food deserts found in many inner cities.  This trend towards fresh, locally produced ingredients is well-entrenched among the culinary set, where enligntened chefs and restaurants often grow much of their own produce or else get it from local farmers.  At Metroplitan Community College the Institute for Culinary Arts operates the Sage Student Bistro, a public eating venue whose gourmet meals are prepared by students under chef instructor supervision.  The Bistro works closely with the Horticulture program across the street to serve up menus thick with fresh ingredients grown in the campus gardens and greenhouses and aquaponic tanks.  My new cover story for Edible Omaha features this culinary-horticulure marriage.  You can find my related stories on this blog about the Omaha ventures No More Empty Pots and Minne Lusa House.

 

A CULINARY-HORTICULTURE MARRIAGE

 

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Collaboration Blossoms at 
Metropolitan Community College

©By Leo Adam Biga
©Photography by Alison Bickel

 

 

Patrick Duffy, horticulture instructor, and Oystein Solberg, culinary arts instructor, collaborate to plan a garden from which both horticulture and culinary students will benefit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The culinary arts and horticulture departments are close interdisciplinary tracks and next-door neighbors at Metropolitan Community College’s (MCC) Fort Omaha campus. With farm-to-table and sustainable movements in full bloom, it’s no surprise that collaboration happens here, giving students and diners at MCC’s Sage Student Bistro fresh, organic food grown by the horticulture team. This partnership is all about working with and enjoying quality ingredients as close to the source and ground as possible.

MCC’s quarter-acre production garden is just a few hundred feet from the bistro, which also has a cutting herb garden in its patio dining area. Locally sourced food “doesn’t get any closer than this,” says Chef Instructor Oystein Solberg. “It’s hyper-local,” adds Patrick Duffy, horticulture instructor and garden manager.

“It’s an incredible difference being able to talk to guests about it and point to where a lot of the vegetables grow,” says Oystein. “During the summer when we’ve got the herb garden going, our guests can sit out there and smell the basil and mint and oregano we’re using to cook with.”

He adds, “There’s few restaurants that do what we do—that are learning environments—teaching both our guests and our students.” Oystein points out that this is only the fourth harvest season for the garden, and the bistro is making more and more use of it. “It’s marvelous. By growing, we’ve been able to use more local than we ever have. Keeping it growing and evolving is excellent.”

Oystein says that having the school’s horticulture program be a key producer for its culinary program is “a little bit outside of the box. There are not that many schools that have it, but there are a lot of restaurants starting to have it. Like maybe they have a little garden on the roof. When you go to California—really all along the West Coast— there are a lot of restaurants that have attached gardens, so it’s getting more common. Our goal is not really to try to be like everybody else. We want to try to push the boundaries and see how far we can go with it.”

Jim Trebbien, Institute for Culinary Arts dean, points out that MCC’s model has been studied across the country. “It is quite unusual, because most culinary programs do not operate a restaurant such as ours and have the expertise that we do. And most horticulture programs have not adopted new sustainability methods into their curriculum as quickly as we have.” He adds that the integrated, collaborative approach resulted from discussions with local leaders in food sustainability, including MCC’s own Brian O’Malley, Jen Valandra and Todd Morrissey, and No More Empty Pots’s Nancy Williams and Susan Whitfield.

 

 

Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts, in the background, is just steps away from the bistro's garden. The garden has given new meaning to the term "local food," allowing culinary students to learn with the freshest of ingredients.

 

 

Oystein oversees the bistro. Under his and his fellow instructors’ supervision, culinary students prepare gourmet meals for paying customers, and they are graded on their performance. Oystein works closely with Patrick to determine what can be effectively grown and delivered to accommodate the bistro’s schedule and end up on its quarterly menus. The garden is also a teaching tool for both horticulture and culinary students. The “Food Cultivation” course, for example, uses the garden as an outdoor laboratory.

“Patrick tells me what they want to do with their classes, and then I write a menu of what I want to do with my classes,” Oystein explains. “We met back in January and February and tried to figure out what they were going to plant and what was going to be done when, and then we tried to make the menus out of that. With the greenhouses they have over there, we can start growing fairly early because they keep the air and soil temperatures fairly high.”

If Oystein has changes or other “stuff I want to play with to kind of fit in spots here and there,” he will run it by Patrick to see if it’s something he can grow. They have to work within the timeline and have greens ready by June. “We have to see what we’re able to get with the weather and climate. It’s a lot of stuff that has to match up. It’s kind of a never-ending process.”

Patrick says, “I’m getting better at timing things out. We need to make sure our peaks coincide with the school quarter so we don’t have too much excess. It’s challenging. Down the road, we’d love to do a farmers market for that excess to feed into, but that’s a couple of years away. Right now it gets composted.”

For this summer’s menu, Oystein arranged for Patrick to grow a long list of ingredients to be used in various ways and dishes. They include:

 

Bok choy, grown under the care of Metro's horticulture team, will soon make its way into the Sage Bistro kitchen.

  • arugula
  • basil
  • beets
  • bok choy
  • carrots
  • currants
  • fennel
  • kale
  • leeks
  • mint
  • nasturtium
  • onions
  • peas
  • radishes
  • red sorrel
  • rhubarb
  • romaine lettuce
  • saffron
  • spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • wheatgrass
  • zucchini

“It’s an early-summer menu, so there are no tomatoes, and there are more likely zucchini blossoms than zucchinis,” says Patrick. “Then when the bistro reopens in September, there’ll be big sexy stuff like tomatoes. We do a pretty intense production. We’ll focus more on red tomatoes this year and less on colored tomatoes. We’ll play around a lot.”

Patrick continues sharing they’ve backed off on pumpkins because they take up so much space and there isn’t much use for them. “When you go from being a backyard gardener to a production grower, you need to start doing more lettuces and cabbages and all of these background things that go into salads.”

Cabbage

Patrick says young culinary students can particularly benefit from learning about the production side of things. “The truth is that they don’t know what’s available—they don’t know that there are white tomatoes, white watermelons, etc. One thing I do is walk them through everything and say, ‘These are your options.’ I tell them that you’re only as good as what’s coming off the truck if that’s what you’re going off of. Wholesale distributors are only delivering certain things. Once you know your options, then your imagination as a chef is the limiting factor. So I try to push them.”

