The Nebraska Folk Route
On January 23, 2015 my 18 year old daughter and I took a five hour drive from Kearney, NE to Lawrence, KS to see the band Jack’s Mannequin play a reunion concert at The Granada. I was nervous because the venue was “festival seating”, which I interpreted to mean no seating at all, and having recently hit the young age of 50 I was not looking forward to standing for hours. When concert time rolled around my worst fears were realized. We froze in a line outside and then entered into a packed venue with hundreds of KU students in various states of drunkenness. We were toward the back and had to really strain to see the stage. After 3 hours my feet and back had enough. I thought it was just me showing my age. Curiously, though, I noticed my daughter wasn’t having that great a time either. The band was fantastic but, not being overly tall, she didn’t have a great view and her feet were also hurting. I vowed never again to come to this kind of venue.
A couple weeks later my wife and I decided to see The Blackberry Bushes Stringband play at a venue we had recently heard about called The Balcony. The Balcony is a venue in the town of Loomis, NE (pop. 382), an easy 40 minute drive from Kearney. From the outside, The Balcony resembles the kind of nondescript metal building where you might repair farm equipment. Inside, we found a cozy and inviting venue with tables for seating and a bar nearby with wine and beer available. The stage was nearby and there wasn’t a bad view in the house.
After we found a table for us and two other couples we were meeting, a man came up and introduced himself as Tim Rehm. Tim and his wife Bev started the Rehmsworld Concert Series as house concerts and later teamed with Jim and Julie Nelson of The Balcony to have a permanent location. It turns out that Loomis, Ne is in the perfect location on Highway 23, which, at least inside my own head, I have taken to calling The Nebraska Folk Route. Country, Folk, and Bluegrass bands heading from Denver to Omaha (or vice versa) have a choice of at least 4 venues at which to stop and play along this southern Nebraska highway. There is Wray, Co (on the border of Nebraska), Bieroc in McCook, NE, The Balcony in Loomis NE, and The Lark in Hastings, NE. Artists may hit just one or a couple of these venues on their way through allowing folks who may not otherwise get the chance to see artists such as Connor Garvey, Mary Gauthier, and The Sherpas.
About a hundred people showed up for the event this evening and everyone relaxed and had a beer – mine the nearby Thunderhead Brewery – before the show. I’m told they’ve had up 200 or 300 people here depending on who was playing. We chatted with our friends and then the music began. We were amazed at the great acoustics and the band was wonderful and funny. They played as a trio featuring a fiddle, a guitar and banjo. At the intermission we were able to meet the band, get our CDs signed (vinyl forthcoming I’m told) and enjoy another beer, free popcorn, and even home baked goodies. I discovered that the singer/guitarist and the fiddle player were wife and husband and though the band was from Seattle, the players grew up in Vermont, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Good food, good beer, good company, and an easy drive. What more could I ask for? After the show I made another vow to myself. We will be back again and again! After all, The Steel Wheels are coming in June.