A Post About Nada (N)

You ever have one of those nights that on first blush seems generic and forgettable, but ends up being a defining moment in your life?

This story is about how I discovered one of the primary soundtracks for my adult life.  Completely by accident.  And for the bargain price of $5.

It’s January or February 2000.  Some friends and I have taken a weekend road trip to Ames, Iowa.  Technically, we were there to watch a basketball game, but realistically we were there to check out the bar scene in a different college town.  I was just a few years removed from college, working my first professional job, and quite single.

We made our way into the Ames bar district and checked out a couple of places.  After a while, we headed down the hill towards one of the bigger and better known places, a bar called Peoples.  We had been there before and knew it was a good place with a lot of people, and likely some live music.

It was probably 10 or 11 on a Saturday night, and there was a big line outside.  We stood in line for a while, but it quickly became clear that we would not be getting in any time soon.  That’s when our friend Shane appeared and said that if we gave this guy five bucks he’d sneak us in a side door.  A few seconds later, we were inside.

We headed to the bar and got drinks.  Now, since a) this was 14 years ago, and b) I had been drinking some of this is a little cloudy, but at some point, I started paying attention to the band that was playing.  They were pretty good.  A few beers later, they became really good.  At the time, I was huge into Led Zeppelin, so when they played this Spanish number, with a trumpet that transitioned into “Stairway to Heaven”, I was sold.  This band was awesome.

Somehow, I managed to remember the name of the band – The Nadas.  When I got back home, I found their website and ordered one of the CDs, “New Start”.  I was very pleased to find out that their recorded music was as good as their live performance – and that my ears didn’t have beer goggles that night in Ames.  Many of the songs dealt with growing up, loves loved, and loves lost and it really connected with me.

Fast forward a couple of years.  I have the same job, a serious girlfriend, and a growing collection of Nadas CDs.  One Saturday in 2003, I planned to take my girlfriend to her first Nadas show in Omaha.  Before we left the house, I proposed.  Not surprisingly*, The Nadas are one of my wife’s favorite groups too.  One of our first dances and a married couple was to a Nadas song.

*I’ve joked that after proposing, I probably could have taken her to see a band playing death metal versions of Barry Manilow songs on accordion and she would still have a fond memories of the band.  But it didn’t hurt that they are really good live.

In the decade that has followed, so much has changed in my life:  different jobs, different house, losing loved ones, welcoming children, and so much more.  But the Nadas have been there throughout, gracing me with a new favorite album every other year.  Pretty much every other group that I listened to back in 2000 has been broken up for years, but the Nadas are still going strong (this is their 20th year).  Their music is a go-to choice in our house, to the point where their most recent CD (“Lovejoy Revival”) hasn’t left the CD player for about eight months.  Our oldest two kids (5 and 2) know most of the words – although the five year old always wants to hear “Pizza Button” – their cover of the Rolling Stones classic “Beast of Burden”.

Sure, they’ve gone through some line-up changes.  There have been various musicians who have played with them over the years – and honestly, I’ve lost count of the number of drummers they’ve had – but the heart and soul of the group, singers and guitarists Jason Walsmith and Mike Butterworth have remained.  I’ve often felt they are an yin and yang, but their balance just makes the music that much better.

I’m fascinated and amazed by how they have stuck with it despite a lack of commercial success* and the inherent challenges of being touring musicians in an age where people expect to get music for free (he typed, while streaming Spotify).

*The most telling anecdote of why the Nadas are not a household name goes like this:  Playboy magazine named them “The Best College Band You’ve Never Heard Of”, a designation that should have led to increased exposure, new opportunities, and chances for greater success.  But, they never really had the chance to capitalize on that title.  The issue came out a day or two before 9/11.

But I really dig and respect how they have embraced new methods to stay relevant and bring their music to the world.  Think of some of the things your favorite bands and indie artists do today (owning their own record label, using Kickstarter pledge campaigns, organizing fan cruises, streaming live shows to fans, recording live shows for sale after the gig ends, and more).  The Nadas have done those things, and probably did them years before they became commonplace.

For the Almanac record, they wrote, recorded, and released one song per month for an entire year.  You could subscribe to get sneak peeks, watch streaming jam sessions, and other content.  The resulting album is still one of my favorites.  For their 20th anniversary, they are doing a “greatest hits” album with a twist:  the tracks were chosen by fans, and the songs were re-recorded for the album.  I’m very excited to hear a new spin on some of my favorites.

I could go on and on about my love for this band, which only seems fitting as they continue to go on and on.

I’ll close with an old favorite, “Dancing Lucinda”:

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Cornhusker Marching Bland

Regular readers will know that I love Nebraska football, and pretty much everything related to the game day experience at Memorial Stadium:  the Sea of Red, the Tunnel Walk, the sights, sounds, and smells that even the greatest HDTV cannot replicate.  Having been to football games at a dozen other campuses – including some legendary programs – I will put Nebraska up there with the best of the best in almost every aspect.

But there is one area where the Nebraska game day experience is significantly lacking:  Halftime.

Halftime at Nebraska means a presentation by the Cornhusker Marching Band.  The band may call themselves the “Pride of All Nebraska”, but their halftime shows are not something that fans can take pride in.

Pretty much everything about their halftime shows – the themes (“The music of Earth, Wind, & Fire” seems to pop up every couple of years), the songs, and the formations are bland and uninspiring.  The band seems quite content to live a static life inside of a very conservative box.  I’ve come to accept that the halftime shows are going to be bland, boring, or downright painful to endure.*

*In fairness, I will freely admit that I have not witnessed too many halftime performances in the last five years.  I prefer to spend halftime down in the concourse where I can use the restroom, get a hotdog, and discuss the first half with some friends.  Having watched many a halftime show over the years, I know I’m not missing much.  And since I’ve been skipping halftime, I have never returned to my seat to have somebody tell me “you missed a great halftime show.”

So when I read an article like this from Slate, which describes the ongoing battle for marching band supremacy between Ohio State and Ohio University, I am filled with a mix of shock (marching band performances can be entertaining and fun to watch?  With current songs that I recognize?) and jealousy.  Why can’t we have that?

Nebraska fans got a close up look at Ohio State’s marching prowess during the Huskers’ recent game in Columbus.  The OSU band presented a tribute to video games that features recognizable songs, fun formations, and lots of movement.  The video of that show (as of this post) is closing in on 14 million views.  For comparison, the Cornhusker Marching Band’s most viral halftime show is a 2010 show where they performed songs from “Glee”.  It has 3,610 views.

Let me be clear – I am not referring to the band’s “pregame spectacular” featuring a selection of fight songs, marches, and songs that has remained essentially unchanged for 20+ years.  I love the drumline’s cadence, singing along to “No Place Like Nebraska”, enjoying the “majestic strains of ‘March Grandioso'”, the second verse of “Hail Varsity”, when the band spells out “HUSKERS” on the field – all of it.  It is one of my favorite parts of the game day atmosphere and I hope it never changes

I just wish that Nebraska’s marching band – a collection of talented and passionate musicians, under excellent leadership – could elevate their game.  While I doubt they would every go into a full tribute of LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem, (as awesome as that would be) I truly believe they are capable of a fun, whimsical, and musically entertaining performance – say like Hawaii’s football kicker performance.

But until any sort of buzz around the halftime show appears, I (and thousands of other fans) will be heading for the aisle when the second quarter ends.


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