The more students understand the food chain, Oystein says, the better. “It just makes them respect the food in a whole different way. It makes them see what labor and blood, sweat and tears go into growing those things. It makes them think twice before throwing it away or using it carelessly.” He also impresses upon students the varieties available. He uses tomatoes as an example: “Some are better for roasting, and some are better for stewing. You can use different tomatoes for different end products. The Striped Cavern, for example, has thick, hearty walls that are great for scooping out and filling and roasting. There are differences in flavor and texture. The Nebraska Wedding and Amish Paste are sweet and delicious.”

Oystein always advises students to go with what’s fresh and the best. “It’s like getting tomatoes in December. Yes, you can do it, but you really shouldn’t. You shouldn’t be doing BLTs and Caprese salads in December. It just ties into menu writing and the way you think. It ties into everything we should be about. If you’re writing a Christmas menu, you use more winter hearty greens because the product will be at its best instead of getting cardboard tomatoes from wherever. It’s just wrong.”

ApplePearTrellis

Oystein says he’s learning all the time. “It’s awesome.” And Patrick is open to Oystein’s opinions. Patrick recalls first meeting Oystein, a native of Norway, at the MCC garden. Oystein asking, “Where are the currant bushes going to go?” Patrick says, “I had not even thought about putting currant bushes in, but being from Norway, he immediately went to berries. So I bought 10 currant bushes, and they’re a permanent part of the garden. It’s a commitment you make.” Patrick also added raspberries, as well as apples and pears that grow on trellises. “Those are just now starting to come into their own,” he says.

The horticulture department supplies more than just what grows in the ground. Its aquaponics tank raises tilapia, and its barnyard provides fresh eggs, rabbit, squab and honey. As a result, the college is offering a small animal husbandry class and a small market farming degree program. “We’ve had a lot of interest already,” says Patrick. “Both are going to start this fall.”

The more the relationship between the horticulture and culinary departments grows, says Patrick, “I’m learning what to bring—greens, root vegetables. We grew potatoes one year but those take up a lot of space. I bring catalogs and we go through them together. I usually start with what I call the Christmas List and have them say everything they want. I don’t want them to edit themselves on their side and then I see what I can do on my side and then we try to meet in the middle. It’s a back and forth.”

Patrick adds, “When I deliver things, I try not to edit myself. I was at first. I was cutting off the radish tops before I brought the radishes, but he (Oystein) wanted the radish tops, too, so I just give them as raw and complete a product as I can because then they have more uses.” And when he sees something like bok choy on a menu plan, he inquires what varieties are desired. He says he occasionally pitches things to the chefs as well. One year he tried convincing them to use dandelions. “It didn’t really fly—too bitter. I might try it again sometime.”

 

Currants, common in Oystein Solberg's native Norwegian cuisine, were one of his garden requests.

Patrick’s goal is for the garden to receive USDA organic certification. He envisions more gardens around campus one day. The barnyard could also eventually raise pigs and goats.

Both men agree that their collaborative effort is a success. Patrick says the burgeoning relationship is “better than we ever could have imagined.” “It’s been a joint effort really,” says Oystein. “I’ve always enjoyed cooking out of the garden and they’ve always enjoyed growing stuff for us to use. It just happened pretty organically. It didn’t ever have to be forced.” And if some things don’t turn out, Oystein adds, “I’m flexible, I just work with whatever Patrick gives me.”

The student-run bistro is open when students are in session. For menus, hours and reservations, call 402.457.2328 or visit the website at Resource.MCCNeb.edu/Bistro.

Leo Adam Biga is an author, journalist and blogger who writes about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions. Read more of his work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

 

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New film “Growing Cities” takes road trip look at urban farmers cultivating a healthy, sustainable food culture

October 21, 2013 7 comments

Dirt, as in soil that you dig in with your hands, is becoming cool among a certain set of young people who are joining the multi-generational ranks of folks practicing urban farming as a response to the food deserts and unhealthy eating choices plaguing many American communities and the disconnect between Americans and the food they consume, most of which is highly processed, pre-packaged crap supplied by corporations that operate out of self-interest, not the public welfare.  Two young men fresh out of college have produced a new documentary, Growing Cities, that takes a road trip look at the burgeoning urban farm movement and its cultivation of a healthy, sustainable food culture that aims to put the power of food back in the hands of the people.  For their project filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette traveled from our shared hometown of Omaha, Neb. across the country to both coasts and several stops in between before ending up back where they started.  Growing Cities is playing festivals around the nation.  It has a 7 p.m. Filmmakers Screening Oct. 29 at Film Streams in Omaha.  Susman and Monbouquette will field questions from their hometown audience folliowing the show.  My article about their new film will soon be appearing in The Reader (www.thereader.com).  For related stories, check out my pieces on this blog about three Omaha endeavors:  No More Empty Pots, Minne Lusa House and the culinary-horticulture marriage at Metropolitan Community College.

New film “Growing Cities” takes road trip look at urban farmers cultivating a healthy, sustainable food culture

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

With words like justice, security, healthy and sustainable increasingly attached to food in America, two Omaha filmmakers with an undisguised POV have plugged into the sustainable edibles culture with a new documentary.

In Growing Cities urban agriculture advocates Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette present farming operations around the nation as smart remedies to inner city food deserts. The doc’s. 7 p.m. Film Streams screening on Oct. 29 will be followed by a Q&A with the creators.

Writer-director Susman, cinematographer Monbouquette and production manager Brent Lubbert logged 13,500 miles in a Dodge Caravan van on a three-month road trip to 20 cities in 2011. They searched out the best, biggest, most innovative urban agriculture models and found farmers not just in trippy spots but everywhere and farming everything from front and backyards to lots to rooftops to windows.

The quest was fueled by their disenchantment with scant local urban farming initiatives, though they acknowledge great strides have been made through No More Empty Pots and Big Muddy Farms, for example. The pair run their own mobile program, Truck Farm, that intros youth to growing things.

The urban ag movement has emerged in response to an industrialized food system that leaves consumers disconnected from the sources of what they eat and therefore reliant on processed, pre-packaged products.

Studies show a lack of ready access to fresh, organic foods may contribute to such health problems as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

Susman’s advocate-activist efforts got their start at Dartmouth College. The environmental studies major led a large outing club program, waged a sit-in at the president’s office and helped develop a Sustainable Living Center. He also co-directed a short film about the development of some pristine land.

The filmmakers obtained grants from Dartmouth to fund the Growing Cities road trip and raised $40,000-plus during a 2012 Kickstarter campaign. They’ve since found support among the same urban ag community they tout. Back home, they served as resident fellows at the Union for Contemporary Art and got free studio space there and at the Image Arts Building, whose owner, Dana Altman, became a producer.

The Central High grads lionize grassroots, community-based efforts that support natural, local food production.

Susman, a vegetarian who has a garden and chickens in his midtown backyard, feels they’ve caught a trend.

“What we tapped into is this intense support and desire by people to get involved. We made the film at the right time when I consider this wave because I know it’s only getting bigger,” he says.

“There’s so many different ways to get involved. You don’t have to be a farmer. You can grow a little bit. If you don’t like growing maybe you can cook or preserve or can. Or maybe volunteer at the local food bank. Eighty percent of our country lives in cities, so we have this huge population that could be doing this.”

The filmmakers contend there’s great interest in urban farming and that it can be practiced at some level by anyone, anywhere.

“There’s a lot of people who have never worked with a sustainable organization or who have never farmed but they’re super excited about it,” says Monbouquette. “It’s  something everybody can do. The biggest thing for us is encouraging people to grow a little bit of something.”

 

 

Andrew Monbouquette and Dan Susman

 

 

“Grow where you are” is the mantra they’ve adopted

Monbouquette says, “I think our biggest goal was we wanted to inspire people to do something.”

He says warm receptions to the film at festivals indicate its message resonates widely. Susman says millennials are just as likely to recognize “it’s cool, fun, exciting and rewarding to grow your own food” as older folks.

Monbouquette suggests urban farming will scale up in direct proportion to the number of people who participate in it and the amount of resources devoted to it. He suggests the real question is, “How far can we really take all this positive energy around urban farming and solidify it in our culture and just make it one of the things that we do, so it’s not just for hippies and hipsters?”

“Nobody’s saying we’re going to grow everything we can ever eat in cities. We can grow a lot of things there though,” says Susman.

Urban farming has been popular in earlier eras before fading away.

“The closest thing we have to compare it to is the Victory Garden movement (of World War II).,” says Monbouquette. “The statistics from that are astounding. Urban farmers were growing 40 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed.” Will the phenomenon last this time? “It just needs people to embrace and try it,” he says, adding government could do more to promote it by offering incentives to property owners to enter land use agreements that transform vacant lots into gardens.

Susman says some cities go so far as to have urban ag directors.

Rather than take a critical approach about “how screwed up everything is with E.coli or Mad Cow or industrial farming,” Susman says the film is “a really positive” spin on what we can all do to make our communities healthier and more inclusive.

Monbouquette says he became a convert to the cause by working on the film.

“The food and social justice issues really stuck a chord with me. Growing food is such a simple act but it can transform into this hugely motivational, inspiring, positive, productive thing in communities that really need it. You know, everyone has to eat and I subscribe to the view that we’re all in this together.”

For tickets, visit http://www.filmstreams.org.

Omaha Lit Fest Offers a Written Word Feast

October 18, 2013 2 comments

It’s Omaha Lit Fest time again.  Chances are you didn’t even know Omaha had a literature festival but it does.  Nine years strong.  It’s all the brainchild of Omaha-based novelist Timothy Schaffert.  The 2013 edition brings authors together from near and far for panel discussions and shop talk.  There’s also a cool exhiibtion entitled Carnival of Souls that has top local designers showing their takes on cult movie posters..  It happens Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18 and 19, at the W. Dale Clark Library downtown.  I’m serving as a panelist on one panel and as a moderator for another panel.  Visit omahalitfest.com for details.  My story about Lit Fest is now appearing in The Reader (www.thereader.com).

 

 

Omaha Lit Fest Offers a Written Word Feast

Appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

Writer predilections take precedence at the October 18-19 (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest, an annual orgy of the written word organized by acclaimed resident author Timothy Schaffert (The Coffins of Little Hope).

Nine years running Schaffert’s partnered with the Omaha Public Library for the free event that calls the W. Dale Clark Library, 215 So. 15th St., home. As usual, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor and Nebraska Writers Summer Conference director has gathered an eclectic roster of authors for quirky panel discussions. This year’s theme is Literary Obsessions and Cult Followings. Helping him explore these musings are authors from near and far and on different publishing paths. Ohio author Alissa Nutting‘s novel Tampa and its frank distillation of a sex deviant was published by Ecco/Harper Collins. Omaha author Thom Sibbitt self-published his Beat-inspired pseudo-memoir The Turnpike. Nebraska author Mary K. Stillwell’s dual biography-critical study of poet Ted Kooser was published by the University of Nebraska Press.

“I like inviting writers that I think are doing work that has a lot of edge and maybe not getting all the attention the other writers are getting and yet are worthy of that attention,” says Schaffert, who like any good host mixes and matches authors to enliven the conversation.

The intimate, idiosyncratic fest offers opportunities to talk-up authors, some of whom will be at Friday’s 6:30 to 9:30 opening night party and exhibition, Carnival of Souls. Creatives from the Nebraska chapter of AIGA, the professional association for design, will display their takes on classic movie posters from cult cinema. Beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday a series of panels unfolds, including one billed Cinematic that considers movies as subject, inspiration and influence and another, Trigger Warnings, that promises a provocative spin on sex lit.

A 5:30 signing by Lit Fest authors concludes the festival.

As an academic and a former newspaper editor Schaffert tracks currents and poses questions. That’s how he arrived at the panel Obsessed and its topic of authors doggedly pursuing biographical subjects. Panelist Mary K. Stillwell’s book The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser grew out of a dissertation she began years before. She says she discovered Kooser’s work when a poetry instructor “started bringing me in work by all the Nebraska poets and he kept saying, ‘You come from this fertile land of poetry, look what your people do.’ It really turned me on. Here were people from my own neighborhood talking about things I knew, so it was really a gift to me. We have this long history that goes all the way back to the Pawnee. It got me to thinking of the (Ogallala) Aquifer – there must be something poetic in that water.”

Her fascination resulted in the anthology Being(s) in Place(s): Poetry in and of Nebraska. She cultivated an association with Kooser, the 2004-2005 U.S. Poet Laureate. Then she decided to make him the subject of a book. Researching it meant visiting his childhood home of Ames, Iowa, interviewing his friends there and elsewhere, corresponding with Kooser and immersing herself in his poems

“Going back to his poems you can see the depth of his literary knowledge, you can see the influence of (John) Keats or Thomas Transformer or even (Robert) Frost. Some of his images just seem to be in brotherhood with Frost. So each time you go back you get another layer. It’s sort of an archaeological expedition when you study a Kooser poem over time.”

She says Kooser proved a “cooperative” and “generous” subject who was “patient” with her many questions.

Research comes in many forms. New York state-based author Owen King informed his new novel Double Feature about a famous B-movie director by watching unholy hours of old flicks.

“Taking a survey of the B-movies of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was essential to the book,” says King, the son of authors Stephen and Tabitha King and the husband of fellow Lit Fest guest author Kelly Braffet. “I had seen quite a few before I started but I gained a newfound respect for them in the process of watching and rewatching so many in a relatively short period. There’s an earnestness at work in most of the films that I didn’t fully grasp beforehand. Which is why, although I have some fun with B-movies in Double Feature, I also hope aficionados feel like I did them justice.”

Portland, Oregon author Monica Drake partially drew on her own experiences as a clown for her novel Clown Girl. Her observations working at a zoo and her adventures in parenting helped inspire her novel The Stud Book.

Timothy Schaffert became a virtual 19th century explorer researching his new novel The Swan Gondola set at the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha. He enjoyed the immersion in all things Victorian for his novel due out in February.

“it was completely pleasurable. It was valuable to learn about the history of the world’s fair and also the general development of the city of Omaha. When I embarked on that research I knew nothing about how people lived day by day in the 1890s and so reading newspapers and books published at the time I did feel myself drawing closer and closer to that age,”

“It got to the point,” he says, “I would get up in the morning and read from the Library of Congress website that day’s news of 1898. You get sort of hypnotized by it so that you’re even imagining yourself living in that period, driving some place in a horse and buggy.

“The 1890s were kind of a terrible time for anyone who wasn’t a wealthy white man. Despite all the racism and ugliness I began to feel more comfortable there than in the 21st century.”

He says his investigation “did require a great deal of time and concentration,” adding, “I was kind of writing and researching at the same time, so I’d write a scene and then go back and figure out how close that scene could be to the reality of the culture of the time – to the social customs and habits and gestures. I wanted it to be an authentic representation of the day.”

Schaffert’s among a handful of Lit Fest authors with novels at some stage of development for the screen. Local crime and suspense fiction writer Sean Doolittle has The Cleanup in development with director Alex Turner (Dead Birds). Unlike Schaffert and author Monica Drake, whose Clown Girl was optioned by Kristin Wiig, Doolittle’s taken an active hand in the process.

Doolittle says Turner “wrote the initial draft of the screenplay, then asked me if I’d be interested in rewriting it. That was my introduction to screenwriting. I’ve been with the project through a number of additional rewrites, until the screen version evolved into both a faithful representation of, and a significant departure from, the original story.

On “the metamorphosis” from novel to script, he says, “I learned a lot about structure – looking at an existing story from different angles and moving as much weight as possible with each narrative decision.”

Most writing’s done in isolation and if you’re self-publishing it can be an especially lonely but rewarding journey. Thom Sibbitt will join fellow lone wolf authors on the panel Experiments: Writing Around the Mainstream that discusses risk, invention, small-press publishing, dangerous subjects and the literary underground. Given that his novel The Turnpike is “this not for everybody material” Sibbitt says he felt it best served by self-publishing. Despite the hard work the process entails he says “it’s been great – I actually feel super empowered to have been able to do it myself.”

Schaffert says today’s digital platforms and micro presses are viable options that allow authors to get their work out as never before. “This is a really exciting time for writers.”

In an era of shrinking attention spans and publications that values technology over literature, Lit Fest celebrates the enduring power of the written word.

Omaha Public Library marketing manager Emily Getzchman says the event aligns well with OPL’s mission. “This event inspires people to think critically and look beyond the words on the page. It provides a rare opportunity to combine authors, art and their works with the community who consumes it. Our hope is that the ideas and perspectives that emerge will inspire people to continue conversations about life and culture.”

For event details visit omahalitfest.com.

NOTE: Leo Adam Biga is the author of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film. Read more of his work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

Charles Ahovissi and His African Culture Connection Enrich Nebraska Youth Through Performance and Teaching Programs

October 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Thousands of miles from his homeland, Charles Ahovissi is living a dream to share his culture with the world.  The native of Benin, West African resides in Omaha, Neb., where he fell in love while on tour and married and started a family here, and this acomplished dancer, choreographer, and drummer now exposes aspects of African cultures to student and adult audiences throughout this Midwest state under the auspices of his African Culture Connection.  His small but mighty nonprofit is still basking in the glow of a major national award it was recognized with last year.  It’s not the first significant recognition he and his performing and teaching troupe has received and it’s not likely to be the last either.  My story about Charles and the ACC is still looking for a publication home but for now you can read it right here on my blog.

 

 

 

 

Charles Ahovissi and His African Culture Connection Enrich Nebraska Youth Through Performance and Teaching Programs 

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

Between the beating drums and the whirling dancers the energy rises to a fever pitch during African Culture Connection performances like the one Sept, 5 at the Westside Community Conference Center.

Led by Benin, West Africa native Charles Ahovissi, a professional dancer and choreographer, the Omaha-based ACC is dedicated to presenting the vibrant rhythms, movements, colors and costumes of African tribal tradition and culture.

ACC performances are always dynamic but last month’s by-invitation-only event carried even more vitality because it celebrated a milestone in the young organization’s life. In late 2012 ACC became one of only a dozen organizations in the U.S. and the first ever in Nebraska to receive the National Arts & Humanities Youth Arts Award. It’s a major honor for any group but particularly one as new as ACC, which formed only in 2006.

Ahovissi, ACC’s high-energy founder, president and artistic director, accepted the award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House on Nov. 19. Accompanying him at the ceremony was Victoria Baeugard of Omaha Girls Inc., an organization that ACC ofter serves. Baeugard is part of a troupe of Girls Inc. members who’ve learned to perform African dances under Ahovissi’s tutelage. In addition to the award, ACC received a  $10.000 grant to support and expand its programming. This came on top of ACC winning the Nebraska Governor’s Arts Heritage Award.

All of it is more than enough reason to celebrate and so many of ACC’s board members, donors and supporters gathered for food, drink, conversation and congratulations last month. Even the beaming, ever-optimistic Ahovissi finds it hard to believe his little organization did what none of the state’s larger, more established arts programs managed doing.

“I just don’t know how we got here,” he says. “It was surprising.”

 

 

 

Nebraska Arts Council director of programs Marty Skomal says “the award is given to an arts or humanities program for youth that takes place outside of the school day which also promotes youth development. No other arts group in Neb. has succeeded in demonstrating ACC’s masterful combination of high artistic quality with genuine and significant community engagement. Each time I see his troupe perform, I am impressed by the level of dedication, attention to detail and commitment. It becomes contagious. Kids can sense this authenticity, and they respond to it instantly. It is ACC’s unique way of inspiring youth by example that motivates kids to take pride in their own cultural heritage, whatever its origin. In brief, ACC is able to do what its name implies – make a connection.”

Ahvossi knows ACC is well thought of by the positive feedback he gets from teachers, administrators and program directors about the African immersion experience he provides. Ahovissi says the glowing evaluations and notes “confirm that after we work with kids they learn how to respect, they learn how to behave and some kids who were shy become engaged in the classroom,” adding, “All the teachers tell us thank you for making a big impact on kids’ lives.”

Then there’s the fact ACC offers programming that no one else does in this area.

“It is a very unique program,” he says. “You don’t see it in this state. You cannot get what we teach kids in a library. In schools kids barely get the cultural activities we provide them. That’s why it’s very unique, very special and engaging.”

Omaha Girls Inc. executive director Robera Wilhelm says Ahovissi “has helped girls learn about Africa in ways they simply never would in a classroom or from a textbook,” adding, “The girls connect to the lessons in a very visceral way. He and his team help the girls ‘feel’ Africa when they drum and dance. They prepare and taste African food, they create printed fabric to wear while they dance and they hear African stories. They also learn lessons about creativity, collaborative work, self-expression, delayed gratification, responsibility and pride of accomplishment.”

Ahovissi conducts residencies around the state through NAC. He brings not just the music and dance of Africa, but the stories behind them.

“I know all the cities and towns in Neb. I just pack my car with my costume and drum and travel one week, two weeks at a time. I cannot count how many places I’ve been to. I travel a lot through the Nebraska Arts Council. I’m grateful for that.  I do love teaching, performing and sharing my culture.”

He’s also trains a group of teaching and performing artists to join him at some venues to immerse participants in various elements of African culture.

“Every life aspect in Africa has a specific dance, rhythm, music and all that, so at the same time I’m teaching kids a dance I’m also teaching them the culture, the tradition, the story behind that dance and music. For example, farming is a big deal in Africa. Before farming there is preparation, during and after farming there’s a celebration. That is like story. The way we farm in Africa is not the same as it’s done in America. How we pick the fruit, why we pick that fruit, that is dance movement that has a story.

“There’s a reason why we do any traditional dance and drumming.

“Another example is the initiation of youths. When you reach a certain age you need to go see the elders. They will teach you life skills, what is right to do, what is wrong to do. During an initiation in a village we play certain music and do special dances. So when I’m teaching kids the initiation dance I’m also teaching them this story, this culture, the way we do things.”

The dances performed at the Sept. 5 celebration included the Sinte dance. He exp;lains, “Sinte comes from the Boke and Boffa area in the northwest of Guinea. The Landonma, Nalo, and Baga ethnic groups, who have been living together in this region for many years, play it before the initiation of the youth.” Another number ACC performed at the event was the Djole dance. “Djole is a dance organized to showcase different masks,” says Ahovissi. “Djole comes from the region in the southwest of Guinea and the northwest of Sierra Leone. The Temine, Mandenyi and Soussou ethnic groups share this rhythm.” Finally, he says the Kete dance executed by the Girls Inc. members is from the Allada Region of southern Benin, adding, “The music and dance can be heard on many occasions and festivals, particularly at funeral ceremonies.”

 

 

Ahovissi says students who participate in his programs, including members of Girls Inc., learn rituals and lessons with deep, universal meaning.

“We say it takes a whole village to raise a child. That simple statement means a lot,. From generation to generation we pass on the culture. In Africa everything kind of ties together.”

He strongly feels that American children need to expand their knowledge of diverse cultures in this ever shrinking world.

“It is so important for them to learn about other cultures. They have to open their minds, they have to allow themselves to appreciate other cultures, they have to accept their friends who are not like them. Since Omaha is becoming more diverse we need to be more diverse, too. We all need to be together and move forward.”

He says as Omaha’s welcomed migrant populations from Sudan, Togo, Bhutan and several Central American countries “there is a need for global understanding in our community. It’s not just African culture. We need to be learning about all these different cultures.” He loves that America is still a melting pot. “You teach me about your culture, I teach you about mine, and we share it . That’s how we become   open-minded and free and live in a peaceful way.”

Growing up in Benin he absorbed dance and drumming through repeated exposure to it.

“My mom took me from village to village to the ceremonies,. I just picked it up from that,” he says.

In his early teens he joined a local arts group. “They taught me how to be more professional,” he says. He then won a competition that enabled him to perform with the National Ballet of Benin beginning in 1984 at age 16.

“That allowed me the opportunity to travel and perform with that company. I was very honored to be selected.”

Later he joined the Super Anges dance troupe. He was touring the U.S. with that company when he met the woman who is now his wife. The former Karen McCormick, an Omaha native, did a Peace Corps stint in Africa, including service in Ahovissi’s native country, Benin. In Omaha she volunteered with the La Belle Afrique presenting group that brought Ahovissi’s dance company to Omaha in 1999. The two met, fell in love and married. They have two children together. Ahovissi moved to Omaha in 2000 and became a Nebraska Arts Council touring artist in 2001.

Ahovissi sends money back home every month to his large family – he has 21 brothers and sisters living in Benin. “I’m they’re hope,” he says.

Goin’ down the Lincoln Highway with Omaha music guru Nils Anders Erickson

October 1, 2013 3 comments

If historic highways could speak, oh, the stories they would tell.  That’s one of the appeals of the Old Lincoln Highway to Omahan Nils Anders Erickson, whose love of old things extends from highways to automobiles to buildings to music.  This musician, sound engineer, and owner of Rainbow Music, a combination retail store and recording studio, has indulged his Lincoln Highway fascination by writing a song about the roadway and erecting signage about it outside an old mill he owns that sat on the highwway’s Omaha route.  My story about Erickson and his magnficent obsession appeared The Reader (www.thereader.com).

Nils Anders Erickson

 

 

Goin’ down the Lincoln Highway with Omaha music guru Nils Anders Erickson

by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

On a sweltering Sunday afternoon in early July Omaha music guru Nils Anders Erickson takes me for a ride in his PT Cruiser to opine about his magnificent obsession with old things.

The singer-songwriter-musician owns Rainbow Music, a combined recording studio and music store at 2322 South 64th Ave. that features vintage sound equipment and instruments he’s passionate about.

He’s also into Golden Oldie songs, historic buildings, classic cars, and early roadways, especially the old Lincoln Highway. His Cruiser’s adorned with a chrome hood ornament from a 1951 Chevrolet he saved to repurpose in just this way.

The self-styled preservationist opposed CVS building a pharmacy at 49th and Dodge that took out old structures he deemed historic for lining the Lincoln Highway during its Jazz Age heyday.

The highway was not just a practical conveyance when there were few reliable roads but an expression of America’s new liberation, ambition, optimism and restlessness. He advocates saving whatever remnants stand from its active years (1913 to 1929), whether grain elevators, feed mills, silos, barns, office buildings, churches, homes, signs.

He owns what may be the oldest surviving structure still in use on the highway, John Sutter’s Mill, a circa 1875 Mormon-built structure where Saddle Creek Road and Dodge Street meet at 46th. “I just knew it was kind of a magical building and I didn’t know why,” he says. “My building is the last of the Nelson B. Updike empire.” Updike was a feed, grain, lumber and coal magnet and publisher of the Omaha Bee.

“Mormons used to refer to it in diaries as ‘the mill west of Omaha.’ It was painted bright orange a century ago to attract the attention of cross-country travelers.”

He says the site began as a water wheel grist mill before being turned into a planing mill and an outfitters store. He admires its construction.

“When I realized that behind all the crappy two-by-fours and dry wall were 10-by-10 solid chunks of cedar 50 feet long I had a new found respect for the building.” He hopes it one day becomes a Lincoln Highway museum or antique shop or coffeehouse.

The two-story 4,000 square foot building most recently housed National Cash Register, whose machines he would gawk at as a kid.

“When I was little I’d walk by it and be fascinated with the weird stuff in the windows – those mechanical things and different colored cash registers. So I was always drawn to the building.”

Erickson’s mounted an enormous billboard on site to commemorate his beloved highway’s legacy and Omaha being mid-point on the coast-to-coast route. The billboard replicates the L logo design and red, white and blue motif of the highway’s signage. An arrow pointing east informs eastbound travelers they have 1.353 miles to go to New York City. An arrow pointing west alerts westbound travelers they are 1,786 miles from San Francisco. Generations ago a large Welcome sign with Lincoln Highway above it greeted travelers at 18th and Farnam.

He’s also erected a Lincoln Highway marker that replicates the official markers that once dotted the side of the road every mile along its entire 3,400 mile path.

He feels Omaha could do more to celebrate its highway heritage.

“Before I put a sign up outside my building there was no Lincoln Highway sign in the whole city designating its history.”

Metropolitan Community College’s Elkhorn campus has a photo display of the highway under construction. The Boys Town archives traces the highway’s connection to the home. There are highway displays at the Great Platte River Road Archway in Kearney. “They’ve done a wonderful job with the exhibits,” Erickson says of the attraction..

If Erickson had his way every building the highway ran by would sport a sign or plaque about it.

“There’s car nuts, there’s building nuts, there’s highway nuts, and I find it aggravating that I’m all three and no one else is,” says Erickson, who could have added music nut to the list.

Given his musical bent it’s not surprising he wrote a theme song for the Lincoln Highway Association’s recent centennial celebration in Kearney and took photos of landmarks along the Omaha route to accompany the music. His countryesque ditty set to images is on YouTube.

I’m goin’ down the Lincoln Highway, I’m goin’ down the Lincoln Highway, Ga ga golly, I’m going down the Lincoln Highway.

“My song and video are trying to raise awareness of the Lincoln Highway all over the United States.”

He’s also created a website about the highway and his mill.

When it comes to motor vehicles and roads he prefers some age-worn history and character to them. Memories attach themselves to places and things and the Lincoln Highway carried the hopes, dreams and experiences of people. Road trips are part of the American DNA. Beat writer Jack Kerouac captured this spirit in his existential On the Road:

“In no time at all we were back on the main highway and that night I saw the entire state of Nebraska unroll before my eyes. A hundred and ten miles an hour straight through, an arrow road, sleeping towns, no traffic, and the Union Pacific streamliner falling behind us in the moonlight. I wasn’t frightened at all that night; it was perfectly legitimate to go 110 and talk and have all the Nebraska towns – Ogallala, Gothenburg, Kearney, Grand Island, Columbus – unreel with dreamlike rapidity as we roared ahead and talked.”

 

 

 

 

Built entirely by private interests to be the nation’s first coast-to-coast thoroughfare, the highway opened at a time when most roads, including many sections of the highway itself, were unpaved. As more folks sought the freedom a motor vehicle promised it was obvious the country’s roads needed improving.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower cited the arduous cross-country convoy he took on the highway as a young military officer with motivating him to authorize the creation of the U.S. interstate system.

As the first of its kind the highway owns a romantic mystique among history buffs and nostalgia fans. Much fanfare attended its October 31, 1913 dedication. Burgs across America celebrated with torchlight parades, bonfires, speeches, auto races, fireworks and cannon volleys. Some credit Omaha with the biggest celebration of all. A crowd estimated at more than 10,000 gathered outside city hall for a giant bonfire fueled by three train carloads of railroad ties from Union Pacific Railroad. Smaller bonfires lit up the sky in towns along the Platte River.

Long before the fabled Route 66 and decades before heavily traveled Interstate 80 was even imagined, Lincoln became known as America’s main street because it connected so many cities and towns all the way from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. The highway spurred much development along its route.

“I think it’s basically a national hidden treasure,” says Erickson. “You can actually drive the Lincoln Highway and there’s parts of it where the original brick surface is still intact and you can reexperience what your great-grandfather did. It’s America the way it used to be without the bad parts.

“My dad would be out selling grain elevators all over the country and he’d throw two or three of us in the back seat of the car and half the time we were on the Lincoln Highway in our family’s Pontiac. No air conditioning. When you finally got to a little cafe it was heaven. You’d eat at these special places on America’s hIghway.”

The pull of those times is still great 60 years later.

“I don’t know, it’s in my blood.”

His fixation has something to do with his first love, music. He likes that big bands on the Midwest circuit traversed the highway “in those torpedo-shaped trailers” to get from gig to gig. Decades later he did the same, only in trucks, to run sound and lights for national acts.

“So it ties back to Omaha and to my recording studio and my background in music.”

For our Lincoln Highway sampler we make a circuitous 18-mile trek from the Omaha riverfront’s Lewis & Clark Landing to Elkhorn, where a three-mile stretch of brick survives, With nearly each landmark we pass  Erickson offers historical tidbits and traces his fascination with the highway that long ago was rerouted and renamed US 30.

“In Omaha most of the Lincoln Highway is still there. It’s just under two or three layers of asphalt. We have a few things in Omaha that are one of a kind and the only ones left.”

The route starts on Douglas, snakes to Farnam around midtown, cuts over to Dodge, then jumps to Cass before resuming on West Dodge.

When it comes to highway landmarks, Erickson’s prefers old ones but appreciates new ones as well. “To me the Holland Center is a new landmark on the Lincoln Highway,” he says of the performing arts venue at 12th and Douglas.

“One of the most famous (old) landmarks is the Brandeis Building,” he says of the flagship for the J.L. Brandeis & Sons department store empire that reigned at 16th and Douglas for most of the 20th century.

He considers St. Mary Magdalene Church at 19th and Dodge a distinctive site for having “a door to nowhere” after downtown was lowered by dozens of feet.

A beautiful ballroom is among the distinguishing features of the Scottish Rite Masonic Center at 20th and Douglas.

He admires the “beautifully restored” former Riviera and Paramount theater, later known as the Astro and now The Rose at 20th and Farnam.

He likes that the Fraternal Order of Eagles building at 24th and Douglas hosts swing nights. “It’s kind of fun being in a historic building with the jitterbug,” he says.

Two of Omaha’s most impressive edifices, Central High School and Joslyn Art Museum, are only a block north of the highway.

He feels one of the most significant highway buildings is the former Hupmobile dealership at 2523 Farnam. The Hupp Auto Company built the popular car before being squeezed by the industry’s major players. He says the vacant building’s original showroom floor is intact as is the freight elevator for moving cars from floor to floor.

“I hope someone that cares will do something with that building. It would make a great auto museum,” he suggests.

The dealership was part of Omaha’s original Auto Row.

The All Makes Office Equipment and Barnhart Press buildings on the north side of Farnam are handsome structures housing multi-generation family businesses but what really makes Erickson excited is “a wonderful one-block stretch of brick north of them that enables you to actually experience what it felt like,” he says.

Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church at 2650 Farnam is one of Omaha’s oldest worship places.

He says hungry, weary highway travelers found eateries (Virginia Cafe, Tiner’s Drive-in) and hotels (the Fontenelle, the Blackstone) up and down its eastern Omaha route, Motorists would have gawked at Gold Coast mansions such as the Storz mansion at 3708 Farnam.

The Tudor-style building housing McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe was once a White Rose gas station. Erickson recalls, “We’d be coming back from church and I’d always want Mom to get gas at that ‘castle’ across the street from the Storz mansion with gargoyles and trolls leaning out of the windows. These buildings were right out of children’s books I read. White Rose built odd buildings and this was one of their prettiest. I think it’s one of the few of its type left in the country.”

The Admiral Theater sat at 40th and Farnam until it was razed.

Erickson says. “My slogan in Omaha is, ‘…and then the bastards tore it down.'” Jutting over to Dodge, he notes the Joslyn Castle is worth a stop a block north on Davenport. Continuing west on Dodge we arrive at his building. Since acquiring the former mill he’s used it as a staging space to assemble sound and lighting equipment for installs.

“That business has sort of fallen off, so I need to do something with the building now,” says Erickson.

As we reach 49th and Dodge he says, “Up until two years ago all four corners were intact from the Lincoln Highway. The Hilltop House duplicated a Bavarian restaurant. It was all pine inside. Reniers Piano was the Dundee Hotel and the Sunset Tearoom. The three buildings CVS tore down were all historic because they were on the Lincoln Highway. The 49er was a bakery. The coffeehouse was a pharmacy, The third was one the first self-service grocery stores in Omaha.”

He anoints historic status to the Dundee Theatre. The same to the Saddle Creek underpass and the pedestrian tunnel at 51st and Dodge.

He says long ago “there was a camp grounds at Elmwood Park” where motorists could spend the night before resuming their journeys. The park also contained a lagoon with a structure for monkeys. “The city fathers didn’t know monkeys can swim, so Monkey Island eventually became Monkeys in Dundee because after a week of getting free food they got bored and went all over Dundee.

The renowned Omaha Community Playhouse is a block north of the highway’s route.

We go another mile west and he says, “So here we are on 78th and Dodge. We’re taking a hard right because that’s the way the Lincoln     Highway went. The New Tower Inn was at 78th. Before that it was the Tower Motor Court and before that it was a camp ground called

Towers Tours Village.” We arrive on Cass Street and the site of what used to be Peony Park and the extensive peony fields of Carl Rosenfield. Both were right on the highway’s path.

Erickson’s found brochures and postcards illustrating how attractions on the highway, such as Peony Park and Boys Town, marketed themselves as way-stops for travelers.

Following Cass west we merge onto West Dodge Road, where almost everything post-dates the highway. A major exception is Boys Town. Founder Father Edward Flanagan relocated his residence for homeless boys from downtown Omaha to the Overlook Farm right on the highway in 1921. Boys Town historians say Flanagan publicly touted the highway as a great avenue to see America and he invited motorists to follow it right up to Boys Town’s front door. Many did just that. Boys walked or hitchhiked their way on the highway to the home. So many made their way to Boys Town via the highway that in the ’30s Flanagan had some of the youths build a covered travel stop, of which there were few and far between then, as a comfort station.

The 1938 movie Boys Town includes scenes shot on the highway, including Pee-Wee being hit by a car.

Finally, we reach the ribbon of bricks in Elkhorn, where Erickson says, “You actually get a feel for driving on the road. This vista right here could be any day, any time. This is kind of what I remember driving in our old Pontiac with Dad. We’d hit a stretch of brick and, vroom, he’d put on the gas more. I don’t know why. I suppose he liked it, too. The highway was a lot nicer then because it was flat and smooth. Today it’s used as an access road. That’s part of the problem. The trucks are getting bigger and heavier and the road gets wavier.”

 

 

Stretch of the Lincoln Highway in Elkhorn, Neb.

 

 

He says the brick remains because people knew well enough to leave it alone.

“I mean, the reason it’s still here is that nobody needed to make it all pretty and nice and concrete. If they had, that concrete would be destroyed by now. The bricks are still here. Bricks will last forever, Concrete lasts maybe 20 years.

“If it had been in Omaha we would have paved it a long time ago.”

The Douglas County Board passed a resolution to preserve the brick segment for future generations. Milepost 1437 to 1438 was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. The historic mile was rededicated July 17, 1988. State historical markers offer background.

It’s all music to Erickson’s ears, whose eclectic music pedigree is the root of his love of history and nostalgia for bygone eras. He grew up listening to Johnny Mathis, James Brown, Motown. Then came the British Invasion bands. He was steeped too in traditional tunes from his family’s Swedish heritage. It’s why his repertoire today ranges from the Swedish folk song Can You Whistle Johanna? to the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen and pretty much everything in between.

“The best compliment I ever got was that my music is a cross between Frank Zappa and Bob Marley.”

His older siblings played in bands and he tagged along with them.

“They played at Mickey’s A-Go-Go and the Peppermint Cave and they dragged me around when I was like 6. I thought I was a roadie and they thought they were babysitting. So I was exposed to this wonderful monster music. I wrote my first song when I was about 4. I’ve written about 4,000 songs. Some of them are good and some of them are appreciated by people. ‘Shit Head, the Love Song’ was the most requested song the Fish Heads did, and it’s one of my mine.”

Erickson’s fronted several bands. He says his Wee Willie and the Rockin Angels broke attendance records at Peony Park. Today he gigs with his own Paddy O Furniture jam band. He’s sat in with many other groups. He’s been a fixture on the Omaha music scene not only for his music but for his work as a sound and lighting engineer. He’s made custom speaker cabinets and sound systems for decades.

Lincoln Highway National Museum & Archives

 

 

“We provided sound for Sprite Night at Peony Park all those years. Those were the original raves – 3,000 kids outdoors dancing to ‘dashboard light’ with a sound system you could hear pretty clear about two blocks away. It’s just cool to have that volume switch. You need it a little louder?”

He’s worked with musical artists of every genre:

REM

The Beach Boys

The Ramones

Joan Jett

Robert Palmer

B.B. King

Steppenwolf

The Isley Brothers

Willie Nelson

“When we were doing sound jobs for national acts all over the country  sometimes I’d scoot on an old highway for awhile.”

Sprite Night At The Royal Grove Has Been Gone For Decades, But The Memories — The Aqua Net, Drama, Dancing, Rebellion, Romance — Are Still As Bright As A Neon Shirt. By Casey Logan • World-Herald Staff Writer: Dancers at Sprite Night at the Royal Grove on July 22, 1980. Teens flocked to the Peony Park dances that ran for more than a decade. – Sebi Breci / The World-Herald

When North O thrived as a jazz, R&B, funk and soul hub he did sound and lights for enough African American bands here – L.A. Carnivale, Crackin’ – to get inducted into the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame.

311, Boyz to Men and Jordan Sparks have all recorded at his funky Rainbow Music. But it’s the audio gear he buys, sells, trades and records on that really gets him amped up.

“We have all the new digital gear but to make the digital sound good you have to bring in some old tube gear. We basically made all of our own equipment because they hadn’t invented it yet. The old stuff still sounds better. We’re like the dinosaur on the block. Today you’d need about 24 of the hip new boxes to equal the sound pressure four old ones produce. At Rainbow you can record through some of the best gear they had back in the ’50s and ’60s to give it that fat, warm sound.

“We started acquiring all this tube analog tape gear and every piece we came up with was tied to famous recording studios and artists. We’ve got half the PA system used for the Grateful Dead, all the tube mixers Motown would have had. We have equipment from Sun Studio in Memphis, Sound City in L.A. and from other legendary studios.”

He’s no Elvis or Dylan, but he carries his catchy Lincoln Highway tune with great aplomb.

Got my baby sittin’ by my side, ’40s chop top, I got the ultimate ride

Since 1913…100 years ago today

Everybody’s driven’ cross the USA

I’m goin’ on the Lincoln Highway

I’m hopin’ to see you…somewhere along the way

He’s happy if his music video homage to the highway spurs wider interest in the history behind it.

“It’s been buried for so long, it’s almost like we destroy or shy away from history.”

He loves discovering and sharing that history, saying, “Give me a little kernel of information and I’ll go dig up some more stuff. That’s half the fun.” He also believes fate led him to the mill and its highway lineage.

“Magical things like that happen to me all the time. People call it coincidences. I call ’em little tiny miracles.”

Visit his website at lincolnhighwaynebraska.com.

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